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Wild Foods Consumption
People considerably underlook wild food consumption when addressing the poor health epidemic. Lack of biodiversity in modern diets, especially the diets available to those living in poverty, is the main reason people have too few micronutrients and other key nutrients in their diet, which leads to an unnecessary number of preventable diseases and death.

The Maya nut is one of the lesser-known wild forest foods. Found in Ramón trees native to the rainforests of Latin America and the Caribbean, the Maya nut is extremely versatile in its uses and benefits. The Maya nut receives praise for its nutritional value, but people also stigmatize the wild food due to it once having been a staple food in severe times of poverty. Regardless of the association, what is important to note is that the Maya nut is a wild superfood with massive nutritional and health benefits for all people regardless their class status.

Versatility and Sustainability

Some of the micronutrients that one can find in the Maya nut in abundance include calcium, fiber, potassium, iron and zinc; these are all crucial and critically nutrients lacking in most diets across the globe. A nutrient-dense diet is even less accessible to those living in poverty: a propeller of the cycle of poverty when considering that a poor diet is the leading cause of future health issues.

People can consume the Maya nut in a variety of ways, such as fresh, dried or even roasted. The entire plant is useful in that the sap is medicinal, people can eat the seed or pit or they can mill it into flour (similar to the avocado). Individuals can also chop the branches into firewood. Unfortunately, less than 5 percent of the modern diet of local communities includes the Maya nut because communities do not support it.

Wild Foods and Forest Conservation

Research shows that an increase in the consumption of these types of wild forest foods could be a mutually beneficial enterprise with respect to forest conservation and the people that inhabit those communities suffering from deforestation. Satellite evidence shows that communities that are cultivating the threatened plant species are experiencing lower deforestation rates than areas that are not accessing and consuming the versatile Maya nut. The leading cause of deforestation in the world is food production and the practices by which humans manufacture food, so this is a great place to start when analyzing the world’s environmental crisis. Environmental benefits of the consumption of the Maya nut include the planting of trees, as opposed to their removal.

How to classify the Maya nut in terms of its wildness is controversial since it is notably a wild food but growers have since started to grow it intentionally. Wild edible species are technically plant groups that people do not cultivate willfully. While some grow it deliberately (the Maya Nut Institute is responsible for much of this), the Maya nut does continue to grow without human intervention in certain rainforest areas; just not enough to keep it from being on the verge of extinction.

Looking to the Future

One Ramón tree has the ability to produce up to 200 kg of food per year. Living for more than 100 years, this plant has the potential to outturn upwards of 20,000 kg of food in its lifetime. And not only that, but the Maya nut can last up to five years (if dried and stored properly) and will maintain its nutrient properties in full value. In terms of world hunger, wild foods can only help improve current circumstances. Wild food consumption could be a part of the solution to help reduce global poverty, hunger and deforestation all at once.

The protection of wild foods, wild foods consumption and overall accessibility to wild foods in poor communities is a global issue that people must address. Emphasis placed on education, awareness and accessibility could help increase wild food consumption. Others should make the indigenous people in areas where the Ramon trees flourish and provide ample food for the community aware of the plant and its benefits.

– Helen Schwie
Photo: Flickr

 

Ecosia
As of 2015, less than one-third of our planet’s surface contains forests, and that percentage continues to decrease. According to the World Wildlife Fund, approximately 18.7 million acres of forest are destroyed annually. But a search engine called Ecosia is on a mission to help.

The Problem With Deforestation

Deforestation rates have slowed down somewhat since peak levels in the 1990s. Nevertheless, the Earth continues to lose this ecosystem at an alarming rate. Forests are home to an estimated 80 percent of the world’s non-aquatic species. The Amazon rainforest alone shelters an estimated 2,000 animal species and 40,000 plant species. As the world’s forests are gradually destroyed, millions of plants and animals lose their habitats. It is possible that, due to deforestation, countless species have gone extinct before they were ever discovered by humans.

In addition, forests play a number of roles in maintaining a safe and habitable environment. Forests are carbon sinks, meaning that they absorb large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere, thereby helping to maintain a balanced and habitable climate. The loss of forests is responsible for at least 15 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to rising temperatures, extreme weather conditions and an increasing number of dangerous storms. These changes have the potential to make human life more difficult and dangerous, and people in impoverished countries often face the greatest risks.

What is Ecosia?

Ecosia is a web search engine founded in 2009 and based in Berlin, Germany. The brainchild of Christian Kroll, Ecosia was created as a “social business” with the primary objective of helping the world. For most businesses, profit comes first and service projects second. Ecosia has turned this order on its head.

Like other search engines, Ecosia makes money off of ads in internet searches. But unlike other engines, 80 percent of Ecosia’s revenue is used to plant trees in countries suffering from heavy deforestation and to fund reforestation projects. The search page also comes with a tree counter, allowing users to see how many trees their searches have planted so far.

As of 2018, Ecosia is contributing to reforestation efforts in 15 countries across Asia, Europe, and South America. Its projects target biodiversity hotspots containing a high number of plants and animals without alternative habitats. Many of these areas are at risk of disappearing. By reforesting these areas, Ecosia’s efforts are preventing countless species from going extinct.

Agricultural Benefits of Reforestation

Forests are vital to the health and safety of agriculture. Apart from maintaining a healthy climate and biodiversity, trees prevent erosion by holding soil. Without this protection from erosion, good soil is lost, and agriculture becomes significantly more difficult.

Trees also shield smaller crops from violent storms and channel nutrients to surrounding plants. They provide habitats for bees and other pollinators, facilitating natural fertilization of crops and plants. Perhaps most importantly, trees aid in precipitation. By drawing groundwater through their roots and evaporating it through their leaves, the water can return as rain. Not long after the reforestation project in Burkina Faso commenced, rainfall became more frequent in the semi-desertic area.

By setting the groundwork to create better and more sustainable conditions for agriculture, Ecosia is helping rural communities around the world improve their livelihoods.

Community Benefits of Reforestation

While reforestation efforts are inherently beneficial to the environment, Ecosia also ensures that local communities benefit from their projects. Many of the company’s efforts focus on planting trees that are useful to local farmers. One example is Ecosia’s project in Ghana, where more than 900,000 trees were planted along the Daka River. Most of these trees were fruit or nut trees. These trees not only helped restore and maintain the water level of the river but provided local people with food. Through the harvesting and selling of shea nuts, the plants also created new economic opportunities.

Finally, Ecosia projects bring communities out of poverty by employing locals to plant trees. The company provides a stable source of income for people in areas where jobs and money are scarce.

How to Help

Ecosia can be downloaded for free as an extension for browsers including Safari, Firefox and Google Chrome. It is also offered as an app on iOS or Android. So far, nearly 6 million people have begun using Ecosia, leading to the planting of more than 40 million trees. By 2020, the company hopes to have planted at least 1 billion, reviving broken habitats and contributing to a sustainable future.

Keira Charles
Photo: Flickr

Deforestation in Uganda
Deforestation is the second highest cause of carbon emissions from human activity next to burning fossil fuels. According to the World Wildlife Foundation, on average between “46 and 58 thousand square miles of forest are lost each year—equivalent to 48 football fields every minute.” When trees are cut down, the amount of carbon dioxide being absorbed from the atmosphere decreases drastically. Efforts to curb deforestation practices in developing countries through stipends to farmers has proven to be both a cost-effective way to address climate change and provide people in rural areas an additional form of income.

From 2010 to 2013, the Innovation for Poverty Action (IPA) conducted a study surrounding deforestation in Uganda, a country with extremely high rates of such, to test the usefulness of paying farmers annually for their active conservation of forested land. According to the IPA, from 2000 to 2010 Uganda lost forest at a rate of 2.6 percent annually, the third highest rate in the world. This not only contributes to rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere but endangers animals such as chimpanzees and reduces protection from rain-forest flooding.

Taking place in areas of western Uganda, a predominantly rural zone, the IPA program targeted land owners of forested areas who decide whether or not to cut down trees to plant crops. The program entitled payments for ecosystem services (PES) “offered owners of forested land a contract under which they could receive annual payments of 70,000 Ugandan shillings (equivalent to $28) per hectare for conserving forested land,” according to the report. Owners could also receive additional payment for planting new trees on already deforested areas.

Despite the low number of landowners who agreed to the contract–only 32 percent–they earned on average an additional $113 for avoiding deforestation and planting new seeds. The program’s results found owners more actively engaged in patrolling their land as well as had a significant decrease in deforestation in Uganda. Compared to an average loss of 9.1 percent of forests in villages where the program was not enacted, villages that participated in the program lost on average 4.2 percent of their forest, a significant decrease.

The findings of the study equated to “delaying 3,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per village from being released into the atmosphere” through curbing deforestation in Uganda. The PES program proved successful and cost-effective, having both a positive impact on reduced carbon emissions and land-owning households.

According to the World Wildlife Foundation, “1.6 billion people rely on benefits forests offer, including food, fresh water, clothing, traditional medicine and shelter.” Efforts to curb deforestation in countries like Uganda are vital for the survival of the world’s forests.

Riley Bunch

Photo: Google


Worldwide deforestation has drastically changed our planet since the 1980s, with increased damage over the last ten years. Particularly in Brazil, mainly due to economic woes, deforestation has affected thousands of plant and animal species in the Amazon rainforest. Despite climate change efforts worldwide, deforestation in Brazil has worsened over the past two years after a consistent drop years prior. These are the five things you need to know about deforestation in Brazil.

  1. Deforestation has grown over the past two years.

    A survey conducted annually by the Brazilian government showed that the rate of deforestation in the Amazon had increased for the 12-month period ending in August 2016 and again for the 12-month period before that.

    The Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest, but for the second year in a row deforestation in Brazil has been allowed to continue. During 2015, the survey showed that deforestation growth was 24 percent. In 2016 the growth of deforestation was 30 percent.

  2. Food exports are the cause of the high demand for deforestation.

    From July 2015 to August 2016, 3,100 square miles of forest had reportedly disappeared. The occurred due to the increased exportation of meat and soy in the region. Brazil is the world’s top exporter of meat. Brazil needs to needs to remain the top exporter of meat to prevent its economy from falling into further disrepair, as the country has been struggling for the last few years.

    Along with the need for space to accommodate cattle, the amount of soy produced has increased, affecting deforestation in Brazil. In rural areas, farmers buy plots of land with permits from the government with the intent to sell products to larger companies, like U.S. company Cargill. As reported by the New York Times, “One of those farmers, Heinrich Janzen, was clearing woodland from a 37-acre plot he bought late last year, hustling to get soy in the ground in time for a May harvest. ‘Cargill wants to buy from us,’ said Mr. Janzen, 38, as bluish smoke drifted from heaps of smoldering vegetation.”

    His soy is in demand as Cargill is one of several agricultural traders vying to buy from soy farmers in the region, he explained.

  3. Many species are affected by deforestation.

    Deforestation in Brazil has put the Amazon in a vulnerable position with certain plants and species becoming susceptible to extinction. Home to more than 2.5 million species of insects, 2,000 species of birds and 10,000 species of plants, the Amazon rainforest is one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. When fires are used as a tactic to eliminate trees in order to make space, the emissions from the smoke release hazardous toxins into the environment. This space clearing also wipes away a number of rare ecosystems and displaces different communities of animals. Currently, only 15 percent of the world’s forests are still intact.

  4. Big companies are partly responsible.

    Cargill and Bunge are two American food giants currently operating in Brazil. Both companies are known for pushing locals to buy soy in order to build ties with them. In 2014, Cargill was part of a worldwide deal in which the companies signed a pact to eliminate deforestation for the production of oil, soy and beef by 2020.

    Despite the deal, in the two years following the signing, deforestation in Brazil increased, partially due to companies like Cargill. In order for real change to occur, more companies have to agree to curb deforestation.

  5. Efforts by the Brazilian government have decreased.

    The Brazilian government had previously been known to acknowledge these pressing problem in the Amazon and had stepped up its efforts to combat deforestation. As of late, the government focus has shifted from the environment to its own interior issues.

    Cuts to the budget for the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable National Resources, also known as IBAMA, have become detrimental to efforts to combat deforestation in Brazil. IBAMA’s focus on the Amazon is to prevent deforestation through surveillance of the Amazon. The budget has been cut from $25 million to $7 million.

According to NPR, the Brazilian newspaper Estadão reported that “the rise in deforestation is raising concerns about Brazil’s ability to meet its commitments as part of the International Paris Agreement on combating climate change.” With budget cuts and old technology, it has become harder for officers of the IBAMA to do their job. Their radios only reach a 1.3-mile range, and pickup trucks have become too visible to illegal deforesters.

On the bright side, National Geographic noted that the government has implemented new tactics to tackle the heightening of illegal deforestation. Proof of permits must be provided to IBAMA officers when in certain areas of the Amazon. Only time will tell if these efforts will positively impact the severe deforestation in Brazil, despite the drastic cuts in aid and budget.

Maria Rodriguez

Photo: Flickr

5 Ways on How to Stop Desertification
Drought, deforestation and climate change. All of these contribute to the extreme global issue known as desertification. According to the environmental campaign Clean Up the World, desertification is the degradation of land in drylands, which affects all continents except Antarctica. Approximately half of the people worldwide who live below the poverty line live in affected areas.

The result of desertification is barren land that cannot be used for crop and food production or other agricultural purposes. Prevention methods have been introduced and tend to be more successful than attempts to restore already damaged regions, which can be costly and yield limited results.

  1. Land and water management: Sustainable land use can fix issues such as overgrazing, overexploitation of plants, trampling of soils and irrigation practices that cause and worsen desertification.
  2. Protection of vegetative cover: Protecting soil from wind and water erosion helps to prevent the loss of ecosystem services during droughts.
  3. Alternative Farming and Industrial Techniques: Alternative livelihoods that are less demanding on local land and natural resource use, such as dryland aquaculture for production of fish, crustaceans and industrial compounds, limit desertification.
  4. Establish economic opportunities outside drylands: Unpacking new possibilities for people to earn a living, such as urban growth and infrastructure, could relieve and shift pressures underlying the desertification processes.
  5. Great Green Wall: Eleven countries in Sahel-Sahara Africa — Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Senegal — have focused efforts to fight against land degradation and revive native plant life to the landscape. The initiative, managed in part by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), plants a line of trees as a sustainable way of regenerating the parkland and serves as an example for other problematic locations.

Such large-scale environmental complications may seem troubling to deal with, but the outlined methods and many more make all the difference, giving individuals an idea of how to stop desertification.

Mikaela Frigillana

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Ecuador

With nearly 35 percent of the population or close to four million people living in poverty, poverty in Ecuador is extremely pervasive. According to The World Bank, “one and a half million Ecuadorians live in extreme poverty and cannot meet their nutritional requirements, even if they spend everything they have on food.”

Rural and urban poverty in Ecuador tend to have markedly different characteristics. The rural poor tend to have little access to land, lack education, have no integration into the market and have little employment opportunities. The indigenous population, included in the rural poor, is among the poorest of the poor.

The urban poor, on the other hand, face a lack of safe water and sewage, have to rent housing, have low job participation and, as with the rural poor, possess little education.

The World Factbook states that “Ecuador’s high poverty and income inequality most affect indigenous, mixed race, and rural populations.” The government has set up social services that are based on the poor sending their children to school and getting them medical check-ups. This has helped with advancing the education of rural poor children.

Oil and Agriculture: Profits and Challenges

Oil is the biggest export for Ecuador. Oil accounts for half of Ecuador’s export income. But falling oil prices and some other issues, including climate change, caused a financial crisis in 1999/2000. In 2000 the government approved new structural changes, including the adoption of the U.S. dollar as legal tender. This move, along with increasing oil prices, has helped improve the Ecuadorian economy and poverty levels.

Although oil is the largest export, the principal employer in rural Ecuador is agriculture. But, according to Rural Poverty Portal, the percentage of the total workforce that farming employs declined from 26.2 percent in 2001 to 20.8 percent in 2010. Small farmers also face disadvantages such as lack of access to land, lack of access to markets, lack of credit, soil degradation and climate change.

Labor, Land and Housing

The World Bank suggests that the main assets of the rural poor in Ecuador are “labor, land and housing.” Utilizing and growing these assets can lead to not only lower poverty levels but improved standards of living.

Education is the most powerful key to the labor force, and secondary education and allowing women access to jobs empowers the workforce. Keeping small, rural farmers on their land through access to credit and markets keeps them empowered and fed. Helping the poor use their homes to open businesses and other ventures could help generate income and help improve poverty in Ecuador.

The Price of Production? Deforestation

Unfortunately, the expansion of agriculture and oil production leads to deforestation. With expanded deforestation, other environmental and economic problems arise. The loss of forest not only changes the ecosystem, but it also brings the challenge for local owners to retain their land, especially indigenous land owners who are the hardest hit by poverty in Ecuador.

The country has been a member of the United Nations Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (UN-REDD) Program since 2009. In this program, incentives are given to landowners to keep the trees standing.

World Wildlife Federation (WWF) states that the United Nations Environmental Program calls Ecuador one of 17 megadiverse countries in the world. WWF believes that the worst threats to biodiversity within the country are the ways the economy has developed since the 1970s.

The economic measures taken has caused a loss of sustainability of natural resources and over-industrialization. By helping maintain biodiversity and improving sustainability, poverty in Ecuador can be greatly improved.

Rhonda Marrone

Photo: Flickr

ForestsOn March 21 of every year, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations celebrates the International Day of Forests.

Forests play a key role in maintaining the water resources and overall equilibrium on Earth. The following are seven important facts about forests as stated by the FAO:

1. Wetlands and streams running through forests supply 75 percent of the human population’s fresh water.

2. About one-third of the world’s largest cities rely on forested areas for their drinking water.

3. Almost 80 percent of the global population is living in area that is threatened by water security.

4. Forests act as water filters, trapping pollutants and reducing sediment in rivers and wetlands.

5. Trees are very important in the climate change arena. Not only do they have a cooling effect on the environment but they also regulate water flow and influence the availability of water resources.

6. Unless conservation strategies are enacted, by 2030, the world will see a 40 percent deficit in water resources.

7. Forests have a vital role in reducing natural disasters such as landslides and avalanches, as well as in strengthening resistance to erosion.

People living in poverty often lack access to clean drinking water sources. They also tend to be the hardest hit by natural disasters such as severe storms and floods. While trees can help keep drinking water sources clean and mitigate the effects of natural disasters, illegal logging is a fact of life in many parts of the world.

According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), “illegal logging accounts for 50 to 90 percent of all forestry activities in key producer tropical forests, such as those of the Amazon Basin, Central Africa and Southeast Asia, and 15 to 30 percent of all wood traded globally.”

In an article on the WWF website, the organization says that increased demand for forests products has brought some financial benefits for poor people living in or near forests. “But there is also evidence to show that usually, poor communities who are completely dependent on forests lose out to powerful interests, logging companies and migrant workers who reap most of the benefits.”

Often poor communities that are dependent upon forests for harvesting wood for fuel for cooking, heating and occasionally for selling lumber lose all control of the forest when powerful outsiders come in and strip the land for the lumber or for agricultural interests.

To combat illegal logging and drive improvements in the forest products sector, the WWF created the Global Forest and Trade Network (GFTN) to help keep track of where wood products come from. It was created in 1999 and now works with TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network.

Governments that maintain control of large areas of forests can take advantage of this vital resource by managing forests sustainably, selling the lumber and taxing the products. If governments do not exact control over their forests, Marianne Fernagut writes in GRID-Arendal Publications that the “loss of revenues as a result of illegal logging can cost governments and economies millions of dollars each year.”

In countries where a fair tax system has been put in place, the resources can be used for schools, or other infrastructure. For example, in Bolivia 25 percent of monies made from forest resources is kept by the government.

In another article in GRID-Arendal by David Huberman and Leo Peskett, the authors posit a mostly theoretical framework called ‘Reduce Emissions for Deforestation and Degradation’ (REDD), in which developing countries can be paid to keep their land forested. “Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) regime, substantial amounts of money could be transferred to developing countries: some estimates suggest more than USD 15 billion per year would be available, a figure which dwarfs existing aid flows to the world’s forest regions.”

Rhonda Marrone

Sources: FAO, Panda 1, Panda 2, Grida 1, Grida 2
Photo: Flickr

hungerOne in eight people go hungry each day, but the world produces enough food to feed the entire population and more. Why haven’t countries eradicated hunger? Can’t governments simply reorganize food distribution to feed everybody? The answer is much more complicated.

Here are six causes of hunger that are not often considered:

  1. Poor infrastructure and vehicles – Many developing countries lack the resources to build sufficient roads, which impedes food transportation. In some countries, motor vehicles are also in short supply, so the majority of transportation is on foot, bicycle or on the backs of livestock. With these methods of transportation, fresh food would spoil quickly. Rural areas must rely on the natural resources around them, and if those resources aren’t enough, the inhabitants may go hungry.
  1. Deforestation – Forests act as a safety net during times of food shortage: communities can rely on nuts, edible plants and forest animals until crops are ready for harvest, or food is imported. Deforestation robs people of these resources. In fact, one out of six people rely directly on forests for food. Furthermore, deforestation can lead to overworked soil, which in turn leads to soil erosion. If soil becomes unfit for crops, farmers and surrounding settlements become at risk for famine.
  1. War – In times of national and international strife, one popular tactic towards achieving victory is destroying the enemy’s food supply. Soldiers will steal animals, demolish food markets and set fields on fire to force the other side into submission. While an effective ploy, it leaves citizens with a major food crisis that may take decades to resolve. Refugees of war often face hunger complications as they struggle to scrape together a living or find a home. The world is seeing this problem right now, as hungry Syrians scatter across the globe in search of shelter and nourishment.
  1. Foreign trade – When a food crisis occurs at a local level, it can also have far-reaching effects. Countries that rely on the export of goods from that area suddenly can’t receive necessary supplies. “Overall, in the last two decades there has been an increase in the number of trade-dependent countries that reach sufficiency through their reliance on trade,” Paolo D’Odorico—who conducted a study on climate change and crop production—told Natural World News.
  1. Discrimination – In every country, groups of people are poorer than their neighbors due to religious, racial or gender-based discrimination. If groups are not well-received by their community, it becomes very difficult for them to ward off hunger. They may be banned from restaurants and food markets, unable to find employment, unlawfully incarcerated and overlooked by government welfare programs.
  1. Cheap food – Sometimes, the hunger problem is a matter of quality, not quantity. If people purchase and consume cheap, unhealthy food, they will reach their proper calorie intake, but still suffer severe nutrient deficiencies. This situation is known as “hidden hunger.” Unborn babies and toddlers are especially vulnerable because they need specific nutrients to develop and become resilient to disease.

Sarah Prellwitz

Sources: Bread.org, Global Issues, Nature World News, WFP
Photo: Lifted Hands Foundation

Fighting Global Poverty and Deforestation: Trees for the FutureTrees for the Future is an organization that is focused on restoring the environment as well as fighting global poverty. It recognizes the large effect trees have in economic, environmental and social improvement. The slogan of the organization is, “Planting Trees, Changing Lives.”

Dave and Grace Deppner founded the organization in 1989 after an eye-opening experience in the Philippines. It was there that they discovered they could restore communities while saving degraded land.

Roughly 80% of the developing world has health and nutritional needs met by non-wood forest products and there are approximately 100,000 acres of forest lost each day in the world. The Deppners were determined to help reverse to statistics.

One country Trees for the Future works in is Senegal. Senegal’s increased deforestation has led to the loss of more than half of the forests. They have helped farmers plant more than half a million trees and develop forest gardens.

Trees for the Future has also partnered with the Peace Corps and the Senegalese Ministries of Agriculture and Forestry throughout their time there.

Brazil is another country where Trees for the Future’s impact can be seen. The organization has helped rebuild communities through the development of education programs on effective agroforestry. The main purposes of reforesting in Brazil are to bring back the nutrition in soil as well as to provide a source of food for the livestock.

One tree in particular, has proved invaluable to the Brazilian communities that the organization works with. The moringa oleifera tree produces edible pods, leaves and flowers. These are high in calcium and Vitamin A. The powder that comes from ground seeds has also helped improve the quality of water due to its purifying qualities.

The trees planted in these countries are unifying communities as well as creating sustainable agriculture. Trees for the Future has planted more than 50 million trees in various parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Their influence has reached 58 different countries and 12,000 villages.

– Iona Brannon

Sources: Food and Agriculture Organization, Trees for the Future, Trees for the Future: Senegal, Trees for the Future: Brazil,
Photo: Google Images

illegal_logging
A new illegal market has begun to flourish in the impoverished nation of Guinea-Bissau. This tiny West African nation boasts a population of around 1.6 million people, and almost 50 percent of the population lives below the international poverty line of $1.25 per day. Some data puts the number at almost 70 percent.

It is not surprising to see a potentially profitable–albeit illegal–market emerge in a society with such high levels of poverty. This new market is the logging of the native Bissau-Guinean rosewood trees. Data shows that “timber exports to China from Guinea-Bissau jumped from 80 cubic meters in 2008 to more than 15,000 cubic meters last year.”

There are a few key reasons this illegal logging has emerged. First, there is the demand for the resource from China. In China, redwood is used to make “hongmu furniture, red luxury Chinese pieces replicating the styles of the Qing period.”

Logging also began because of a decrease in the price of cashews, Guinea-Bissau’s main export. With around 80 percent of the population relying on cashew production for financial stability, this decrease caused a large amount of the population to suffer a huge loss in income.

With few options for steady work outside of cashew production, many people have turned to rosewood logging to survive. A local can be paid between $2 and $6 to cut down a tree, as opposed to between 2¢ and 50¢ for a kilogram of cashews. This causes the locals to ignore the long term effects of deforestation.

The local populations use wood from the forests as their primary source of energy. They also use the animals as a source of protein in their diets, but “at this pace, deforestation is going to destroy the animals’ natural habitats and cause their disappearance.” This continued logging of the rosewood tree will lead to destabilization of the local habitat and essential aspects of the local population’s livelihood.

This issue is exacerbated by the political turmoil in the country. Local populations are turning to logging for survival, but the government has responded by either ignoring the situation or profiting from it.

In April 2012, Guinea-Bissau experienced a military coup. This has led to increased corruption, with the collapse of the rule of law. Fodé Mané, the president of Human Rights Network in Guinea-Bissau, has said that prior to the coup there had “always been illegal cutting of trees,” but now the practice is far more rampant.

Military and police officers as well as government officials accept bribes to allow the flow of rosewood to China. In fact, a “Guinean forestry official said his department could not prevent illegal logging because of the involvement of senior government officials and high-ranking military officers.”

Aside from the poverty and ineffective government, many Chinese import companies have increased the price they will pay for rosewood to keep the market intact. And it’s hard to say no to higher prices.

It would seem that the factors working to expand the illegal market of logging African rosewood are stacked against the activists trying to save the environment. There are many locals, government officials and environmentalists who want to see this practice stopped.

Yet for them, there is some hope. This April, after two years of military rule, Guinea-Bissau held elections. The elections were accepted by the local populace as well as international observers. There was worry that the military wouldn’t give up power, but they peacefully stepped down to the newly elected José Mário Vaz, who beat the military-supported candidate.

This peaceful election is a good sign that the country will move toward stability and lawful proceedings. Those trying to stem the influx of rosewood logging believe the law will work in their favor and the enforcement of the laws deeming logging illegal will become commonplace. For example, just this month, the government “suspended exports of wood in order to give priority to exports of cashew nuts.”

The recent return to the rule of law in Guinea-Bissau is a step in the right direction. However, the market can be difficult to alter. If Chinese importers are willing to pay, there will always be someone willing to sell. This issue needs some serious enforcement from the government. For the sake of the local population and its dependence on the forest, hopefully the government will continue to take action.

– Eleni Marino 

Sources: UNICEF, The Guardian, IRIN, Macauhub, Reuters
Photo: Tree Service Finder