From Patagonia to the Pampa: Model Forests and SFM in Argentina

From July 6 - 18, 2003, International Model Forest Network (IMFN) representatives had the opportunity to travel to Futaleufú and Formosa in Argentina to review the status and progress of model forests there. It was the first IMFN visit to Argentina since the Regional Model Forest Centre for Latin America and the Caribbean (RMFC-LAC) was established in October of 2002.

Despite challenging political and organizational snags in Argentina over the past two years, Richard Verbisky, IMFNS Senior Program Officer for Latin America, Brian Bonnell, Manager for Canada's Model Forest Program (Natural Resources Canada), and Francisco Mendoza, Executive Director for RMFC-LAC, discovered two model forests that have continued to grow.

"It was a very positive experience," said Verbisky. "All the elements are there for both model forests."

Verbisky explained that when Néstor Kirchner was elected president of Argentina in May of this year, massive government restructuring meant the Ministry of Forests was absorbed by the Ministry of Health. The reorganization will challenge the model forest partners in Argentina to portray the diverse nature of model forests in such a way that both the model forest program and the Ministry of Health can benefit.

But on the ground, dedicated model forest partners in both regions-in collaboration with local and international NGOs-have continued their work and achieved remarkable success.

Futaleufú: "the model of model forests"

The Futaleufú Model Forest is located in the temperate, humid zone of Patagonia in southern Argentina. The 738 000-hectare Model Forest encompasses the Alerce National Park, several small villages, a fire management and prevention centre, and an educational centre, among other things.

Yet, despite being the first model forest established in that country, Futaleufú has never operated under the auspices of an elected Board of Directors. What's more, national support, usually a fundamental element in the success of a model forest, has stalled due to government reorganization. Nevertheless, dedicated partners continued with their work.

"There is a great leadership ability among partners of this model forest," said Mendoza. "[M]any new and interesting ideas and projects are being developed."

The leadership Mendoza spoke about included such respected and experienced Argentine organizations as: CIEFAP (Andean Patagonia Forest Research and Extension Centre), which has produced several studies on the ecosystems of the Model Forest and conservation of forest species; ALAPA, a farmers association looking into alternative forms of production, such as cherry exports to Europe; and, INTA (National Institute for Agricultural Technology), a well-regarded agriculture-related research centre that aims, among other things, to improve agricultural and agro-forestry production on a sustainable basis, and optimize rural economic returns for a better rural life.

One project, supported by INTA, provides a sustainable income for the rural poor of Trevelin, a small community located within the Model Forest. To supplement their livelihoods, the inhabitants of Trevelin have been granted access to the Model Forest to collect wild mushrooms, to harvest and mill timber, and to collect fuelwood. All activity is based on a sustainable forest management plan.

Other projects include:

  • integrated land use planning within the Model Forest-preparation of forest management plans and participatory methods
  • best forestry practices-fire management and prevention, industrialization and optimization of wood use (CIEFAP), native and exotic tree nursery (INTA)
  • economic diversification-diversification and industrialization of farming and fruit orchards, ecotourism, distillation of aromatic branches
  • extension and diffusion-media outreach, demonstration sites, networking

Both the Chilean government and local Argentine businesspeople have expressed interest in "twinning" Futaleufú with a future Model Forest in Chile. It would be the first bi-national model forest in the world.

With the right structure and balance, "Futaleufú has the potential to become the model of model forests in Argentina," said Verbisky. "People there are well connected and there is a lot of interest in networking."

"The main challenge ahead for Futaleufú will be for stakeholders to establish a common agenda and achieve the necessary synergy among the various interesting projects under development," added Mendoza. "For this it will be necessary to work toward a common goal where all partners fully comprehend their role in the Model Forest and the benefits of their participation."

Western Formoseño Model Forest: meeting community needs

The 800 000-hectare Western Formoseño Model Forest based in Ingeniero Juarez, an eight-hour drive from the city of Formosa in northern Argentina, is one of the poorest regions in the province.

Despite sporadic leadership and cohesion at both the local and regional levels, model forest partners in the region remained committed to the model forest concept. With support from JICA (the Japanese International Cooperation Agency), they forged ahead with their individual projects, achieving considerable success.

"[T]here is a team of very committed professionals who are developing very efficient and successful projects," explained Mendoza. "…[N]amely small family farms run by women that will better meet the nutritional needs of their communities."

During their time there, Verbisky, Bonnell and Mendoza met with project partners, including the Wichi, an indigenous community that generates a sustainable income running a tree nursery. Wichi women earn extra income from carving, weaving and making jewellery they then sell to tourists.

Likewise, the indigenous Toba community has also continued to work on sustainable forest management and use initiatives within the Model Forest area, including the construction of an enormous fence surrounding 250 hectares of land. Because the tract of land in question is so large, and is often used by neighbouring communities and farmers to graze livestock, controlling access is difficult.

"Rather than trying to fence animals in, they've fenced them out," explained Verbisky.

The reserved parcel of forest will become part of a sustainability study as Prof. Walter Perez of the University of Formosa takes inventory and tries to determine how to recover some of the more valuable forest species, as well as how best to manage forest stocks in the future. The Toba are also building a community centre and developing a waterworks system.

Looking ahead

Politically, while there is substantial verbal support for the Western Formoseño and Futaleufú Model Forests at both the municipal and provincial levels, financial support is more difficult to come by due to Argentina's recent economic difficulties. National-level consultations and formalization of a governance structure, including the election of a Board of Directors, are seen as important near-term steps to continue to move forward in development of both model forests.

In fact, model forest partners in Western Formosa are looking to hold a workshop where they will begin discussions on how to reform the Board, and develop a plan to enact that reform, by mid-October of this year. The faculty of Natural Resources at the University of Formosa has already offered to host such a workshop.

"With the development of an appropriate Board that will give them enough profile, balance and structure, these model forests will quickly become very strong and effective vehicles for implementing sustainable forest management based on community participation," said Verbisky.