OPEN LETTER ON THE CURRENT STATE OF VENEZUELA'S FOREST SCIENCE
¡Esta petición logró su objetivo con el apoyo de 67 personas!
We, the undersigned, a group of Venezuelan citizens and forest scientists would like to address the prestigious community of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) with regards to the dramatic situation faced by the Venezuelan forest sector and forest science. Venezuela, a tropical megadiverse country, is facing the worst political, social, economic and humanitarian crisis in its history. With one of the highest inflation rates worldwide, people do not manage to cover basic needs; and food and medicine shortages have grown severe. Forest management and forest science are not an exception to this critical situation, suffering an accelerated decay in the last few years.
Forests and natural areas are seriously endangered, as the result of anarchic land use and mistaken environmental and forestry policies.
According to FAO (2015), Venezuela occupies place 14th in the ranking of countries with highest deforestation rates. Old growth forests in the western and central Venezuelan plains have long disappeared due to unregulated, non-planned farming and agricultural development, and destruction is extending to the montane forests and those located in the Venezuelan Guayana region. Since 2010, forest policy in Venezuela has changed dramatically. Through the creation of a National Forestry Company, an official monopoly of management was established on the national forest reserves. All aspects of forest management (as research and commercialization of natural timber) are managed exclusively by this governmental entity. Information and statistics related to its administration is not publicly available. Forest management is poorly documented and lacks sustainability indicators. Moreover, legislation foresees forest certification with own standards (self-certification), a process lacking the credibility of third-party assessment.
In 2014 the government eliminated the Ministry of Environment and created the Ministry of Eco-socialism and Water, an entity with a strong ideological component. The Venezuelan forestry sector is largely disconnected from initiatives and/or programs implemented in other parts of the world (e.g. REDD, REDD +, IPCC). This is in part due to the decoupling of government entities that manage the sector with the above- mentioned initiatives, but also with state and private forestry developments and forest research institutions. In 2016 another drawback occurred for Venezuelan forests with the creation per decree of the “Arco Minero del Orinoco”, a project aiming to boost mineral exploitation in the region of the Orinoco Belt in an area comprising about 12 % of Venezuela's territory. For this purpose, the Ministry for the Development of Ecological Mining, as well as mining military industry were created. This army-controlled “special economic zone” is putting at risk the Venezuelan Amazon's biodiversity, indigenous cultures and water resources.
On the other hand, not much has been reached regarding the forest-related research conducted by the governmental agencies. A national forest research program has not been yet officially published nor implemented. Moreover, universities and research centers’ advice is neither requested nor taken into account for the formulation of national forest research and monitoring programs, forest sustainability standards and for forest statistics. For instance, the last official vegetation map of Venezuela was issued in 1983 and the first national forest inventory started in 2009 and has not yet been concluded.
Forest science in Venezuela: a huge challenge and gap
An important number of Venezuelan scientists have left the country during the last 5-10 years, looking for better life and work opportunities. University budgets are insufficient for normal functioning and infrastructure maintenance. Acquiring laboratory supplies, computers and field equipment has become almost impossible since inflation devours budgets and access to other currencies is limited. Vandalism has also reached research institutions; with many of them losing their electrical and computing facilities and equipment, and even compromising botanical collections, as recently happened to the National Herbarium of Venezuela, Venezuela's largest botanical heritage.
Getting the permits for field work in national parks, natural protected areas and indigenous territories (often the largest and most biodiverse forests of the country), has become extremely difficult due to tedious administrative processes which can take years until approval. The economic crisis has hampered the ability for many national research institutions to keep their scientific organizations memberships up to date (e.g. IUFRO), and thus limiting the capacity for many scientists to actively be part of international networks. In addition, other international sources of funding and/or capacity development have decreased or ceased their participation in Venezuela, further complicating an already harsh situation.
OUR CALL TO IUFRO AND TO OUR COLLEAGUES ABROAD
For a long time, Venezuelan scientists, including those doing forest-based research, often dealt with challenges through national and international partnerships while enhancing networking and collaboration. Despite multiple limitations, researchers were able to participate and engage in international meetings such as those organized by IUFRO or other forest ecology-based organizations. Venezuela was an active member of international initiatives that were substantial to maintain an active research agenda that often also involved other partners like The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, WWF, among others. Amid current crisis, the networking of Venezuelan scientists with international colleagues, universities and forestry organizations has also suffered a decline.
We are hopeful in that the Venezuelan crisis will end and solutions will emerge in the short term for the country and for Venezuelan forest scientists. In the meantime, we believe that there are other effective ways to partially mitigate some of these challenges and that involves calling attention from other partners, both in the region and globally. In this case, this includes the awareness of IUFRO, whose authority in multiple forest-related issues is undisputed. In this regard, we welcome and are very thankful for IUFRO's decision to offer support to all Venezuelans interested in participating in this IUFRO 125th Anniversary Congress through the Scientist Assistance Program (SAP). Forest scientists and their institutions in Venezuela are in need of support and this is a primary example of one of the many ways in which forest research organizations can help a long-time and dedicated partner. Similar efforts could potentially include: facilitating the conditions for Venezuelan scientists to be part of the Scientist Assistance Program (SAP) and within the Special Program for Development of Capacities (SPDC); granting Venezuelan research institutions with IUFRO Memberships, and considering Venezuelan institutions for international cooperation with research organizations members of the IUFRO network.
IUFRO has made substantial contributions to the status of forest science worldwide. It is the ideal forum for discussing relevant issues regarding the status of forests, its management and conservation, while helping to discuss policies for a better decision making process in many parts of the world. We are interested in maintaining an open and honest communication with IUFRO - and its multiple partners - that ultimately helps promoting new ideas that can contribute to a more active and broader engagement of Venezuelan forest scientists. We thank you in advance.
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