The World Bank sort of figures it out


April 2, 2013   The World Bank sort of figures it out      Greg Gerritt
Ursula K. LeGuin, one of my favorite authors, creates in her fiction alien worlds that are not quite so alien, based on real ecological principles and a real understanding of human behavior.  One of her books is titled “The Word for World is Forest”.  Earth is not quite like that, though as a native of the forests of northeastern North America, it is easy to imagine a world of forests despite my urban childhood.    It is also important to remember that the reforesting of the planet is going to be one of our key tools in mitigating and adapting to climate change and maintaining food security.
I transferred out of forestry school when i was 18 because I figured out that the forestry school at the University of Maine had no more interest in forest, ecosystem, or community health than the corporate forest overlords who had paid for the brand new Forest Resources building on campus.  I had figured out that to keep the forests healthy we needed to focus more on what people did than the minutia of corporate forestry so it was time to change majors.  I spent the next 25 years in the woods, managing a woodlot,  keeping my eyes open, gardening, building things of wood, reading quite a bit.  My last woods job was as the Research Director and forest tour guide for the first Ban Clearcutting referendum in Maine in 1996.  It was fun going on speaking tour in rural Maine and noting that 25 years earlier I had left forestry school because the U of Maine was not protecting the forest, and they still were not.  We lost that referendum campaign, but we were right about what was happening in the Maine woods, and today the forest based industries in Maine are cutting a lot less wood than they were in the 1990’s.  They had no choice.    My forest work these days is part of a larger practice focused on the ecology/economy interface.  It includes reforesting a vacant lot down by the river as a long term experiment in suppression of invasive weeds and participating in the newly forming Providence Urban Tree Alliance.
With this background I occasionally find myself reading things like Managing Forest Resources for Sustainable Development: An Evaluation of World Bank Group Experience, prepared by the Independent Evaluation Group, distributed internally on December 28, 2012 which supposedly was discussed at a meeting of the Committee on Development Effectiveness scheduled for February 2013.   The World Bank wants to know if it successfully implemented its 2002 forest strategy.
For many activists the World Bank has been one of the bad guys of the planet, doing all it can to keep corporate globalism growing, while occasionally paying lip service to ending poverty and protecting the environment.  Therefore the World Bank document is in some ways rather remarkable.  It clearly states that the representatives of the global ruling elite who operate the World Bank have figured out one of the important things to do to keep ecosystems that feed us healthy on planet Earth, and to prevent rural poverty from getting worse, is to ensure that the communities of people who live in the forest maintain their traditional control of the land and its resources. It seems like every time big money or urban interests get control of the forest it is destroyed in the name of getting richer faster. The World Bank staff have determined that when forests are destroyed the poorest of the poor suffer the most, and that the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people who live in and depend upon the forest are at risk. The data, a review of their own studies by an internal review team, clearly demonstrates that by every human and ecological indicator, places where the community maintained control of the forests they depended upon were healthier.
While it is cool that the World Bank is ahead of the corporate elite in my neighborhood in its understanding of the ecology/economy interface, my reaction to the World Bank’s epiphany about the relationship between ecology, democracy, and economy is more in the what took you so damned long vein, But it is another example of how the reality on Earth is catching up to the corporate global system. It is now clear that the World Bank professional staff is starting to figure out the inextricable link between ecosystem health, democracy, economic equality, and the prosperity of human communities,   I started using the slogan “you can not heal ecosystems without ending poverty, you can not end poverty without healing ecosystems” about 15 years ago, so even in the 2002 strategy document the World Bank was playing catch up to what many of us had already figured out.
Despite being late to the table, the World Bank report is remarkable enough that probably the best way to give the reader the flavor is to simply quote a few passages and  provide minimalist annotation.
WB   From the cover letter of the document
The World Bank Group’s forest interventions have contributed substantially to environmental outcomes, but poverty reduction, for the most part, has not been adequately addressed. Projects that promote participatory forest management have been the most successful at balancing poverty reduction and environmental aims but this
integration is lacking in other interventions.
GG  The WB has helped ecosystem health by helping to create protected areas, but overall they have financed more damage than healing.  But the finding that community involvement in decisions is crucial, both ecologically and economically, is useful. 
WB    From the overview   page XV

the intrinsic characteristics of
forests make sustainable management a
challenge. The positive externalities forests
provide are uncertain, diffuse, and hard to
value. When ignored by decision-makers, the
magnitude of private net benefits of
deforestation can seem to outweigh the public
benefits of conservation or sustainable
management. As a result, deforestation and
degradation continue without much
compensating gain for economic development
or poverty reduction.
WB   1.4  page 2    “Poor forest  governance stems from the fact that forests often have a combination of capturable wealth but poor, isolated, and powerless residents. Powerful interest groups can seize this wealth, depriving poor people of access to forest resources, and sometimes contributing to corruption and poor governance at the national level. Because it is more profitable to mine the forest than to manage it sustainably, this contributes  also to environmental damage.


GG   Outside interests are good at stealing forests from their inhabitants.  They have been doing this since the beginning of cities as one can not grow cities without a ready supply of wood, wood that normally is in the hands of the people who already live in the forest.  The routine is to kill, displace, or enslave the forest people and cut down the forest.  Now it is done in the name of economic growth instead of Manifest Destiny, or some other appeal to nationalism,  but the result is the  same.  Forest dwellers die or are displaced and the corrupt elite gets richer.


In my city we do not face an exactly analogous situation, rarely are their weapons involved, but what  environmental justice communities in the US deal with comes from exactly the same impulses.   Communities are run over, to their detriment ecologically, socially, financially.  They are run over for exactly the same reasons communities in the forest are run over, and the remedy of allowing the communities control over their assets instead of assets being controlled by outside forces is exactly what helps communities become more prosperous.  Whether you learn this coming at it from the forest or coming from brownfield communities you end up in the same place.  Democracy, especially in the development process, is a critical factor if our work is to lead to ecological healing and to prosperity in low income communities..

WB  2.58  page 45   Evidence is lacking that the World Bank‘s support for industrial timber
concession reform has led to sustainable and inclusive economic development. As
stated by in recent analytical work, —over the past sixty years, there is little evidence
that industrial timber production has lifted rural populations out of poverty or
contributed in other meaningful and sustainable ways to local and national
GG   Having lived in Maine where Industrial Timber Concessions have been important since 1820 I am glad the WB has finally figured this out.  Timber concessions lead to massive ecological destruction, and impoverish communities.  The WB should just remove industrial concessions from their tool kit, and only finance community based development.  And the use of forest concessions should be more than sufficient to label a country an ecological pirate and remove their forest products and the products created on the destroyed forest lands, from global commerce. 
WB 2.62  page 48     World Bank policy advice and project-level aims that have supported the reform of industrial timber concession regimes have neglected or underestimated the nontimber values and uses of the forests, with respect to the livelihoods of forest-dependent people, their sociocultural values, and their sense of security. Except in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Bank has not systematically analyzed the economic and sociocultural trade-offs associated with this model before implementing its projects, including: the employment potential of small-scale forest enterprises (versus large-scale logging), the potential loss of forest-related incomes (through the loss of nontimber forest products), disruption of food and fuel security, or effects on sociocultural or religious practices and norms


GG  The World Bank, and everyone else seem to always underestimate how valuable the forest (or the equivalent ecosystems in non forested places)  is to the people who live there, and are finally coming to the realization that wholesale stripping of forests provides little of value to communities or governments, while making a fortune for the corrupt few.  I hope they put their money where their mouth is.

WB   Box 2.7  page 49     In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the World Bank supported a well-received and often cited piece of economic sector work, Forests in Post-Conflict DRC: Analysis of a Priority Agenda (2007), which demonstrated that domestic uses of the forest for fuel wood, bush meat, other forest foods, and medicines rank higher than timber in annual economic value. The total market value of both fuel wood production and bush meat was estimated to be over $2 billion, while the economic value of watershed protection was considered to be on the order of $100 million to $1 billion. In comparison, the total market value of both formal and informal timber was estimated at only $160 million. Even if timber production were to increase in the future, the report argues, it was likely to remain modest compared to the value other forest goods and services. Concluding that there was —an opportunity for developing new forest uses and financing systems beyond the usual models of timber production, parks, agriculture and small-scale harvesting by communities and local Enterprises, the report argued for a turn toward multipurpose land use planning in place of the industrial timber concessions that dominated in the past.


GG    Yup.  It is crazy to trade $3 billion dollars a year of value to the many for $160 million a year pocketed by the few.

WB   2.79  page 56   The focus on engaging local resource users in decision-making is a vital element of resource management that holds potential for increasing synergy among
the three pillars. Increased local participation in environmental management is
viewed as a means to eliminate inefficiency and corruption in administration of the
forestry sector while enhancing equity in the distribution of economic benefits.
WB  2.82  page 57   Across the World Bank forest-related projects in the Sahel, the failure to explicitly address asymmetrical power relationships between decentralized bodies and forestry agents islikely to reduce the ability of local groups to actually exercise decision-making power in forest management.



GG  Ecological healing and economic justice are simply two sides of the same coin, and putting them into practice is what allows prosperity in marginalized communities. Richard Wilkinson and Kate Picket in their 2009 book “The Spirit Level” include graphs that clear show that by every measure, including ecologically, a community is better off if there is less economic inequality, and of course economic equality is only possible with political equality.  Here in Rhode Island developers are constantly trying to reduce the power of low income communities in the development arena.  Given the lack of economic success in RI, we might need to consider that giving low income communities more power might be a better approach to creating prosperity.

WB  Box 4.2  page 90    Global Partnership for  Forest Landscape   with support from PROFOR.

The main finding was an  exciting one: About 2 billion hectares of degraded and lost forest lands are suitable for restoration. Of those, about 1.5 billion hectares would be best-suited for mosaic restoration, in which forests and trees are combined with other land uses, including agroforestry, smallholder agriculture, and settlements. These are also the landscapes with a high potential impact on poverty reduction.


This message resonated particularly strongly with the Bank because of its own successful experience on the Loess Plateau in China, one of the largest integrated landscape restoration projects in the world, where terracing, natural tree regeneration, tree planting and managed grazing have resulted in increased yields, incomes and food security, as well as improved resilience, carbon sequestration and erosion control. Today this shift in management attitudes toward forests and agriculture is very palpable in the Bank and has contributed to steer discussion on climate change toward more cross-sectoral, landscape based approaches (minding the + in REDD+, supporting climate-smart agriculture, etc).

—The fates of forests and agriculture are bound together…Forests cannot be sustained if people are hungry or the governance of natural resources is inadequate. This was widely quoted in blogs and media stories, and echoed in what other participants said in their presentations and speeches. There is a growing consensus among agencies, researchers, donors and policy makers that forest issues cannot be dealt with in isolation and that tackling deforestation is best done within an integrated landscape approach that builds on the huge opportunities for —triple wins∥ (income and food security, adaptation and mitigation).


GG    You can not end poverty without healing ecosystems, you can not heal ecosystems without ending poverty, and you will not do either until we shut down the military industrial complex that is at the heart of the inequality on the planet and uses violence to remove the original inhabitants from the forests of the world.  That we need an integrated approach to communities, ecosystems, economies, and that we need to use the appropriate scale for all of the work we do, should be old hat,  but it is very difficult for the people in decision making roles to do that.  A recent RI conference on the economy was filled with wealthy developers who were quite adamant that communities and rules to protect communities are obstacles to development, when the truth is that communities do not want to be looted.


WB     4.24   Page 93   In addition to the credits, an area has been transformed from a degraded landscape to a lush forested one, bringing a number of benefits such as reduced erosion, increased biodiversity and improvements in income for the communities involved in the project. The project has adapted techniques demonstrated in West Africa to promote natural regeneration of woodlands and has restored more than 2,700 hectares of degraded land. The regeneration project has reportedly resulted in increased production of honey, fruit, and fodder and has provided alternative livelihoods for a number of project beneficiaries


GG  Ecological healing must be part of every development plan on the planet if we intend to eradicate poverty.

WB   4.30     page     94   A recent evaluation of the program (Blomley 2012) found that, while highly relevant, the program‘s effectiveness at the country level varied greatly between countries, especially in the extent to which the results of the participatory consultation processes were able to influence policy and catalyze legal reforms. Its main success at the country level was in —engaging new—and in many cases marginalized—voices within forest dialogue processes.∥ At the global level, the program succeeded in, among other things, identifying and defining a new concept—Investing in Locally Controlled Forests (ILCF)—which is increasingly being adopted by the Bank and the FAO. However, efficiency was undermined by a heavy administrative and financial burden under the Development Grant Facility and complex systems at the country level—in particular in terms of funding and reporting.


GG  Investing in Locally Controlled Forests is the only forest projects the WB should be involved with.



WB    4.35  page 96    Similarly, it is to be expected that there will continue to be some level of friction between the Bank and some client country governments in using some of the approaches and knowledge products developed through the partnerships given their strong advocacy nature, for example, regarding equity, indigenous and local community rights, and actions to combat corruption and illegality.


GG   More business as usual.


WB    5.5  Page 100 The evolution of   the partnerships towards holistic landscape-level approaches that combine forest conservation and SFM with climate change mitigation and adaptation, improved food security and climate smart agricultural development are important achievements. The Bank‘s efforts to integrate broader governance concerns and issues, including the efforts to protect and enhance the rights of indigenous forest-dependent communities, into these approaches are also recognized as important  achievements.


GG   The WB acknowledges that the corrupt elites ruling most of the world are going to resist, but ecological healing, community control, and ending poverty are inextricably linked and must be practiced on a large scale as well as village by village if we are to keep Earth a safe place to live.


WB 5.8  page 101   Expand support for participatory forest management with help to level the playing field for community based forest enterprises by working with clients to improve regulations and procedures and integrate small scale informal forestry activities.

GG     I appreciate this one, it is the WB saying we have been complicit with dictators and racist destruction of forest communities because we think the global capitalist game is the only alternative. Despite all of the evidence pointing out that global capitalism is killing the planet and many people, the WB continues to be a participant in the big time game, so if it  decides to alter the rules, it has some amount of leverage to deal with dictators and greed heads to protect a little forest and some forest people, and occasionally it will do it because the number crunchers finally agree it is the best alternative.
Lo and behold, the World Bank speaks of justice and ecology as integral to the economy, and that the WB and forest communities will get better results if the World Bank and the projects it funds put into practice what they have learned.  Unfortunately change is slow and the powerful are unmoved until we move them.  In the same vein it will be difficult to bring the knowledge the World Bank and researchers and activists around the world have gained in this study to the redevelopment of old industrial places like Rhode Island.  We are not usually dealing with ethnic communities that have 1000 year roots in the place they live, though often we are working in communities of recent immigrants who differ ethnically from those who lived in the neighborhood when it was an economic powerhouse, and therefore have about as much power as the forest people.  The knowledge that it is only via taking care ecologically, being aware of power relationships, and implementing systems that equalize the power and give communities members a real say and stake in the outcome is hard for the global and local elites to swallow.  But in Rhode Island (and many other places) we will have prosperous communities only when we recognize the 50 years of thrashing for growth that failed specifically because it ignored these principles.

2 thoughts on “The World Bank sort of figures it out

  1. Pingback: Preview of Climate, Business Climate and Prosperity essay | Prosperity For RI

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