Recent debates over forest certification in Laos are raising interesting issues about the aim of forestry in general. In September Chris Lang made the provocative challenge that timber certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) in Laos – the only FSC certified project in Indochina – was actually illegal under Lao law. Responses from the certifiers focus on procedural aspects, such as the timing of the report relative to certification and subsequent audits. In contrast, responses from a former coordinator for WWF’s forestry program and others working on forestry in Laos are striking in that they focus on the ‘political culture’ in Laos. They argue that it is the Lao political culture – however this is conceived – and its interactions with international institutions that will determine the efficacy of reforms in forestry. Interestingly, the World Bank’s East Asia Region Forestry Strategy, released for comment in October, also makes a number of comments on the ‘political economy’ of forestry. One conclusion of the report is that:
The failures of forestry are rooted in perverse policies and bad governance and the lack of disciplined and science-based management.
Perhaps this is all part of a broader trend where ‘forestry’ brings to mind politics much more readily than science? This raises the questions of whether it is appropriate to aim for ‘science-based management’ and how this aim would take into account varied ‘political cultures’?