Our efforts to protect them will not only determine the quality of life and economic security of future generations, but will test to the limit our readiness to cast off the kind of arrogance that has caused such devastating damage to the global environment, and to become the genuine stewards of all life on Earth, not just the Human bit of it.

When I first received the invitation to speak here at Kew today, I was unsure as to whether the gathering would be in one of the great greenhouses in a suitably tropical forest micro-climate. I am somewhat relieved, if I may say so, to find it is not in a greenhouse because such is the length of the lecture I am about to inflict on you that several members of the audience might easily have developed a delicate layer of tropical lichen on their upwind profiles by the end of my peroration! But I must confess that in the course of preparing for this lecture I have been overwhelmed by a powerful feeling that there is nothing new to be said about the tropical forests (of which the tropical rainforests are the most rare and precious examples). So many people far wiser and more experienced than me seem to have said it all. Apart from that, the more carefully you examine the subject the more complex the issues become, and the more disturbing the ramifications. What brief experience, and it is very brief, I must say, I have had of a genuine tropical forest environment in Venezuela and, to a certain extent, in Indonesia has merely served to encourage me to do what little I can to draw further attention to their precarious state, and to the unimaginable loss to mankind in general if we are unable, or unwilling, to reach agreement on a series of reasonable measures needed to halt the inexorable destruction which is now taking place. For those courageous and far-sighted people who have been trying to warn us about environmental problems for longer than we care to remember, one of the most heartening developments of recent years has been to find that rather a lot of people now think the same way. People who have never been lucky enough to experience for themselves the extraordinary beauty of the forest, with its unique sights, smells and noises, now care deeply about what is happening. Such is the power of the media when they switch their undivided attention to the 'latest issue'. Now I suspect there are many different reasons for this powerful response. Those remarkable natural history films which reveal some of the mystery and vast diversity of the rainforest undoubtedly play an important part, but I suspect there is also a growing realisation that we are literally the last generation which can save the rainforest from total destruction. If we don't act now there certainly won't be much rainforest for our children to be concerned about, and unless we are remarkably insensitive, most of us, I think, do care a great deal about the kind of world that we bequeath to our children. The trouble is, I suspect, that most of us feel frustrated and powerless to affect the course of events. Perhaps we should imagine the situation as being like one of those church spire appeals in reverse.

Except that instead of the figures going up, the forests are coming down. Once a rain forest or a species living in it is gone, it is gone for ever. The phrase 'now or never' has never been used with more chilling accuracy than when applied to the task of saving the remaining rainforests.

Before starting to look at some of the interlocking factors which are leading to the current devastation of an irreplaceable natural resource, I believe it is important to recognise the legitimacy and even reasonableness of other points of view. Before we place the blame for environmental deterioration on developing countries, we must ask ourselves in how many cases the process of deterioration was started by the actions of individuals and companies from the industrialised nations of the world. We should also recognise the extent to which under-development and poverty can account for the inability of the developing countries to husband their natural resources, and to undertake environmental efforts and measures. Eight years ago, the then Vice President of Indonesia put the case with brutal clarity:

"How much land for the hungry of today? And how much for genetic resources to be preserved for tomorrow? In the past we have neither received a fair share of the benefits, nor have we received a fair share of assistance - other than inexpensive advice and even more inexpensive criticism - in our efforts to save the common global natural heritage. Unless such responsibilities are equally shared, all our good intentions will only lead to global environmental destruction." Things may be a little better today, but as we sit surrounded by the comfort and convenience of modern European life, perhaps our response to the problem of the tropical forests should be not so much 'What can we do?', but 'How can we help?' For hundreds of years the industrialised nations of the world have exploited, some might say plundered, the tropical forests for their natural wealth. The time has now come to put something back, and as quickly as possible. When we talk about the tropical forests we are speaking of natural assets of other countries. Showing our anxiety about their problems must be done in a way which shows respect for their sovereignty, and an understanding of their needs. We must also examine our own consciences. We talk about the need to avoid irreversible damage to fragile habitats, and the requirement to guard shrinking non-renewable resources. But what about the wrong sort of afforestation in the Flow country of Scotland, and large-scale, highly mechanised, peat extraction? If any exploitation is to be carried out at all then surely it should be one in a more traditional way, rather than utilising such utterly inappropriate methods. It seems to me important that any discussion about the tropical forests should start by looking at the people who depend directly on them for their livelihood. This includes both indigenous people and relatively recent settlers, but the main focus of concern must be on the remaining tribal people for whom the tropical forest has been their home for many generations. Their story has been told many times, and it is one of which we must all be profoundly ashamed. Ever since the first explorers from Spain and Portugal set foot in South America, and the British visited the Caribbean, the people of the so-called 'developed world' have always treated people as total savages, be it to enslave them, subdue, 'civilise' them, or convert them to our way of religious thinking. The latter activity seems to be remarkably widespread and can cause unimaginable confusion and suffering. Even now, as the Penan in Sarawak are harassed and even imprisoned for defending their own tribal lands, and the Yanomam in Brazil are driven into extinction by measles, venereal disease or mercury poisoning following the illegal invasion of their lands by gold prospectors - even now, that dreadful pattern of collective genocide continues. It is not just those who depend directly on the tropical forests who suffer from deforestation, but the entire population of tropical forest countries. The forests assist in the regulation of local climate patterns, protecting watersheds, preventing floods, guaranteeing and controlling huge flows of life-giving water. Strip away the forests and there is, first, too much water (in the shape of uncontrollable flooding, as we have seen recently in Brazil and many other countries) and then too little. As the forests come crashing down, an inexorable human tragedy is set in train. It isn't even just the tropical forest countries which are affected by deforestation. The more we learn about our world the more we realise that events in one area can have enormous, and perhaps irreversible, consequences thousands of miles away. It is not, I believe, an exaggeration to say that the whole of humanity will benefit if what is left of the tropical forests can be saved. Their role in controlling aspects of our climate is so great that they can truthfully be said to affect every single person alive today, let alone future generations. Scientists may disagree about the extent of the phenomenon known as 'global warming', but few now actually doubt its existence, or the role of the tropical forests in maintaining the natural balance of our planet.

At the same time, other scientists are stressing the value of the genetic potential locked up in the tropical forests. Pictures from further and further into space have made people wonder, rather more seriously than ever before, whether there really is somewhere else for us to go if we finally make a complete and utter mess of this planet. The genetic reservoir of the plant and animal life sharing our world provides us, I believe, with the most perfect survival kit imaginable as we face the unknown challenges of the future. It is impossible to predict which parts of the survival kit might one day be needed, yet we allow its contents to be discarded with scarcely a thought or backward glance.

The current loss of species is quite different from the usual (and more or less natural) pattern of extinction, even since that pattern has been accelerated by Humankind over the last 200 years. To quote from the World Resources Institute's Report on Biodiversity in October 1989: "If we don't act immediately, extinctions in the coming decades may represent the most massive loss of species since the end of the Cretaceous Era, some 65 million years ago." And the single greatest cause of species extinction in the next half-century will be tropical deforestation. Scientists concur that roughly 5-10 per cent of closed tropical forest species will become extinct per decade at current rates of tropical forest loss and disturbance. With more than 50 per cent of species occurring in closed tropical forest, and a total of roughly ten million species on earth, this amounts to the phenomenal extinction rate of more than 100 species a day. Now it's almost impossible to hold such a figure in one's mind and to contemplate the consequences of such biological mayhem. Perhaps just two examples will help to illustrate the value to our species of the genetic potential available in the tropical forests, though I know that Professor Ghillean Prance and others who work in this field could provide many more. A plant known as jaborandi is found in eastern Amazonian Brazil. It contains the chemical pilocarpine which is now used to treat glaucoma and has saved thousands of people from blindness. The Moreton Bay chestnut, from the rainforests of Queensland, contains castanospermine which is now being tested on humans for its positive action on Aids. Indeed the original research for this was carried out in the biochemistry department of this laboratory. Thousands of plants have already been tested for their anti-cancer properties, but only an insignificant amount have been systematically tested for a comprehensive range of other properties and benefits. By just testing for anti-cancer effects, important though they are, we may be missing a whole range of other benefits. If we could invest more in plant screening now, there is no doubt that one day it would pay off. It isn't just a question of drugs. There is huge agricultural potential wrapped up in the forests. It is quite revealing to find that products which we take for granted, such as coffee, chocolate, citrus fruit, sugar, tomatoes, and even rice and potatoes, all originated in tropical countries. We now spend millions of pounds 'improving' these foods - trying to make them sweeter, more colourful, or tastier.

Perhaps that investment might be better applied to pursuing new products from the tropical forests?

For instance, a profusion of tropical forest fruits holds out great hope for palates which have been progressively jaded by exposure to a monotonous diet, I hardly dare say it, of imported Golden Delicious! Nor is it only for new, tastier, healthier foods that we should look to the tropical forests. Our current staple food crops are continuously bolstered and invigorated by genes from their wild relatives.

Recently, genes from wild rice helped to combat a new disease which was threatening to wipe out much of Asia's rice crop. As it happened, that crop-saving plant was found in the Silent Valley forest in India, which itself was only saved by the intervention of the kind of environmental activists whose activities are so often derided by those who do not share their single-minded commitment. It really does seem extraordinary that we should be destroying our genetic inheritance at precisely the time when we most need it, and at a time when advances in science and technology are providing incredibly precise and sophisticated tools to open up some of nature's secrets - to the benefit of medicine, nutrition and industry. What possible justification can there be for systematically stripping future generations of their options - in a way that defies even conventional economic logic? I read the latest information on current levels of tropical forest destruction, be it from the Overseas Development Administration (ODA) or Friends of the Earth, with a sinking heart. Have you noticed how people devise cheery little comparisons as to the acreages involved, which perhaps only serve to obscure the extent of the devastation: an area two-thirds of the size of the United Kingdom is destroyed every year, which is, I'm reliably informed, equivalent to seven Hyde Parks every hour, or six football pitches every minute! But of course, this is not some abstract statistical game. The latest report by Professor Norman Myers spells out very clearly what is actually happening: 'According to the latest estimates, tropical forests have lost 142,200 square kilometres of their expanse during 1989. This is 1.8 per cent of the remaining forest.' He goes on to say: 'The current rate of 1.8 per cent per year does not mean that all forests will disappear in another 38 years. Patterns and trends of deforestation are far from even. In South East Asia it is likely that little forest will remain in another 20 years time outside of central Kalimantan and Irian Jaya in Indonesia, and in Papua New Guinea. In West Africa, except for Cameroon, hardly any forests will survive by the end of the century, but in the Zaire Basin there is a prospect that a sizeable tract could persist for several more decades. In Latin America it is difficult to see that much forest can last beyond another two decades except for an extensive block in western Brazilian Amazonia and one in the Guyana hinterland.' The causes of deforestation vary from region to region, but there is no doubt that the main cause is the poverty of people who live around the tropical forests in developing countries, together with the inexorable pressure of ever-growing human numbers. Over two billion people live in the tropical forest zone. Population is growing at over 2.5 per cent a year. For these people, the forest is a resource for exploitation to meet basic needs, above all land for agriculture. While the commercial logger and the cattle rancher do cause much forest depletion, often with the encouragement of tax incentives or other government subsidies, their combined impact is only a part of that of the 'shifted' cultivator. He is the displaced peasant who finds himself squeezed out of traditional farmlands in areas often many horizons away from his country's forests, whereupon he feels obliged to pick up his machete and matchbox and head for the only unoccupied lands available, the forests. Land clearance for agriculture is almost always carried out by the 'cut and burn' method which leads, of course, to much increased emissions of greenhouse gases. Dr Richard Houghton of the Woods Hole Research Centre in Massachusetts estimates that somewhere around 1.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide is released in this way each year. And when we add in other greenhouse gases emitted by tropical deforestation, such as methane and nitrous oxide, the overall contribution to global warming can be estimated to be around 18 or 19 per cent. With deforestation now on every politician's lips, one would certainly like to think that we might have arrived at some solution already. Two new international organisations - the International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO) and the Tropical Forestry Action Plan (TFAP) - have been established in the past eight years to address forestry problems. But deforestation has actually increased massively during the time that these institutions have been at work. ITTO has a unique role in bringing together consumers and producers of tropical timber. It should have a key role in the development of agreed guidelines on how forests are to be used in a sustainable way, although I understand this is proving to be a formidable task. I am also amongst those people who find it disturbing that its Articles of Agreement make no mention of the rights and needs of indigenous forest dwellers. Under the TFAP, donors can help developing countries draw up a national plan of action, and then provide the technical and financial help needed to implement the plan. But to be properly effective, a national plan has to pay sufficient attention to the needs, the skills and the knowledge of local communities and forest people. Clearly we should deploy both these organisations to the full, and aim to make them as effective as possible, but they have not shown much inclination to look beyond the forestry sector. Since there are many situations in which the best use of forests may actually be for non-timber products, and since much of the pressure on forests arises from social and agricultural policies way beyond the forests, there would seem to be an overwhelming case for a much broader, multi-disciplinary approach. Perhaps, ladies and gentlemen, the time has come for an international agreement or convention on the world's tropical forests. We already have a series of conventions and protocols which protect the marine environment, the ozone layer and the atmosphere, with varying degrees of effectiveness, yet for our most precious common resource we have nothing. Any such convention would have to start by recognising both the urgency of the situation, and the need for parallel action by the industrialised nations to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel power stations and transport. Another talking shop will help save no one, and participation could become an alternative to action. It seems to me that the goals of a separate Rainforest

Convention would be as follows:

to establish a rationale for sustainable use; to maintain ecological and physical processes essential to the maintenance of local, regional and global climates; to maintain maximum biological diversity; to establish the fundamental rights of forest dwellers; to set targets for re-afforestation; to establish mechanisms of compensation for countries that suffer financial loss by controlling destruction of their forests; and to establish funding mechanisms to meet the cost of such compensation. Now this is clearly a massive challenge, but it seems to me that we cannot simply go on talking about the need to protect the world's tropical forests, and not create the kind of institutions and mechanisms which will actually make that possible. It is absolutely obvious that nothing we currently have at our disposal is going to fulfil that task. The sands of time in the tropical hour-glass are running out fast, and we can't turn it upside down and watch the sand run out all over again. Even to start addressing the issues involved will mean harnessing the economic muscle of the developed world. To demonstrate the scale of the problem it would be useful to look at the prospects for stemming the flow of shifted cultivators towards the forests, since their activities are the principal cause of deforestation.

Sadly, all the indications are that, far from stemming the flow, three factors are likely to lead to a considerable increase.

Firstly, tropical forest countries will provide the bulk of population growth in the foreseeable future. At current rates that is an extra three billion people in the next 40 years.

Secondly, alternative forms of livelihood for the landless peasant are becoming still more limited by unemployment. Developing countries need to generate 600 million jobs (or as many as all the jobs in the developed world today) during the next 20 years in order to accommodate all new entrants into the workforce.

Thirdly, there is a diminishing prospect of tropical forest countries directing enough capital investment into job-producing sectors as long as the net flow of north-south funds remains as it is. In 1989 the south paid $52 billion more to the north in the way of debt servicing than it received in the form of foreign aid and other payments. It is problems on this immense scale which any new institution would have to tackle.

Now many of us in this lecture hall this evening care about the tropical forests simply for their intrinsic value and their long-term importance to mankind. But the situation looks very different when seen from the point of view of a developing country grappling with the problems of poverty, unemployment and the remorseless pressure to meet interest payments on loans from the developed world. It is not surprising that their overriding requirement is to derive income from their forests.

We hear much these days about the need for 'sustainable development', but its many different uses still seem to cover a multitude of ecological sins! As so often, Fritz Schumacher seemed to explain a difficult concept best by simply extending the widely understood distinction between one's capital and the interest one draws on that capital, in a financial or banking context, to the natural world. The distinction between a forest cleared in a once-and-for-all way for timber or for cattle grazing, and a forest harvested sustainably for a variety of non-timber products, can then be calculated down to the last dollar.

Once the forests are thought to hold a greater hope for human welfare and economic development if conserved rather than felled, then it clearly becomes possible to reconcile environmental protection and development. It's not a question of promoting some pastoralist ideal as opposed to unfettered economic progress; but of trying to cope as best we can with the age-old conflict between our human needs and the finite wealth of this particular planet. Now that's easily said, but as I discovered on a visit to Indonesia recently, forestry management practices, as introduced and institutionalised by European colonists, were focused only on forest exploitation (often based on government monopolies). This was also reflected in the type of forestry training that was provided in those days. Many developing countries still have no developed traditions of forestry management other than obtaining the maximum income in the shortest time.

The majority of developing countries first obtained a level of economic viability as suppliers of natural products for immediate consumption (such as fruit, coffee and tea) and for raw material for European industries (such as rubber). This level was adequate for the pre-independence, colonial period with its slow rate of growth, development and emancipation. These products require little or no processing in their exploitation - very little 'added value' can be generated. Moreover, such products are so-called 'soft products' and are very sensitive to price fluctuations on markets which, in any case, are controlled by the richer, purchasing countries. Developing countries would be considerably helped if such price fluctuations could be stabilised as much as possible. They would be helped even more if they could process - fully or partially - their natural products. In this way a given sustainable level of forest exploitation could yield the needed income. The determination of what constitutes a sustainable level of forest exploitation requires a good science and a thorough understanding of the social and economic context. This country has a long experience and exceptional expertise in tropical forestry. I believe that we have a valuable contribution to make. There is a role for everybody, from government agencies to universities, schools, the non-governmental organisations who work in developing countries, and the technical organisations like the Royal Botanic Gardens. From this point of view we need to harbour the skilled human resources in our long-standing and world-renowned research organisation. In the autumn of 1988 the government decided to provide more help to developing countries with their forestry projects. An initiative was launched under the aid programme run by the ODA. The aims included helping developing countries maximise the social and economic benefits they get from their forests in the long-term; tackling the causes of deforestation and promoting reforestation, especially on degraded lands; increasing the productivity of forests through research; and helping conserve the vast bank of plant and animal species that are housed in forests. At the end of 1988, ODA was supporting about 80 forestry projects, with a total value of about £45 million. Now there are 115 projects, with another 50 in preparation, worth in total over £150 million.

As part of the forestry initiative, ODA has signed a special agreement for technical co-operation with Brazil. Under that agreement, eight projects are now being worked up, including one for the establishment of a biological reserve in Cachiuna national forest, and one researching the relationship between rainforest and local climate. The projects involve collaboration between British Centres of Excellence, including Kew Gardens, and their Brazilian counterparts. It seems to me that this sort of partnership provides an excellent model for the kind of co-operation that is needed between developed and developing countries. What discussions I have been able to have, albeit very briefly, with forestry experts in Indonesia and elsewhere have inevitably led to the conclusion that timber extraction is almost always unsustainable, so great is the damage done even when the logging is carried out as selectively and sensitively as possible. That has been confirmed by ITTO itself, as well as by the International Institute for Environment and Development's fascinating but depressing study on the true extent of sustainable management being carried out in different parts of the world. But are we not in a position to take that conclusion even further these days? Even if countries were able to implement management systems which did not irreversibly reduce the potential of the forest to produce marketable timber on a sustainable basis, that might still not be the best use of the forest. The highest yielding systems of sustainable timber production still require quite drastic modifications of a forest's ecology, eventually reducing the forest to a shadow of its former richness and diversity. We're really talking about plantations by any other name. At this stage, with the tropical forests at such risk, it would seem to me to be eminently sensible to work towards the restriction of timber extraction to secondary forest - to those forests which have already been logged over. We could then look towards future timber needs being met from hardwood plantations established on the vast area of already degraded land. The potential here is huge, and one need look no further than to the threat of global warming to provide the incentive. It is already apparent that one of the best ways of countering the build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is through reforestation. By far the best place, surely, to grow trees is in the humid tropics, with their year-round warmth and moisture, and it surely has to be in the interests of both the tropical forest countries and the developed world to promote such reforestation schemes as enthusiastically as possible. But in a world so remorselessly driven by monetary values, one has to be able to demonstrate that sustainable harvesting really does produce a better financial return than a once-and-for-all clean fell. I have seen various studies demonstrating that fruit and latex harvesting comes out well ahead of clear felling for timber purposes or cattle ranching, and I believe that this financial advantage would be further reinforced if the potential market for medicinal plants and other non-timber forest products was to be increased. The work of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in this respect is enormously important. From all this reading, I am afraid I emerge somewhat baffled as to why so many politicians and economists seem to find it difficult to see the wood for the trees! If conventional economics, let alone common sense or even native wit, bears out the hypothesis that sustainable utilisation makes more sense than outright destruction, what further objections could possibly be raised? It would seem that one of the problems is the different markets towards which the different products are directed. The demand for tropical hardwoods is international, earning valuable foreign exchange, whereas the demand for non-timber products is often more regional and local, and thus less important in national economic accounting. In trying to assess what is possible and, more importantly, what is sensible in the tropical forests, we need to find out what Nature will allow, and work within those limitations. The story of Henry Ford's 'Fordlandia' in Brazil is cautionary, I think. Here the single-minded energy of American industry, aided by a welter of concessions from the Brazilian government, was unable to establish a viable rubber plantation, because of an oversight concerning some very basic laws of Nature. In 1927, Ford took control of what was described as 'a fertile rolling plateau, forested with tall and lovely trees'. By 1929 he had cleared nearly one and a half thousand acres but the project failed because the seedlings would not thrive. The main problem was that Hevea brasiliensis, whose latex provides the raw material for rubber, was attacked by a leaf rust fungus. This is not a serious problem when the trees are grown singly in the jungle, but spreads with devastating effect when they are planted as a monoculture. This story underlines what I believe to be a crucial factor in our approach to the rainforests or, indeed, to the many environmental challenges the world faces. And that is the importance of working with indigenous tribal peoples, and respecting them for their all-embracing knowledge and experience of the forest. Generations of observation and bodily trial and error have honed their judgment in a process as rigorous as any laboratory testing. As a result, local people often have keener insights into the intricately balanced harmony of the forests, and how simultaneously to exploit and sustain that harmony, than do the peripatetic experts. Yet local communities have too often been ignored. We must systematically, I would suggest, bring them into efforts to safeguard the forest, right from the start of the planning process. Quite apart from their knowledge of their environment, forestry is critically dependent on the goodwill of local people. Who else is to plant the trees, and then keep the goats, or whatever, away from the seedlings?

Studies of Indian communities in Brazil and Venezuela show that they make use of up to 78 per cent of the tree species in the forests concerned - and with as many as 300 species of trees in an area a quarter the size of a football pitch, this is no mean feat.

To the Shuar Indians of Ecuador, the forest is a natural pharmacy - they know of 250 separate medicinal plants. The same kind of astonishingly diverse use of tropical forest species can be seen in their agriculture practices, even when dealing with varieties of staple crops such as manioc. The idea of one tribe (the Tukano Indians of the Upper Rio Negro in the Amazon) having access to no fewer than 140 varieties of manioc makes our dependence on a mere handful of staple crops look extremely primitive by comparison!

These people are accomplished environmental scientists, and for us to call them 'primitive' is both perverse and patronising.

Professor Prance and his colleagues have done much to point out both the importance and value of the astonishing diversity within the tropical forests. The evolutionary idiocy of eliminating that diversity, and replacing it with short-lived monocultures of cash crops or grassland, exemplifies the arrogance of the West in its dealing with the natural world. But how encouraging that botanists and biologists are now in the forefront of international efforts to promote the idea of extractive reserves.

It will, of course, be a major challenge to scientists, foresters and governments to stimulate the marketing and development of these non-destructive, renewable resources.

It must be done in such a way that the benefits and profits accrue fairly to the local forest communities, and to the producer country economies. Commercialisation of non-timber products could all too easily lead to pressure to over-exploit the extractive reserves, and to disruption and intrusion on local cultures and land rights.

But there are good signs that this can be made to work. In Brazil, rubber tappers and Indians have overcome their history of conflict to recognise their common interests, and have signed a pact called the Forest Peoples Alliance which focuses on defending the forest and the land rights of forest peoples. I must stress again that this is not some romantic ideal: the key to reconciling the conflict between development and conservation lies with the knowledge and culture of those who live and work and know the forest.

Extending the Forest Peoples Alliance to other forest groups and rural communities may well be the greatest hope for the rainforests of the Amazon. Such initiatives will have a much harder time of it unless they are supported by their governments. I have recently seen the fascinating report by Peter Bunyard on the policies of the Colombian Government for the protection of its indigenous peoples, and see this as an encouraging beacon of hope and light in an otherwise rather gloomy scene.

The Colombian Government has had the courage to recognise that the Indian model of managing the forests has ensured the conservation of those ecosystems for many hundreds of years.

It has therefore initiated a systematic programme of legal recognition of land rights for all the indigenous communities in the Amazon. To date, more than 12 million hectares have been handed back to 156,000 indigenous people of the Colombian Amazon. The land is held as the collective property of the Indians, and is inalienable.

Another six million hectares are now under consideration, which would bring the total area to something larger than the United Kingdom. They have also created national parks in the Amazon region totalling more than five million hectares.


The Colombian Government is deserving, I would have said, of considerable international recognition for this bold step, together with our hopes and prayers that these policies will be continued. On a smaller scale, but no less welcome in principle, the Brazilian Government has just decided to establish its first 'extractive reserve'. This sets aside 2,000 square miles for 'sustainable exploitation by the traditional inhabitants'. As the most ambitious such project yet conceived for the Brazilian Amazon, and the first to carry a legal recognition, this is obviously a very significant step in the right direction, particularly since the area concerned is one of Amazonia's greatest centres of biological diversity. If the process of setting up national parks, ecological reserves and other conservation areas is to continue it will be essential for the governments concerned to know which areas are most in need of protection. A meeting called 'Workshop 90', held in the Amazon city of Manaus, Brazil, last month contributed significantly to this process. Almost 100 biologists, physical scientists, ecologists and conservation planners (of whom more than half came from the nine Amazon countries) spent ten days pooling their knowledge and drawing up maps and back-up material. The final map produced covered about 60 per cent of the Amazon region, and it is encouraging to know that most of the areas of maximum biological diversity are still largely intact, though the need for rapid action is underlined by the fact that many are under threat. Ladies and gentlemen, at this point in the proceedings, bearing in mind that I seem to have established a reputation for talking to trees, you might be forgiven for wishing that I had been addressing a fine stand of teak rather than yourselves during the course of this interminable lecture. But there are thousands fewer tropical forest trees than when I started speaking, and they can't speak for themselves. They have a voice of their own, but it's only a whisper and very hard to hear above the shriek of the saw. However, I would just like to add a few thoughts on what we can perhaps do to help the tropical forest countries to pursue policies that will achieve the ends that I think most of us seek. In this country we can avoid purchasing tropical hardwood products unless we are satisfied that they come from 'sustainably managed forests' - but how exactly we can be satisfied on that score without a proper labelling scheme, I simply can't imagine! The UK Government has, of course, accepted the logic of this, and backed such a proposal at the last meeting of ITTO. Failing such a scheme, a cautious consumer is almost certainly going to be more inclined to avoid tropical hardwoods altogether rather than risk contributing to their unnecessary demise. As far as I am concerned, I believe in taking as long-term a view as possible, and have in fact begun to plant a few hardwood plantations consisting of trees that will provide suitable timber for furniture-making in 70 years time or so. The obligations for planners, architects and local authorities are particularly important in this respect. It is clear that with a little ingenuity, in terms of the materials specified for any contract, the built environment can be designed to minimise the use of tropical hardwoods by using suitable alternatives - at least until a proper labelling system for sustainably grown wood has been implemented. Most important of all, we have to find a way of doing something about the burden of international debt. I really don't see how developing countries can be expected to achieve sustainable development and at the same time meet huge debt repayments. Equally, when the nations of the developed world do provide aid, they have a right to expect proper auditing and monitoring procedures, to ensure that the money is spent wisely. It is clear the political and economic challenge of protecting the world's remaining tropical forest is enormous, but I suspect it goes even further than that, for the intellectual tools we are using, and the blueprints we are drawing up, may still be flawed and corrupted by the kind of arrogance to which I have already referred. There is more - far more - to be learned from the indigenous forest-dwellers than how to make use of 140 varieties of manioc! At one level, sustainable management of this kind fits very easily with today's prevailing utilitarian ethic; as such, it implies little more than simply learning how to manage our natural resources more efficiently and cost-effectively. But that is very different from the spirit in which the tribal Indians 'manage' their natural world. It is important neither to patronise nor romanticise tribal people, but the intimacy, respect and reverence which characterise their relationships with the tropical forests mark out their concept of stewardship as being quite different from ours. Environmentalists today tend to talk of sustainable development and stewardship as if they were one and the same thing, but the degree of similarity depends entirely on the frame of mind of the stewards involved! I fear that we will fail this particular challenge if we are not prepared to accept that sustainable development demands not just a range of different management techniques and funding mechanisms, but a different attitude to the Earth and a less arrogant, Man-centred philosophy. We need to develop a reverence for the natural world. One can imagine the situation in which some might be inclined just to hoover up the scientific knowledge of the rainforest Indians, reduce that knowledge to our own money-making utilitarian calculus, create scores of new exotic products (such as 140 varieties of manioc muesli!), develop thrusting new profit centres out of the tropical forest genetic treasure chest, and then simply move on in the same old empty, mindless way. Perhaps we should try to emulate the North American Indian communities who have always planned many of their actions concerning the use of Nature, plantings and land use by giving thought to the effect they will have on the seventh unborn generation. What a difference it would make if we gave proper thought to the effect which our actions will have on the welfare of our great great great great great grandchildren! Ladies and gentlemen, I believe the tropical forests, and the tropical rainforests in particular, are the final frontier for Humankind in more ways than one. Our efforts to protect them will not only determine the quality of life and economic security of future generations, but will test to the limit our readiness to cast off the kind of arrogance that has caused such devastating damage to the global environment, and to become the genuine stewards of all life on Earth, not just the Human bit of it.