Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

Chapter 1 - Introduction

Methods of the study

"Planning" has been a part of human society from the time that human beings first made organized attempts to improve their quality of life. Today, planning methods are frequently modified to comply with changing perceptions of the human condition. Recent topics among professionals refer to the fluctuating cost and availability of fossil fuels and the concomitant interest in finding sources of renewable energy; the economic value of "women's work" in the development process; the priority to be given to satisfying basic human needs; the presence and role of native populations, the practice of public participation in planning, the concern for slowing population growth, and, of course, including "the environment" in development planning.

The more specific and clearly defined topics listed above have little difficulty in becoming a part of classical planning methods. Others on the list are not added so easily. One of the more difficult of these is "the environment" and it becomes even more so when one considers "environment and development of the humid tropics" - the subject of this report. The problem stems from two well-known factors: lack of information and experience concerning the tropics; and, the uncontrollable pressures for their development.

It may seem odd that there is a lack of information on the tropics given the outpouring of environmental writings of the last 20 years. But if one compares the ratio of scientists per unit area in the tropics with the same ratio in temperate areas, the reason becomes clear: there is one "environmental scientist" for every 20 sq. km in California and one for every 20,000 sq. km in the Amazon Basin - an area considerably more complex and less known to both scientists and planners.

Published works by those who have an interest in the tropics can be divided into four general categories:

1. Material that predicts the failure of certain kinds of development based on what little we know of the tropics, and which then suggests caution in undertaking such development (Gómez Pompa et al, 1972; Denevan, 1973; Goodland and Irwin, 1975);

2. Material that describes development failure and suggests recommendations which might lead to success elsewhere (Nelson, 1973; Smith, 1981; Hecht, 1981);

3. Material that broadly summarizes existing data and which draws conclusions on how to proceed - usually in the area of research (Farnworth and Golly, 1973; IUCN, 1975; UNESCO, 1978; NAS, 1982), but also in the area of development alternatives (Fearnside, 1979; Goodland, 1980);

4. Material published on individual or group research within specific disciplines. Many of these will be cited in the sectoral chapters. Examples, however, are Sioli, 1968; Sánchez et al, 1981; Fittkaw and Klinge, 1973; and Brown, 1980.

Unfortunately, most of this research information is unavailable to planners in the tropics and much of it, if available, is unusable in its present form, because recommendations and suggestions based on it have essentially been made by the "environmental" scientists with little input from the development community. The problem is that the questions asked by the two groups are different. Scientists are generally more interested in answers to why and how. Development planners need answers to when, where and how much.

To the alarm of many, socioeconomic pressures are pushing for rapid development of the humid tropics. Primary among the figures which cause alarm are those for deforestation rates, high estimates of genetic erosion, and the loss of human cultures. (See especially Sommer, 1976; Raven, 1976; Myers, 1980; Ekholm, 1982; and Cultural Survival Inc. 1982.) Tropical deforestation estimates of 7.3 million hectares (FAO, 1982) to 20.0 million hectares per year are often cited. Much of the loss in the genetic resource is attributed to deforestation in the tropics where two-thirds of all species are to be found (USAID, 1981).

These concerns, combined with the paucity of data, have led many authors to argue for a slowing of development until the ecosystems involved are better understood. Unfortunately, the speed of tropical development is so rapid and unplanned that development effort there will be slowed only by its own failure. Those who are concerned with development in the region, be it as critics or as practitioners, must realize this. And together, they must design new strategies for the development process.

Such strategies would include a set of practical guidelines to adapt the development planning process to the urgency of the situation in the humid tropics. These must be based on concepts of environmental management that consider the many interests extant in the humid tropics, and be based on knowledge already available, depending to a lesser degree on what we hope to learn in the future. Further, the guidelines must be understood and accepted by the development sectors. This means that they themselves must be involved in guideline formulation. It is the formulation of such a set of guidelines and recommendations that the present study attempts; before it can begin, however, a paragraph is necessary concerning the often repeated statement, "There is no conflict between environment and development."

Hidden by the verbal shorthand that accompanies such a statement is often an element of truth. There is also an element of error. First, one can say that concern for the quality of environments and efforts at development encompass the same general objectives, since both attempt to improve someone's environment. On the other hand, there is always the potential for conflict between any two activities that attempt to use the same ecosystems for different purposes. What is clear is that both the environmental movement and the development sectors base their activities on a common premise - that human beings deserve more than they are getting. Although neither group should claim ethical superiority over the other, the activities of each can be debated. Two facts concerning the environmental movement, and two questions which the development sectors must answer, provide the context for that debate.

The facts concern first, the one common theme and, second, the diversity of interests in the environmental movement. The theme is that of "the environment as one" elaborated by the late Barbara Ward (1966). We live in one interconnected and interdependent world - a complex place full of cause and effect relationships, feed-back, and thresholds where the activities of one individual or group influence the life of another and often come back to haunt those who initiated the actions. Science has chosen to call this interdependence "holocoenosis" and Commoner (1971) has called it the first law of ecology: "everything is connected to everything else."

Where Ward and Commoner described the theme of the environmental movement, the late Dr. René Dubos described the concerns of the movement (1972,1981). He preferred to speak of "environments" and wrote of the richness of individual and cultural differences. He recognized that the efforts made by men to improve their surroundings reflected their different desires and needs. The environmental movement, made up as it is of such disparate groups as those who protect wilderness and those who cultivate gardens, is proof of the correctness of his observation.

Today there are some 5,000 non-governmental organizations registered with the Environmental Liaison Center in Nairobi - each with its own concern. The major reason for their identification with "the environment" is that they had been overlooked by a development process being led by other interest groups that were often more powerful economically and politically. The blossoming of the movement came when a critical mass of the "overlooked" was reached in the 1960s. This led to the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, where the problems of the developed countries were discussed as being "environmental" and those of the Third World as being "developmental." However, the concerns of the countries of the Third World were similarly "environmental," for "environmental concerns" are always the sectoral interests of individuals, groups and societies which may or may not coincide with those of other individuals, groups and societies who share those same environments.

As a consequence of these observations, two sets of questions arise that only the development sectors can answer. The first is akin to the questions of traditional economics: "What resources of environments do development sectors manipulate to improve quality of life?," "How are they to be manipulated?" and "Who should decide?"

The second set of questions - "How should the development sectors respond to the holistic nature of environments?" and "How can a specific development effort avoid interfering with the development efforts of other sectors or interest groups?" - also requires an answer. A positive response to these questions is "environmental management" - the subject of the next chapter.

Methods of the study

The area used as the case study was the Central Selva of Peru (Map 1) and there are several reasons why this region makes an appropriate study area:

- the concerns of the Government of Peru to integrate fully its extensive territories in the humid tropics into the life and economy of the rest of the country; to pay attention to the needs of native peoples only recently being subjected to the rapid change and pace of the 20th Century; and to undertake development efforts that respect the dangers inherent in substantially altering complex ecosystems whose structure and function are largely unknown;

- the long history of both successful and unsuccessful settlement efforts in the area (Nelson, 1973; Martínez, 1981) and reconnaissance level natural resource investigations (ONERN, 1981; 1982), which offer a wide range of material for evaluation; and,

- the substantial amount of information made available through the work of the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, USAID and other bilateral aid agencies in the area under the coordination of the Central Selva Special Projects Office.

Although the Central Selva was to "represent" all the humid tropics, the authors are under no illusion that the humid tropics can be adequately represented by any one sample; efforts were made simply to place the study area in the overall context of the humid tropics. The work of the authors was to describe the nature of the interest of each sector; identify the components and processes of the Central Selva ecosystems which were of interest to that sector and to identify any natural hazards that could restrict potential development activities; identify which activities of other sectors were related in both positive and negative ways to the activities of their sector; discuss these relationships with specialists representing other sectors and, together, arrive at solutions to any conflicts and discuss any aspects of interactions which may be mutually supportive. Based on these discussions the authors were to provide guidelines, recommendations or observations relative to planning the use of the American humid tropics.


Throughout the study, use of a common vocabulary was encouraged. One product is the glossary presented at the end of this report. In addition, a number of words, phrases and/or concepts felt to be inadequate or problematic in discussions of environment and development were prohibited. For example "environmental" could not be used except in the term "environmental management" or where it was accompanied by a description of a specific environment. As a consequence, phrases such as "environmental considerations," "environmental deterioration," "environmental effects," "environmental costs," "environmental impacts" and "environmental preservation" are only used where the characteristics being deteriorated, affected, impacted or preserved are identified as belonging to a specific sector or interest group. Likewise, the word "ecology" is used only in agreement with its definition - essentially the study of relationships. Such phrases as "ecologic equilibrium," "ecologic preservation," "ecologic management" and "ecologic aptitude" are not used; nor is the word "ecology" used to replace the words "environment" or "ecosystem." "Delicate" and "fragile" are not allowed in describing ecosystems because more often than not their common usage is to justify the position of a sector or interest group and say little of value about ecosystem structure and function. Thus, communication was based on efforts to be specific in discussion and to limit the use of words that attempt to indicate intellectual and/or ethical superiority of one sector over another.


Brown, S. 1980. Rates of Organic Matter Accumulation and Litter Production in Tropical Forest Ecosystems. In: The Role of Tropical Forests on the World Carbon Cycle. DSD. Report of a Symposium. Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico. March 19,1980

Commoner, B. 1971. The Closing Circle. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Cultural Survival Inc. 1982. "Deforestation: The Human Costs." Cultural Survival Quarterly. Vol. 6 N° 2. Spring 1982.

Denevan, W.M. 1973. "Development and the Imminent Demise of the Amazon Rain Forest." Prof. Geog. 25:130-135.

Dubos, R. 1972. A God Within. Charles Scribner's Sons. New York. 323 p.

Dubos, R. 1981. Celebrations of Life. McGraw-Hill. 260 p.

Eckholm, E. 1982. Down to Earth: Environment and Human Needs. W.W. Boston and Co. New York. 238 p.

(FAO) Food and Agricultural Organization. (After Abel, J and Ayrasot, P. ed.). 1982. Deforestation and Development. A Newsletter for Environment and Development. European Environmental Bureau.

Farnworth, E.G. and F.B. Golley. 1973. Fragile Ecosystems. Evaluation of Research and Applications in the Neotropics. Institute of Ecology. Springer-Verlag. New York.

Fearnside, P.M. 1979. "The Development of the Amazon Rain Forest: Priority Problems for Development of Guidelines." Interciencia 4 (6): 338-343.

Fittkau, E.J. and H. Klinge. 1973. "Sobre la Biomasa y Estructura Trópica del Ecosistema de Bosque Pluvial en la Amazonia Central." Biotropica 5 (1): 5-14.

Gómez Pompa, A., C. Vazomez-Yáñez and S. Guevara. 1972. "The Tropical Rainforest: Non-Renewable Resource." Science. Vol. 177: 762-765.

Goodland, R. 1980. Environmental ranking of Amazonian development projects in Brazil. Environmental Conservation. Vol. 7 (1): 9-26.

Goodland, R. and Irwin H. 1975. Green Hell to Red Desert. Elsevier, Amsterdam. 155 p.

Hecht, S. 1981. "Cattle Ranching in the Amazon: Analysis of a Development Strategy." Unpublished Ph. D. Dissertation. University of California.

(IUCN) International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. 1975. The Use of Ecological Guidelines for Development in the American Humid Tropics. Proc. Caracas, Venezuela. IUCN Publication New Series. No. 31.249 p.

Martínez, H. 1981. Jenaro Herrera: Una Experiencia de Colonización en la Selva Baja Peruana. Lima 1981. Cooperación Tecnica Suiza (mimeo).

Myers, N. 1980. Conversion of Tropical Moist Forests. National Academy of Sciences. Washington D.C. 205 p.

(NAS) National Academy of Science. 1982. Ecological Aspects of Development in the Humid Tropics. National Academy Press. Washington D.C. 297 p.

Nelson, M. 1973. The Development of Tropical Lands. Resources for the Future. The Johns Hopkins University Press. 306 p.

(ONERN) Oficina Nacional de Evaluación de Recursos Naturales. 1981. Inventario y Evaluación Semidetallada de los Recursos Naturales de la Zona del Río Pichis y Palcazu. Tomo I Río.

(ONERN) Oficina Nacional de Evaluación de Recursos Naturales. 1982. Inventario y Evaluación Semidetallada de los Recursos Naturales de la Zona del Río Pichis y Palcazu. Tomo II Río Palcazu.

Raven, P. 1976. "The Destruction of the Tropics. "Frontiers. Vol. 40: 22-23.

Samuelson, P.A. 1976. Economics (10th ed.) McGraw-Hill Book Company. New York, 967 p.

Sánchez, P., D. Bandy and J. Villachica. 1981. "Soil Fertility Dynamics after Converting a Tropical Rain Forest into Continuous Production in the Amazon of Peru." North Carolina State University. Raleigh. (Unpublished).

Sioli, H. 1968. "Principal Biotypes of Primary Production in the Waters of Amazonia." Proced. Symp. Recent advances Trop. Ecol. pp: 591 -600.

Smith, N. J. 1981. "Colonization Lessons from a Tropical Forests". Science. Vol. 214, Nov. 13.

Sommer, A. 1976. "Attempt at an Assessment of the World's Tropical Moist Forests." Unasylva. 28 (112-3) pp.5-24.

(UNESCO) United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. 1978. Tropical Forest Ecosystems: A State of Knowledge Report, prepared by UNESCO, UNEP, FAO. UNESCO, Paris. 683 p.

(USAID) U. S. Agency for International Development. 1981. Proceedings of the U.S. Strategy Conference on Biological Diversity. Nov. 16-18. Washington D.C.

Ward, B. 1966. Spaceship Earth. Columbia University Press, New York.

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page