Deforestation and PovertyDeforestation and poverty have had a close relationship to one another for a very long time. Individuals around the world have used wood either as a fuel for fire, shelter or weapons for hundreds of thousands of years. Nowadays, communities around the world that are not prosperous enough to survive begin to rely on selling wood and clearing forests in order to survive.

Much of the deforestation today is illegal. However, there are still communities that continue to subsist on illegally-felled wood. In fact, a World Bank report estimated that “illegal loggers cut down an area of forest the size of a football field every two seconds.” This cannot continue. Forests are vital to sustaining the worldwide ecosystem.

Currently, the top three countries involved in deforestation are Russia (mostly in the east), Brazil and the United States of America, which still has plenty of woodland. The U.S. is prosperous enough that it can afford to put resources into sustainable practices, such as replanting trees and improving enforcement of the law.

However, most other countries cannot afford these things. Most of the illegal logging comes from Russia, Brazil and China, attributing to 16.9 percent, 16.0 percent and 12.3 percent of all illegal logging worldwide, respectively.

It is unknown, though, whether the communities which do the illegal felling are in fact severely poor. Because people who are committing this crime do not want to expose themselves, there are few to no statistics on the exact portion of deforestation that is due to poverty. All three countries have relatively low GDP per capita’s though (between $8,000-$9,000 U.S. Dollars) as well as high GINI indices of above 41, which suggest that many of the communities in those countries survive on deforestation, are very poor.

However, we must be careful to not generalize this for all illegal deforestation. In fact, according to Forests News, big corporations are responsible for fueling this industry, as they can gain profits from agricultural land. Putting pressure on these businesses, such as McDonalds or Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), will likely lessen the effect of deforestation. However, it won’t help the poor become more prosperous, and it will likely make them even poorer.

Thus, what can be done against deforestation and poverty and poverty diminished by deforestation, for the sake of the environment, for the sake of the lives at risk and environmentalism?

Deforestation is vital for farmers who want to expand their farms to create more food for the world’s hungry. Unfortunately, solutions to the problem require worldwide participation against unsustainable practices and, of course, general poverty.

Even if we as a humankind were, in theory, to halt deforestation completely, it would mean that millions of people would potentially go hungry and disrupt the world economy. Therefore, the solutions must be carefully implemented over time.

Brazil has a great record of reducing poverty in previous years, reducing poverty from 24.7 percent in 2001 to 7.4 percent in 2014, according to the World Bank. It has also decreased deforestation from 21,000 square kilometers annually to only 8,000 square kilometers. What has the country done to battle deforestation and poverty?

For deforestation, it has invested more money into protecting the forest: 10 percent of the Amazon is now a protected area. For poverty, it created a slew of social programs, such the updating infrastructure, paid school attendance across the country and, most importantly, created “first global center for poverty reduction” called “Mundo Sem Pobreza.” Together, the two programs have worked in tandem to make the country the next big leader in fighting poverty and deforestation.

If Russia and China can learn from Brazil and focus on these issues in their respective nations, humanity will make great strides in battling both world poverty and climate change.

Michal Burgunder

Photo: Flickr