Money from and for forests: A critical reflection on the feasibility of market approaches for the conservation of Amazonian forests

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The preservation of Amazonian natural forests is of utmost national and international interest. The exploration of market opportunities for the commercialization of forest goods and services has become the prevailing conservation approach. It is likely that the generation of income from forests will motivate forest owners and users to appreciate and use their resources more sustainably. After more than 20 years of applying, adjusting and expanding this approach, this paper critically reflects on its main assumptions, successes and consequences with a special emphasis on the Amazon's natural forests. Over time, three major strategies have been outlined to translate the approach into practice: (1) the management of timber by logging companies in forest concessions, (2) the use of timber and non-timber forest products by smallholders and communities, and (3) the selling of environmental services that forests provide, in particular carbon. The analysis revealed that the commercialization of goods and services from natural forests has indeed the potential to generate income, yet their financial attractiveness is rather limited if compared with other land use options. This seriously affects the probability that forest-related uses at a wider scale will be successful. It also became evident that the legal-institutional framework set up to facilitate economic gains from the forests' commercial potential tended to discriminate against traditional forest users who, due to disparate reasons, would be willing to accept the modest financial returns from managing natural forests in commercial ways. It is discussed that the feasibility of market approaches, in contrast to the assumptions of free market environmentalism, depends on effective measures to strengthen the role and market position of local forest users and on initiatives from firms to invest in the establishment of more sustainable commodities even when a reduction in profits are a possibility.

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