The Value of Tropical Forests to the People Who Live There


In an effort to slow deforestation in the Tropics conservationists have begun to document some of the non-timber economic values of forests. In a seminal paper Peters et al. argued "... that tropical forests are worth considerably more than has been previously assumed, and that the actual market benefits of timber are very small relative to the non wood sources."

Ten years later Godoy et al. surveyed market prices in two villages in Honduras (Peters worked in Amazonian Peru) and came up with a value about one-tenth that of Peters. These two numbers probably represent the upper and lower boundaries and what the actual non timber values are in any given place will depend upon local conditions.

The evolution of the argument about the relative values of timber versus non timber products is a good example of the give and take of science in action. The heat that has been generated by these arguments is a good indication that this is an important topic.

We spoke with Douglas Sheil about his attempts to involve local people in Indonesia in this debate.

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