A Revised Law Sparks New Hope for Restoring Paraguay’s BiodiversityJun 12, 2017
Despite existing laws, Paraguay has consistently had one of the world’s highest rates of deforestation and today only 10 per cent of the country’s primary forests remain. Agricultural expansion, especially for the production of soy and beef, has largely driven deforestation across the country. But, there is cause for optimism as Government Officials expect recent changes to the national Forest Law to encourage significant reforestation, especially in productive landscape such as those surrounding the globally significant Upper Parana Atlantic forest. The legal changes are expected to help reduce pressure on the country’s last remaining native forests and to significantly boost the Nation’s long-term goal of reforesting 450,000 hectares of land, an area about half the size of Puerto Rico.
Introduced in 1973, Paraguay’s Forest Law was originally designed as one of the key instruments for protecting and conserving forests within productive landscapes as well as the ecosystem services that they provide. It compelled all rural landowners with more than 20 hectares in forest areas to preserve at least 25 per cent of their natural forest area. But, unclear wording, alongside loose definitions of what constituted forested areas, meant the Law was open to interpretation and rarely complied with, says Victor Yambay, the Interim President of the National Forestry Institute, which is responsible for conservation management.
In January 2016, with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Victor and his team began a wide-ranging process of consultation ultimately aimed at better defining the Forest Law. “I feel like we have made history,” he says.
“UNDP’s Green Commodities Programme was instrumental in helping us to convene all the actors involved in this process for the first time,” he says. Through this process, which engaged different parts of government, the private sector, civil society and non-governmental organizations, an “entire professional sector was able to agree for the first time, on important technical definitions,” he explains. Based on these consultations, the Law was revised and came into force on the 17th of April 2017.
“The country now has clarity, certainty and multi-stakeholder support around the rules to be followed in relation to natural forest reserves,” he says. “We also have, for the first time, a clear way to define Forest Zones and forest deficits.”
It is anticipated that the legal changes will encourage landowners, many of whom were involved in the consultations, to regenerate forest. This will be particularly important in the Eastern part of Paraguay, where the globally significant Upper Parana Atlantic Forest is currently under serious threat from expanding agricultural activities. It is also expected to ultimately boost forest cover, helping the country to meet its reforestation target and to help restore its once abundant biodiversity that many rural Paraguayans still depend on for their survival.
There is also a clear economic benefit, Victor explains. “With many multinational companies having made global commitments to remove deforestation from their supply chains, having this new, clearer regime for compliance is especially important for producers selling to international markets.”