Amazon Deforestation
The Amazon forest is a critically important ecosystem and natural resource. It spans more than 2.3 million square miles and is home to around 30 million people. The Amazon lumber trade has left vast portions of the forest depleted and unsuitable for living or farming. In more than 15 years, Amazon deforestation rates have reached an all-time high. A recent publication by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research states that deforestation rates have surged 22% from 2020, with the lumber trade exploiting 13,235 km2 of the forest.

Amazon Deforestation and Poverty

Impoverished Amazonian communities rely on the rainforest for natural resources, food and water. However, once those resources disappear, it takes years, if not decades, for them to become replenished. Despite indigenous communities being the best caretakers for the forest, their efforts do not match the power of international traders and the government.

Survival International, an indigenous people’s rights organization, has described the Awa people of Brazil as “the most threatened tribe on earth” because loggers and ranchers constantly threaten their homeland and reservation. A local woman named Pirai expressed to BBC that “loggers, farmers, hunters, invaders… they are all coming back, they are killing all our forest.” Illegal logging pushes into land designated to various tribes. These communities face the harsh realities of Amazon deforestation, like decreases in biodiversity, which leads to changes in ecosystems and possible food sources.

Today, legal and illegal logging, cattle farms and soy farms have destroyed about 18% of the forest. However, in recent years the destruction of the rainforest has soared following the election of Jair Bolsonaro. The Bolsonaro government has proposed several bills with the agenda of loosening environmental protections throughout the pandemic. With Brazil being one of the largest exporters of beef and lumber, President Bolsonaro has prioritized economic gain at the expense of ecological and societal protections.

SOS Amazon

Despite efforts of law enforcement to halt illegal lumber trade practices in the Amazon, the Bolsonaro government has dismissed several officers for enforcing environmental protections. After being assigned to the Amazon region for over 10 years, Police Chief Alexandre Saraiva became one of those cases because of his commitment to combating Amazon deforestation. After leading Brazil’s largest illegal lumber bust and investigating former Brazilian Environmental Minister Ricardo Salles, President Bolsonaro demoted and relocated Saraiva to an area of Brazil that is nowhere near the Amazon forest.

In response to his relocation and demotion, Saraiva teamed up with songwriter Christina Saraiva and Brazilian singer Esther to create “SOS Amazon.” Saraiva and Ester released the song on YouTube prior to the 2021 United Nations Climate Summit to raise awareness among wealthy nations about their role in Amazon deforestation. According to Reuters, “he estimated that 90% of export papers are forged to hide their origins.” Therefore, the illegal lumber trade continues to be detrimental to the prosperity of the forest and local populations. The lyrics express that “the earth bleeds and burn. The fire flies and kills. I can’t lie and rest. I can’t just stay still.”

These powerful words convey that the Amazon forest is essential to the prosperity of the earth and local population, and many impoverished communities’ futures rest on saving the rainforest. Saravia expressed that “The Amazon is ours, Brazilian, but the obligation to preserve it is also ours. The international community needs to do their part by stopping acquiring illegal Brazilian timber.” Wealthy nations must hear Saravia’s message that local people and their livelihoods, in addition to vital natural resources, are suffering and dying because of Amazon deforestation in order to save Amazonian communities.

How to Help the Amazon and its People

Often, when natural resources and habitats are in danger, everyday people feel powerless to create change. However, people can do plenty from the comforts of their own homes. One great way to start thinking about change is by learning about the issue. When people become educated on specific topics, they often feel more empowered to help. Another way to help is by checking one’s carbon footprint and cutting down on paper usage.

According to Reuters, the top buyer of illegally processed wood is the European Union. As a result, ordinary people can prompt change by calling local representatives to support legislation that aids in rebuilding the Amazon instead of destroying it. When thousands of people make little changes in their lives to support the Amazon, it could create big impacts and brighter futures.

– Hannah Eliason
Photo: Unsplash

Shark Conservation Alleviates Poverty
In the past 50 years, global shark and ray populations have declined by more than 70%. The drop is largely due to the high demand for shark fin soup and medicinal shark products. Shark hunting provides a major source of income for people around the world, especially in places like West Africa where dwindling fish populations limit other fishing opportunities. However, shark hunting poses a threat to humans and aquatic ecosystems by causing imbalances in the food chain. Shark conservation alleviates poverty by preserving marine ecosystems that people rely on for food, medicine and income.

Socioeconomic Impacts

Shark and ray products play significant roles in West African economies, particularly when it comes to trade. Fishermen kill more than 100 million sharks every year. In West Africa, fishermen commonly pursue shark hunting because commercial fish populations are becoming scarce. The loss of sharks further disrupts the food chain by limiting the number of apex predators. As a result, big fish consume smaller fish that might otherwise be the targets of commercial fishermen.

Shark products are expensive, high-protein alternatives to traditional fish, but diminishing shark populations has greater ecological implications. In the long term, many ecosystems will not be able to survive without sharks, causing the communities that rely on those ecosystems to suffer. Therefore, shark conservation can alleviate poverty by maintaining a steady food supply chain for communities around the world.

Local Shark Monitoring and Management Versus Legislation

In Liberia, more than 30,000 people rely on fishing as a main source of income. Fish also account for about two-thirds of the country’s animal protein consumption. Therefore, preserving aquatic ecosystems, in part by protecting sharks, is essential to Liberia’s economy and health. Methods of shark conservation include shark monitoring and sustainable fishing management.

The National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority started an initiative in 2019 to monitor and collect data on fishing and shark populations in Liberia. A 2014 pledge that Liberia made with 12 other West African nations to conserve shark and ray populations inspired the initiative. According to a trial program, Liberian waters are home to 19 shark species that all fall under the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of threatened species. Critics of the initiative worry that data collection will not be enough to preserve shark populations. Legislative action may be necessary to make a lasting impact on shark conservation.

Recent Efforts in Shark Conservation

A group of representatives from 12 West African countries held a workshop in Senegal in 2017 to discuss the implementation of international trade regulations to protect sharks and rays. The 2016 listing of endangered shark species from Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) inspired the workshop. An Appendix II listing dictates that shark products from the selected species undergo legal and sustainable trade, without damage to wild shark populations. The Senegalese government led the workshop alongside Humane Society International and The Pew Charitable Trusts. Environmental officials, experts and fisheries also partook in the conversation. Following the 17th CITES conference in September 2016, eight West African countries co-sponsored at least one of the proposals to protect sharks and rays.

Conservation To Save Lives

Sharks play a vital role in West Africa’s ecosystems, economies and societies. Unsustainable shark hunting can severely disrupt marine life and food supply chains, which humans and animals rely on to survive. Shark conservation can alleviate poverty by preserving aquatic ecosystems and the natural resources they have to offer.

– Cleo Hudson
Photo: Pxfuel

Africa's Mining Industry
When people think of natural resources, Africa may not often the first place that comes to mind. A lot of the continent is still developing while civil war and poverty riddle many of its countries. However, Africa is home to an abundance of natural resources such as metals and minerals. More than 100 mining companies currently operate out of South Africa alone. Additionally, Africa is responsible for about 20% of the world’s gold production and is also a large producer of other metals such as cobalt, copper and lithium. It is essential for countries to possess a raw material to trade in order for the continent to make the leap from developing to developed. Africa’s mining industry could be the crucial ingredient necessary for the continent to make that leap.

The Barriers

The lack of domestic companies and education are two major hangups preventing Africa from utilizing all of its metal and mineral reserves. Although Africa is home to valuable raw materials, many foreign companies have moved in to mine them. Additionally, it has not reinvested enough into local communities. The solution is to restructure how the foreign companies operate and slowly allow domestic companies to move in.

Foreign companies bring the knowledge and machinery necessary to tap into the mines’ full potential. However, African workers do not receive the opportunities they deserve. Foreign companies pumped in almost $20 billion to fund mining operations throughout Africa between 2015 and 2018.

One possible solution is for foreign mining companies to provide training programs and management positions to locals. With proper guidance, African natives can receive training to handle mining operations themselves. Thus, this would eliminate the need for a foreign workforce and would open up the floodgates for advancement within countries like Zimbabwe and Botswana where metals and minerals are plentiful.

A Major Opportunity

The electric vehicle (EV) market is perhaps the biggest opportunity for Africa’s mining industry. Africa is home to large reserves of cobalt, lithium and nickel. All of these are crucial materials for EV batteries. Forbes estimates that almost 40% of all car sales will be electric by 2040. In addition, several automakers have made the commitment to go totally electric by 2050.

It is undeniable that the world is making a major shift from gas power to electricity, and the demand for these metals has skyrocketed. If more domestic companies arise, Africa will have a major influence on trade on the world stage. This would give the continent immense bargaining power. Moreover, it would make Africa far more appealing to trade in the next few decades.

The Good News

Although Africa’s mining industry needs improvement, several reserves remain untapped. This means that there is still plenty of time to improve practices and open up even more jobs for locals. Almost all mining companies in Africa could be domestic with more government involvement and regulation.

A thriving local mining industry will open up opportunities and incentives for natives. Furthermore, local industries will feel more compelled to reinvest in their home countries than companies from overseas. The opportunity exists, African countries just need to capitalize on it.

– Jake Hill
Photo: Flickr

natural resources in equatorial guineaEquatorial Guinea, which lies on the central west coast of Africa, has seemingly abundant resources. Natural resources in Equatorial Guinea range from its tropical climate and arable land to its minerals and labor. However, widespread socioeconomic development spurred by its discovery of petroleum in the 1990s hindered the country’s progress. It has led to issues including political corruption, resource misuse and human rights abuses. As such, natural resources in Equatorial Guinea affect poverty in the country.

The History of Natural Resources in Equatorial Guinea

Equatorial Guinea declared independence from Spain in October 1968. However, the regime of post-independence president Francisco Macias Nguema saw declines in quality, maintenance and labor. As a result, previously booming industries of cocoa and coffee exports almost completely disappeared. After Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo overthrew Nguema in 1979, Equatorial Guinea seemed to be moving toward economic revitalization. In the 1980s, the country joined the Customs and Economic Union of Central Africa and replaced its currency with one linked to the French franc. However, it was not until the discovery of offshore petroleum and natural gas reserves in 1996 that its GDP skyrocketed.

The IMF estimated that oil production increased from 17,000 barrels per day (b/d) in 1996 to its peak at 280,000 b/d in 2004 before beginning to steadily decline. Real GDP grew by 150% in 1997. Equatorial Guinea remains the third-largest oil producer in Sub-Saharan Africa. Along with GDP growth, Equatorial Guinea became a trading partner with China, Portugal, India, the U.S. and Spain. This accounted for an increase in government revenue, and the country’s per capita income became the highest in Africa. Natural resources in Equatorial Guinea created this economic transformation. However, today about two-thirds of the population still lives in extreme poverty.

Why the Poverty Level Hasn’t Decreased

Despite the wealth of natural resources in Equatorial Guinea, poverty remains an issue. Human rights abuses and corruption during the Obiang’s regime have raised criticism internationally. As of 2015, only half of citizens in Equatorial Guinea have access to clean water. Newborn immunization rates for polio and measles are among the lowest in the world. Also, government expenditures on health and education are merely 2% to 3% of the total budget. In 2018, the United Nations designated the country 144 out of 189 on its Human Development Index. This measures dimensions including life expectancy, education access and standard of living.

Corruption contributes to poverty in the country. Although Equatorial Guinea has held multi-party elections since 1993, Obiang won his fifth presidential term in 2016 with 94% of the vote. His party also occupies every parliamentary seat. Furthermore, about 80% of the government’s revenue from oil went toward spending sprees on public infrastructure. Construction contracts, however, went to companies partially owned by government officials, including Obiang. Obiang’s son further compounded evidence suggesting government corruption by provoking money-laundering investigations with overseas spending. Thus, the wealth resulting from natural resources in Equatorial Guinea goes not to the people but to the government.

An Unsustainable Future

Many natural resources in Equatorial Guinea also face misuse and exploitation. For example, timber is one of Equatorial Guinea’s most abundant agricultural resources and its main export after oil. The IMF, however, indicated an unsustainable level of timber production in 2001. This resource composed most of the non-oil GDP that grew by 21% in 1999. Environmental damage in the Bioko region, where most of the timber grows, also supports claims of unsustainable exploitation. Despite this boom in timber, the country has mineral deposits that remain untouched due to a lack of extraction and refining equipment. This gold, titanium, manganese, iron ore and uranium could provide balance to the country’s resource exports with the right material.

Furthermore, the 2014 international drop in oil prices reversed GDP growth and caused a recession in Equatorial Guinea. Experts predict that its oil will also run out by 2035. This emphasizes the need for reform and sustainable sources of revenue from natural resources in Equatorial Guinea.

Partnering with the IMF

Recently, Equatorial Guinea partnered with the IMF to recover its economy by promoting sustainable, inclusive growth. The  $283 million program focuses on anti-corruption efforts and economic diversification. This will help monitor public finances, increase social spending and improve governance.

While this partnership with the IMF indicates progress, reform needs to be more widespread and supported internationally. The State Department names U.S. corporations ExxonMobile, Marathon Oil and Noble Energy as among the largest investors in Equatorial Guinea. These corporations and other international entities can use their influential positions to support economic reforms to sustain the country’s resources. They can also support political and social reforms to improve living conditions.

By investing more oil revenue into social programs, legitimate infrastructure projects and the agricultural sector, Equatorial Guinea could build a stable economic future and better living conditions for its citizens. Policy reform like this would also decrease poverty and preserve natural resources in Equatorial Guinea. This way, the country’s natural wealth will exist for generations to come.

Isabel Serrano
Photo: Flickr

Developing Countries With Natural Resources
As the planet continues to evolve from the devastating effects of global warming and overproduction of harmful wastes, natural resources necessary for people’s well being are becoming more scarce. With so few natural resources left, these commodities increase in value, thus making them more expensive to attain on the market. Although most of the world is struggling to gain access to such natural resources, some countries are fortunate enough to have a hidden reservoir of natural resources that they can use to their advantage. Here are the top three developing countries with natural resources.

3 Developing Countries With Natural Resources

  1. The Democratic Republic of the Congo: Although the Democratic Republic of the Congo is still battling many economic and civic issues that emerged out of a series of political conflicts in the 1990s, the country has benefited from its overabundance of natural resources. One can attribute much of its economic growth to the mass export of mineral deposits, those that are particularly in the province of Katanga. Minerals in the region include copper, zinc, cobalt, coal, silver, uranium and platinum. The Congo’s forest is also rich in fish and lumber, but as a result of the abuse of these resources, the government is working to preserve and protect these areas from deforestation. As a result of exporting these vital resources worldwide, especially copper and cobalt, the Democratic Republic of the Congo was able to climb out of its economic recession in 2018. In 2018, the economy grew to 4.1 percent and has been on a steady incline ever since. Despite gaining wealth in exporting such resources, its account deficit widened from 2.9 percent of its GDP in 2017 to 3.9 percent of its GDP in 2018. This was due to the large increase in imports, but with sufficient government programs and community support, the Democratic Republic of the Congo will be able to stabilize its economy in the future to gain more economic advantages from exporting its natural resources.
  2. Botswana: Since its independence from Britain in 1966, there were doubts about whether Botswana would be able to sustain itself as an independent country. As a landlocked country with a small agricultural population, droughts that hit the country in the 1960s took a huge toll on beef exports, which at the time was the country’s only means of export. However, its luck began to turn around in 1966 when it discovered the first batch of diamonds in Orapa. The capital expenditure on mines aided the start-up of other sectors, such as construction, financial services and transport. This led to rapid economic growth, lifting wealth prospects to overwhelming heights. As documented, from 1966 to 2014, Botswana’s GDP per capita grew at an average of 5.9 percent a year. These numbers were one of the highest rates of GDP per capita growth that the world saw during that period. A large contributor to the rapid expansion of Botswana’s economy was the export of diamonds. Of course, as a developing country, Botswana still has challenges to overcome. Youth unemployment is as high as 35 percent and more than 13 percent of the population is living off of just $1.90 a day. There are also concerns that its economy has become too reliant on its diamond business. Botswana, as always, has been working to relieve these issues.
  3. Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia is home to about one-fifth of the world’s petroleum reserves. The petroleum industry takes up approximately 80 percent of its budget revenues, 90 percent of export earnings and 45 percent of the country’s GDP. In addition to the already existing oil fields, Saudi Arabia discovered the Arsan, the AsSayd, the Namlan and the Qamran oilfields along with the Jalamid gas fields in 2010, adding to its economic prosperity. Additionally, Saudia Arabia also has large reserves of a variety of metals including iron, lead, gold and copper. One company called Ma’aden, which has two subsidiaries called Ma’aden Gold and Base Metals Co., has operated five gold mines in Saudi Arabia since 1988 and has produced more than 4 million ounces of gold. To gain further investment from these profitable natural resources, Saudia Arabia joined the WTO in 2005, constructed six economically-driven cities in its country and developed social and infrastructural projects between 2010 and 2014 to promote economic prosperity. In terms of maintaining its position as perhaps the world’s leading petroleum producer and exporter, it will be able to do just that for many years to come. However, internal conflict and poverty are issues that Saudi Arabia still faces, so much work is still necessary to bring its country into an era of peace and stability.

Overall, developing countries do, to some degree, gain substantial benefits from exporting their natural resources for profit. However, circumstances must align in order for the export of natural resources to benefit them, because the same blessing can very well turn into a negative consequence and be more damaging to their economies.

Lucia Elmi
Photo: Flickr