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The Value of Forest: An Ecological Economic Examination of Forest People’s Perspective

Part of the Forestry Sciences book series (FOSC,volume 81)

Abstract

While a comprehensive economic valuation of all use and non-use values of the forest is impossible, indigenous societies seem to have a clear, albeit inchoate idea of the value of the forest on which they depend for their material and cultural existence. Forests were valued in all ancient civilizations, and often carefully preserved for subsistence as well as esoteric uses. Following the rise of capitalism, governments in Europe and her colonies considered forests first as wastelands, and then a valuable resource for economic development, and abrogated the customary rights of indigenous forest villagers. All governments of ex-colonies have passed laws to conserve forests as national assets, but often consider them as an obstacle to economic prosperity, whenever profits from industrial land use appear to exceed the instrumental value of the forest. Throughout this cycle of the loss and gain of economic importance of the forest, indigenous people and their perspectives are pushed into oblivion.

Indigenous forest people consider the forest’s existence value to be as important as its use value, and as the bedrock of their cultural and political identity. Bereft of ownership and management rights to the state-owned forest, indigenous villagers have created their own forests on their private and community lands – both as “non-forest” vegetations for biomass removal, and as sacred groves, which uphold the non-use value of the land. Several tree species are planted and maintained along roadside, at home gardens and in sacred groves, regardless of their use values. Many rare and endangered trees that have disappeared from the state forest now exist only in these folk forests. These “worthless” trees and forests highlight the indigenous ecological economic perspective, in which the cultural significance of the forest transcends its instrumental value. This perspective of the value of the forest underlies the cultural-political motive for forest conservation, in opposition to the profit motive of industry and the development agenda of the state.

Keywords

  • Home Garden
  • Forest Department
  • Forest Policy
  • Economic Valuation
  • Sacred Grove

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    This explains why most ecosystem peoples fail to claim compensation for the loss of their forest habitats due to development projects – they cannot imagine the possibility of money compensation for the loss.

  2. 2.

    Manoka (1997) describes bequest value as a form of use value (to posterity).

  3. 3.

    Oxygen will continue to be available for people to breathe also in the absence of any particular forest, so ecological economists talk about oxygen balance maintenance instead of oxygen production as a forest ecosystem service.

  4. 4.

    The standard economic view usually assumes that a good can be either free or have a finite price. From the ecological perspective, however, most environmental services have an infinite price — no sum of money, however large it may be, should be permitted to purchase the right to destroy these services (Deb 2009). In other words, if the rent from the forest land as renewable resource is R and discount rate is d, then the price (P) of the forest land, as a renewable resource, will be

    \( P=R/d\)

    At a discount rate d = 0, the price of the land becomes infinite, so no one will be able to buy the land.

  5. 5.

    The same model of forestry is by and large continuing in ex-colonies after their independence (Colchester 2006; Bose et al. 2012).

  6. 6.

    The science of forestry was born in the nineteenth century with the explicit objective of contributing to the continuation of economic progress, not wildlife or nature conservation. As Gifford Pinchot put it succinctly: “The object of our forest policy is not to preserve the forests because they are beautiful … or because they are refuges for the wild creatures of the wilderness … but the making of prosperous homes.... Every other consideration comes as secondary” (cited in Robinson 1975: 55).

  7. 7.

    Some of the milestones were the insurrections and revolts of the Tamar (1795), Bhumij (1798–1799), Munda (1819–1820), Paik (1817), Bhil (1818–1831), Santal (1955–1956), Kharia (1860–1880) Kairwar (1871), Munda (1895), Sardari (1859–1895), and the Oraon (1915–1920).

  8. 8.

    This idyllic forest land is now under threat of destruction from Hindalco’s aluminium mining. The Lapanga villagers won in a legal battle against the company, yet the State government connives at the company’s mischief, in defiance of the judicial order.

  9. 9.

    In July 2004, India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests, in an affidavit filed at the Supreme Court, admitted:

    “That, for most areas in India, especially the tribal areas, record of rights did not exist due to which rights of the tribals could not be settled during the process of consolidation of forests in the country. Therefore, the rural people, especially tribals who have been living in the forests since time immemorial, were deprived of their traditional rights and livelihood and, consequently, these tribals have become encroachers in the eyes of law. That these guidelines, dated 5 February 2004, are based on the recognition that the historical injustice done to the tribal forest dwellers through non-recognition of their traditional rights must be finally rectified.… Further, that because of the absence of legal recognition of their traditional rights, the adjoining forests have become ‘open access’ resource as such for the dispossessed tribals, leading to forest degradation in a classic manifestation of the tragedy of commons” (cited in Blaikie and Springate-Baginski, 2007: 77–78). With this background recognition of forest people’s rights, the new FRA was passed in 2006.

  10. 10.

    My own grief for the death of a thousand bees who stung me to anaphylaxis on January 1, 2011 was shaped by my knowledge of the bees’ ecological services and functions, in addition to my knowledge of their fascinating eusociality and semiobiology.

  11. 11.

    Once widely distributed in India, Bangladesh and South East Asia, V. glabrata has now become rare in eastern India, and is nearly extinct in Thailand due to its over-extraction from the wild for its use in traditional Thai medicine (Chamnipa et al. 2012).

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Acknowledgements

I am grateful to Debdulal Bhattacharya, Bhairab Saini, Arun Ram, Debashis Mukherjee, Subrata Das, Nirmal Mandal, Bishnu Mandal, Shanti Roy and the late Rabi Mahato for diligent assistance in gathering data about non-forest vegetaion and wildlife victims in 5 districts of West Bengal.

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Deb, D. (2014). The Value of Forest: An Ecological Economic Examination of Forest People’s Perspective. In: Fenning, T. (eds) Challenges and Opportunities for the World's Forests in the 21st Century. Forestry Sciences, vol 81. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-7076-8_7

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