Forests as socio-ecosystems: a new perspective for approaching forestry development

Forests as socio-ecosystems: a new perspective for approaching forestry development

The explicit recognition of forests as socio-ecosystems in Peru is almost nil because we are part of a hegemonic tradition of knowledge in which it was necessary to separate in order to know. But in this segregationist zeal we have separated society from nature, nature from culture, reason from emotion, objectivity from subjectivity among many other dualities that govern our thinking, our discourse and our actions.

In a so-called rationalistic, objective, linear and deterministic approach we have separated forests from human beings. By establishing this drastic distinction, we have ended up taking away emotional, sacred and spiritual components from the forests, since being things (resources) they are liable to be exploited (sic) intensively, or as it is said in economist language, legitimated socially and academically, competitively.

But despite our beliefs that have dominated our forestry work, there is evidence that contradicts such separation (Maldonado, 2016; Swyngedouw, 2011). We can refer to the complex neurobiological processes of trees by which communication between them is verified (Baluska and Mancuso, 2007) or the fact that forests think and make decisions although differently from human beings (Kohn, 2013). Thus, we consider that the presence of tenderness and care among trees and saplings is typical of animistic cultures and archaic states of consciousness that must be overcome through education, science and technology.

In this article we are going to explore the concept of forests as a socio-ecosystem. For Salas et al. (2012) a socioecosystem is a complex and adaptive system that refers to the coupling and interaction processes between social systems (culture, economy, social and political organization) and ecological systems (nature) in a given space-time. As important as knowing the ecological relationships is knowing the relationships between the natural components and the social components. That is why we speak of socio-natural relationships.

Although in Peruvian forestry history we have not explicitly recognized the word socioecosystem, it has been implicitly present (although not consciously). For example, we can speak of the recognition of the relationships between human society and forests (MINAG - FAO ENDF, 2002). The National Strategy on Forests and Climate Change (PNCB et al., 2016) expressly speaks of the commitment to sustainable forest landscapes, the Forest and Wildlife Law - LFFS N ° 29763 and its Regulations that define the ecosystem as a “dynamic complex of communities human, plants, animals, and microorganisms and their non-living environment, which interact as a functional unit ”. The Regulation of Law No. 30215, Law of Remuneration Mechanisms for Ecosystem Services (Supreme Decree No. 009-2016-MINAM) when speaking of ecosystem functionality mentions that: “It is the dynamic and interrelated process between ecological communities, their space Y the human being in which it is linkedn its different components, cycles and flows of matter, energy and information, in a landscape context, to guarantee the integrity of the ecosystem. This process includes the stability and capacity for evolution of the ecosystem, as well as its capacity to generate ecosystem services ”[The bold type is by the author].

On the side of forestry education as a disciplinary perspective, courses oriented to management, conservation and forest industries predominate. The few courses that deal with social, anthropological and humanistic aspects refer to Amazonian Rural Anthropology, Culture and Society, Ethics, among the main ones. However, the case of the Faculty of Agroforestry and Aquaculture Engineering of the National Intercultural University of the Amazon should be highlighted, which has an integrative course called ecosystem management of landscapes.

In a review of 111 thesis titles to opt for the degree of Forest Engineer at the National Agrarian University, only 4 theses were found that, in addition to the technical forestry part, address unconventional issues such as participation, corruption, gender and traditional ecological knowledge.

Both the subject of the professional training courses and the theses developed show an initial openness to deal with issues more linked to the social, anthropological and humanist tradition, therefore attempts to approach it from the socioecosystemic perspective.

However, there are reasons why it is important to speak explicitly of the approach to forests as socio-ecosystems. In the first place, without renouncing disciplinary and specialized forestry training as a biophysical resource, incorporate aspects related to forest-society-power interactions into research, reflection and practice, aspects that are already addressed from a diversity of social and humanist disciplines such as The philosophy. As indicated by political ecology, the discussion of power is fundamental. To deny this possibility in the name of the neutrality of the forestry researcher or scientist is to ignore the roots of socio-environmental conflicts (also called ecoterritorial) and that they are part of the dynamics of complex adaptive systems that are giving account of complaints or critical states that require attention they are moments of transformation.

Talking about socioecosystems necessarily implies referring to complex adaptive systems, therefore, the multiple heterogeneous elements that compose it must be taken into account, the interactions (interrelations, interdependencies and interdefinibilities) with the capacity for self-organization and generation of emergent properties in contexts of constant transformation. This implies considering the different dimensions, scales and times, so it is possible to speak of a look of wholes, recognizing that it is not possible to know everything but the strategic elements that explain the behavior of the systems. In a socioecosystem view, diversity is valued.

In this broad perspective, the forestry world is interested in opening reflection, dialogue and action to actors who until now have been invisible. Take the case, for example, of the issue of forest workers who are practically not talked about. Nor have we worried much about the issue of the colonists or the riparian farmers. However, they are people who are part of the forest as a socioecosystem. We have also divided the universe of actors between formal and informal or even legal and illegal, but we have not made the necessary efforts to understand their logic and rationale in order to explore sustainable possibilities. One expression of this strong fragmentary orientation refers to the language used in public forest administration: some are the administrators and others are the administered. Although the gender equality and equity and intercultural approaches are present in forest legislation, it is not yet an institutionalized practice and they appear rather as patches.

In this same perspective, not all ecosystems have the same value based on their economic importance. Thus ecosystems of great biological or ecological value are simply disturbed or transformed by the sin of their low economic value from the human perspective.

A socio-ecosystem perspective allows a better understanding of the concept of sustainable forest landscapes and territory. Until now, there are institutional, legal, administrative, procedural, cultural, and financial difficulties to implement these approaches because the sectoral and disciplinary structure still carries great weight (Evans, 2018). The functions and competences contribute to organizing work but in turn constitute strong limitations for strategic and transformative articulation.

The socioecosystem perspective will also lead to addressing the tensions between production and conservation in dialogue processes that involve the extended community of peers, which means that all the actors who have something to say about it must be present. Otherwise we are faced with claims that do not take into account technical aspects or, on the contrary, political discussions that are not necessarily based on technical and social aspects. It is honest, deep, sincere, transparent and informed deliberation that enables better governance processes to be established.

Seen like this, the discussion will not focus solely on how much we increase the contribution of forests to the national GDP, since it will also be necessary to consider the extent to which it contributes to food security and sovereignty, to water security, to mitigation and adaptation to the climate change, the possibility of building sustainable societies, among other aspects. In the socioecosystemic perspective, there are no separate urban environments and rural environments, both are expressions of a single system and are deeply interconnected.

Literature cited:

Baluska, Frantisek. and Mancuso, Stefano. (eds.) (2007). Communication in Plants. Neuronal Aspects of Plant Life. Springer Verlag.

Evans, Monica (May 19, 2018). Landscape approaches: moving in the right direction, but more funding is urgently needed. [Post on a blog]. The Forests in the News. CIFOR. Retrieved from:

Kohn, Eduardo (2013). How Forests Think. Toward and Anthropology beyond the Human. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Maldonado, Carlos (2016). "Towards an anthropology of life: elements for an understanding of the complexity of living systems". In: Bulletin of Anthropology. University of Antioquia, Medellín, vol. 31, No. 52, pp. 285-301

Ministry of Agriculture and FAO (2002). National Forest Development Strategy - ENDF. Lima: MINAG-FAO.

Salas Zapata, W .; Ríos Osorio, L. and Álvarez, J. (2012). Conceptual bases for a classification of socio-ecological systems of sustainability research. Lasallian Journal of Research, 8 (2), pp. 136-142.

Swyngedouw, Erick. (2011). Nature does not exist! Sustainability as a symptom of depoliticized planning. URBAN.

By: Rodrigo Arce Rojas
Doctor in Complex Thinking from the Edgar Morin Real World Multiversity.
[email protected]

Video: Forestry Talks - Jerry Franklin - Ecological forestry - a global view (October 2020).