Georgia: Analysts say government forest policy would be disaster

Source: The Messenger, 2007-04-16

Georgia's Forest Policy and Strategy document has come in for a good deal of criticism from both independent analysts and opposition representatives.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, large areas of forest have been felled without regulation. According to the new governmental document, however, Georgia does not have a problem with deforestation. The document states that approximately 43 percent of the Georgia is covered by forests, equalling 80 square meters of forest per inhabitant.

If we rely on this data, it seems Georgia is rich enough in forests to have ample amounts for the timber industry. And this is precisely what the government has in mind, say analysts.

The government's Forest Strategy proposes that 10 percent of forested land can be transferred to the private sector's hands over the next 10-15 years. But rumour has it, this is only the beginning, reports the newspaper Kvela Siakhle.

The government argues that a private owner or leasee will be dedicated to taking care of the forests and use them responsibly.

Analysts disagree including former minister of the environment and natural resources Nino Chkhobadze, "I think that moving the forests into private hands is a huge mistake. International practice shows that most of the time, this practice does not protect the forests. We can use post-Soviet space and Eastern European states as an example where the private owners either totally cut down the whole forest in their 'keeping' or they requested the administration take the forest back not being able to take care of it appropriately," as quoted in the newspaper Kvela Siakhle.

According to the Forest Code, currently a long term lease is from 1 to 20 years. The Forestry Department says they want to extend the term allowing forests to be leased for up to 49 years. According to Head of the Forestry Department Zviad Cheishvili, this will be a good project because private companies will be more interested in long-term leasing.

Analysts criticize the government's policy as being put together too hastily.

"The document is hurried and unreasonably worked out. According to rumours in the lobby of parliament, the government plans to get USD 2000 per hectare of forest. 10 percent of the privatized forest is 300 000 hectares so they would fill the state coffers with USD 600 million and do not think about other negative results," says analyst Temur Kandelaki, reports the newspaper Kvela Siakhle.