Lack of concern for the human factor in tropical forest conservation and development schemes hamper their long term effectiveness. Ongoing projects, moreover, tend to be overly specialised and based on perceptions which are limited in both time and space. There is a growing awareness, however, that consideration of socio-cultural values is just as important to sustainable development as the type of environmental protection advanced thus far by natural scientists.

Given the need to achieve a balance between natural and social science efforts in forest conservation, a consortium of five major European institutions has been constituted to examine in detail the interaction between human ecology and the environment. By adopting a holistic and interdisciplinary approach, the project hopes to contribute to the emergence of a non-reductionist understanding, upon which new forms of reflection and concrete actions can be based.

Emphasis is on anthropological, ecological, economic, paleo-environmental, archaeological and demographic dimensions. The needs and knowledge of that increasing part of humanity which lays on the fringe of the global economy, problems of poverty, health and nutrition, urbanisation, migrations and inter-ethnic conflict will also be taken into account.

A better understanding of the apparent symbiosis which characterises the relationship between traditional populations and their eco systems may be attained by addressing the following questions: Are the activities of these populations really compatible with the maintenance of bio-diversity or are they ecologically destructive? Can ancestral knowledge and techniques contribute to the elaboration of new and more efficient forest management models? What types of strategies are spontaneously developed by these populations when their sociological and economic structures are weakened or when their environment is endangered? What kind of participatory management can be effective? Responses here will be useful in addressing the need to accommodate conservation with the sustainable use of forest resources.

With the intention of being as geographically far-reaching as possible, Central Africa, Papua New Guinea and the three Guyanas are the focus of research activities. West Africa, other Pacific area countries and Belize will subsequently be included. Local researchers from these areas participate actively in the project as collaboration between EU and ACP researchers is fundamental to the APFT structure and to its long term viability.

The APFT consortium has received a substantial grant from DG VIII of the European Union to undertake this project which will span a five year period from 1995 to 2000. In addition to the consortium, more than 15 other European and ACP institutions are already interacting as a network which seeks to foster realistic and pragmatic recommendations.

Primary objectives of the project include augmenting our research and development capacities in the human ecology of rainforest peoples and their relevant indigenous knowledge, improving the viability of CEC projects, developing and co-ordinating expertise in Europe and Africa-Caribbean-Pacific countries, stimulating the reflection and awareness of decision-makers and extension of the data bank.