The Role of Forest Ecosystems in the Economy of the Rural Area

The Role of Forest Ecosystems in the Economy of the Rural Area

Silvia Elena Iacob (Bucharest University of Economic Studies, Romania)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2081-8.ch006
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We have presented the forest as an ecosystem, the socio-economic development of the forest ecosystems in the rural area and the sustainable management of the forest as an ecosystem. The debate on the public assets of the forests and on climate change will nourish the discussions related to the future form of the Common Agricultural Policy at a moment when the European Union is preparing its new forest strategy. A new sustainable rural development policy will need to rely on a strong will, based on the support of the States for the most disinherited rural areas in point of location, accessibility, economic development and services for the population. “The rural world” represents an opportunity for our country (until 2020); we only need to want to take advantage of these resources for a more sustainable development.
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The Forest As Ecosystem

For a long time, in people’s perception, forests have been just empty or even hostile areas, which were appreciated only to the extent to which their felled trees provided timber, and the deforested land was cultivated for agriculture, or new settlements were built.

Extremely few were the examples of sustainable management of the forests, based on understanding them as vital ecosystems, the most common relation that people have had with the forests being expressed by destructive practices, persisting almost everywhere.

In the ancient times, the Mediterranean region was more humid and more fertile, being forested; the 13th-16th centuries meant an irreversible disaster of deforestation for the sake of wood used for ships and as fuel, grazing lands, agriculture, etc.

The loss of 90% of the forests in the Philippines in just 20 years of impetus of the processing industry is the most eloquent example of “shortsightedness” in the management of some renewable resources as well as the most brutal ongoing attitude.

As soon as the forests have been “opened”, a new phenomenon began in the wet forests. Fires, the inestimable damages caused in Indonesia, Brazil, North America and more recently in SE Asia, where the fires of the years 1997-1998 gave shivers, if we consider only the fact that smoke darkened Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, the south of Thailand and the Philippines for several months, interrupting the activity of schools, firms, transport, etc. Tens of millions of people grew ill and several hundreds died, and the habitats of some endangered species, such as the orangutan, were devastated.

Certainly, now changes in the forest landscape occur much faster, due to the modern exploitation technologies, and fires have begun to occur naturally, often following the deforestations occurred so far, triggering terrible storms and whirlwinds, accompanied by unimagined natural outbursts.

Very late, people have realized that, when forests disappear, they lose not just wood, but first the effects of the first functions of the forest—vital regeneration functions.

The first 150 products obtained from the forests, other than wood, traded internationally, are worth more than $11 billion /year, without considering the local value of these products which is even higher, if we think just about the fact that they offer, simultaneously, more than 8 million jobs.

At the same time, forests house countless species and offer habitat to millions of valuable organisms that decompose organic substances, create soils, pollinate cultures and control disease-carrying pests. Then, very late, people have realized the effect of the forest as a defender of the soil against erosion and as a protector of the hydrographic networks, regulating the water courses and offering stability to storage lakes. The lack of forests leads to soil erosion in the areas with high relief energy, while runoffs trigger high floods, and the water circuit in nature is damaged, generating true catastrophes.

Frequently, it has been considered that the greatest value of a forest is given by the wood crop that can be obtained, for timber or paper paste, along with the transformation of the respective area into land for agriculture or for other uses.

It has been admitted, at the same time, rather formally, that there are also other important functions of the forest such as: protection, regeneration, social, but which can be considered free or are simply ignored, although, supported in the long term, could be beneficial for the whole community.

For instance, when alternative management strategies for the mangrove forests of the Bintumi Gulf (Indonesia) were weighed, the value of the fish and of the other local marine crops obtained by avoiding erosion was analyzed, and the conclusion reached was that the most adequate solution would be to preserve the forest, which yields a constant revenue of $ 4800 /ha, compared to the wood exploitation, which brings only $ 3600 /ha. At the same time, keeping the forest would have permitted to continue the local, agricultural and fish exploitations, yielding about $ 10 mil. / year, i.e. over 70% of the local revenue, and protecting the local fishing, which used to assure a yearly revenue of more than $ 25 million. Unfortunately, all these arguments have been ignored (Iacob, 2015).

Beside the many products they provide, forests offer habitats to bees and other pollinators, and birds that keep agricultural pests and disease-carriers under control.

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