“World Forestry Congress” A Word From Tom Bedell

Every six years the world’s organizations that are focused on our forests and forestry come together for the World Forestry Congress, sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). From September 7 – 11th in Durban, South Africa, more than three thousand people come from around the world to share their expertise and experience, and to project a new vision for the future. The theme for this years Congress: “Forests and People: Investing in a Sustainable Future.” Bedell Guitars is the only guitar company and one of the few consumer products companies participating.

From my travels throughout the world – over 80 countries – it is clear that one of the most significant impediments to sustainable forestry practice is government corruption. If the culture of a tropical nation is poised and influenced by bribes and greed, with a lack of enforceable policy to protect the sustainability of the eco-system within its nation, the result is degradation. From my most recent travels to Madagascar, there holds a shocking example of how true bribes and payoffs support local, regional and the national governments, leading to a blind eye toward the on-going illegal harvest and export of Madagascar rosewood.

The need for fuel is another key contributor toward deforestation in impoverished cultures. Where wood is the only source of heat and cooking fuel, with ever increasing populations, use overwhelms the regeneration capacity of the forests.

Lack of local economic benefit from the forest is the third cause of vast deforestation. Converting forests to agricultural land for cash earning crops and livestock is a practical choice to an indigenous economy, also a devastating result for our global climate.

Reversing the world’s deforestation is co-mingled with so many challenges to the world’s humanity and environment:

1. The continued increasing human population growth needs to be considered . Our planet cannot sustain the current level of consumption and resulting degradation.
2. Governments benefiting from the bribes and payoffs of deforestation from their forests must be cut off from all foreign aide and support.
3. Planting fast growing timber and providing non-forest dependent fuel to the villages must reverse the need for local survival based deforestation.[SM1]
4. Enabling sustainable economies in the villages living among the forests to replace the need for converting forests to fields is a critical challenge.
5. Cutting off demand for precious exotic woods that encourage illegal deforestation through CITES and other legal and cultural means.

There is no mystery in the above critical factors promoting deforestation. Unfortunately, identifying them does not provide the pathway to solutions, merely a realization of the enormous challenges associated with saving our world’s forests.  This demands investments in the governments, cultures, economies, and lifestyles of the indigenous people.

Much of this years’ World Forestry Congress is focused on enforcement. Presentations offer new satellite capability to monitor forests and identify when a tree has been taken. Cell phone apps have been created to capture the noise of a chainsaw or vehicle moving through a forest. DNA capability has advanced its ability to recognize not only the species, but also often the area a tree was taken from. This is all significant and important, but like the multiple-decade long efforts to stop the illegal drug trade, until we execute solutions for the causes of deforestation, they will persist.

The great news is that according to the FAO, over the last five years there has been a significant reduction in the rate of deforestation. The worldwide acceptance of CITES, the connecting of international aide to forest policy, and the huge investments in stopping the inducements for deforestation are making their mark. Engaging consumer awareness is an import addition that consumer products companies must employ. Not degrading our world’s forests is part of the value in products that thoughtfully and appropriately source their wood contents.

Although the acoustic guitar industry is small in its consumption of wood, our activism in supporting CITES and pursuing the requirements of the 2008 Lacey Act Amendments is making an impact. Every time a guitar company insists on transparency for where a tree was harvested, how it was harvested, the conservation plan that supports the sustainability of the forest where it came from, and the chain of custody for it’s transition to the workshop…this all contributes to saving our world’s forests. We may not be large consumers, but the way we source our salvaged and reclaimed wood makes us conscious consumers working towards preserving forests.

These are my thoughtsafter day one at the World Forestry Congress.

Learn about the World Forestry Congress here.


Tom Bedell