Forests and valuation in French Guyana in the Valuethreads project

Q&A with Valuethreads project members Nassima Abdelghafour and Liliana Doganova about their recent fieldwork in French Guyana.

In January 2022, the Valuethreads team met up digitally from Oslo and Paris to get an update on Nassima Abdelghafour and Liliana Doganova´s recent fieldwork in French Guyana on innovative economic initiatives and models in forest management in French Guyana.
In this short Q&A they sum up of some of their findings as well as motivations for looking at this specific field.
What did you do in French Guyana?
Given our interest in the economic valuation of forests, we naturally focused on the timber industry and the various stakeholders involved in the industry and its regulation. But the particularity of French Guyana is that another important extractive industry takes place in the midst of the forests: gold mining. We also investigated this sector, with a focus on the management of its environmental impact. We were also very attentive to the many interactions between mining activities and forests management. To do so, we met companies exploiting natural resources, start-ups offering environmental services and expertise, industry associations, certification organizations, policy-makers and agencies in charge of designing and implementing regulations.
- Why did you choose to go there specifically to do fieldwork?
While the temperate forests of Europe are relatively well-known, French Guyana is almost entirely covered in tropical forests, on which there is still much to learn, both in terms of their ecology and how to make them into a sustainable economic resource. Moreover, the interactions between the mining industry and forestry elicit the tensions between competing visions of how to value the forest. Given the geography of French Guyana, all the gold mining activities necessarily take place in the tropical forest, where they cause environmental damages. These damages may endanger the certifications and labels sought by the National Forest Office, which has been striving to develop low-impact timber exploitation practices since the late 2000s.
- Were you surprised by something you found?
We were surprised to discover the crucial role played by the National Forest Office in the economic valuation of the forests. We found that on the top of elaborating low-impact exploitation standards, this public agency also sets the prices for timber, trying to keep these prices very low. Harvesting trees in the natural forest is actually very expensive in French Guyana: there is much more distance between the trees to be fallen and the sawmill there - especially because the low-impact exploitation standards impose to harvest no more than 5 trees per hectare, so as to ensure a natural regeneration of the tree population. In that sense, the prices of the wood can be regarded as being part of the techno-economical assemblage defining and promoting low-impact exploitation practices.
- Why are forests so interesting when talking about economic valuation?
‪Forests were one of the first “real” objects to which the technique of discounting the future was applied. In the mid 19th c., German foresters and mathematicians endeavored to rationalize forestry, and to consider forest land as a financial asset. They developed calculation techniques to estimate the value of forest land by estimating the future cash flows that the land would yield year after year. Nowadays, discounting the future is a mainstream valuation technique. At the same time, forests are interesting because they challenge economic valuation attempts. Different actors promote competing valuations of the forest depending on their focus: is the forest a financial asset, a sustainable resource, a carbon sink, an ecosystem providing ecosystem services? Moreover, the temporality of the forest is so long term that it hardly fits with the temporalities of economic actors and policy makers, and also makes room for uncertainty - especially in times of climate change.
By Stine Engen
Published Jan. 31, 2022 11:41 AM - Last modified Jan. 31, 2022 11:41 AM