A good friend of mine Alex Nimz who has been devoting his considerable intellect and energies into the development of REDD+ projects in Asia made an interesting observation on my Forest loss post.
Alex suggests that when the western economies converted their forests to agriculture, the products were distributed locally, and economic benefits from agriculture were also kept locally. In many countries were REDD+ is being trialled, the capacity for agriculture development is imported, would-be agriculture products are exported, and most of the economic benefits flow back overseas to the investors in the projects. Consequently from the perspective of a customary landowner of primary rainforest, the opportunity cost of REDD+ is quite low because clearing and development of agriculture does not represent a great economic opportunity locally. Instead the REDD+ opportunity allows them to participate in stewardship and other activities that match their existing capacities.
I agree with this analysis. If the locals take the agriculture development route in the modern world of international markets, not enough of the production stays to stimulate a local economy. Only for me this doubles the twist because I am not sure that locals perceive the opportunity cost as low.
Ask an African from the village if he wants a mobile phone, a BMW and sharp clothes and he says, yes please. In other words I suspect there is an innate human urge to have more, wherever you come from and at whatever level in the economic game you start.
And a forest converted to agriculture would always seem like a start.