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Could “The Swedish model” in forest management be successful in development cooperation?

Published on June 10, 2018 | Author: Linus Karlsson
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During the 20th century the Swedish forest sector has been very successful in increasing the production of forest commodities. During the past decades other incentives than economy have transformed the management model to also include ecological aspects. Several of the new management tools target the link between forests and water by focusing on riparian buffer zones to protect aquatic environments. In a new article, stakeholders from the Swedish forest industry argue that the lessons learned in Sweden are relevant for several countries in the global south facing challenges in sustainable land management.
In the early 1900s the Swedish forest reserve was depleted. One hundred years later, the standing volume has doubled as a result of policy interventions creating stable institutions, efficient markets, and clear rules. One of the most important actions taken over one hundred years ago was to give rural poor farmers legal titles to their land, creating a more stable political climate as migration of landless farmers to urban areas ceased. Secure tenure rights and stability also increased investments, as owners of land could trust that long-term investments generated financial returns for their families. The new regulations and policies were formed in a transparent and participatory way, which minimized corruption. The new regulations also supported smallholder estates from exploitation by larger actors and the market for forest products was regulated with an impartial national system for wood measurements. The transformation of the forest sector created an enabling environment for investments and created incentives for long-term management strategies. To further improve the efficiency of investments, public awareness campaigns were carried out and a system for advisory services was implemented along with significant research efforts in forestry.
During the past decades advisory services and research in forestry has shifted its focus to ecological aspects in line with national and European environmental goals and directives. This has led to the development of innovative management tools balancing economic aspects with social and environmental concerns. For example, significant attention has been given to the link between forests and water resulting in new tools that protect watercourses with functioning buffer zones adapted to local conditions. Several of the new tools have been developed in an integrated manor by different stakeholder allowing different objectives to influence.
This article summarizes important features of an enabling environment for a prosperous and equitable forest sector. Most of these findings are relevant and applicable also in lower income countries in agroforestry development projects. Weak tenure rights to land and trees limit the long-term approach that is necessary for agroforestry and favours short-term investments in annual crops. Limited access to advisory services prevents dissemination of new methods and inefficient markets for agroforestry products reduce the economic returns on investments. The Swedish model in forestry could address several of the challenges that are preventing agroforestry from being scaled up. However, transparency and corruption is very different in Sweden compared to many lower income countries. As transparent processes and a low level of corruption are corner stones in the “Swedish model”, it is essential that rural development projects also empower rural farmers and grass root organisations to allow public participation in development of policies and landscape governance.
Read the full article, including a very interesting historical review of Swedish forest sector, in the journal Environmental Management.