When I tell people that I am a forest specialist, they sometimes assume my work is forest first, people second. But the really exciting part of my job is that better forests make better communities.
There is mounting evidence that forest management improves people’s livelihoods all over the world. Standing forests are worth much more than cut ones and we are setting out to prove this in Mozambique, where protecting forests is among the fastest and most affordable ways to cut emissions and promote sustainable development.
Burkina Faso, a landlocked country in the West African Sahel, includes sparse and dry forests, woodlands, wooded and shrub savannas, and a large desert area to the North. The country relies heavily on agriculture, yet faces shrinking arable land and increasing soil degradation. Enhancing factors such as climate change and rising demand for land and natural resources in general are creating a downward cycle from which forest degradation appears as one of the particularly challenging consequences. It is also the first step towards soil degradation, which reduces the area of arable land, further increasing the pressures on the remaining land and forest resources.
On a beautiful fall afternoon in 2017, I visited a “female only” village in Telkouk locality, Kassala State, Sudan. There, a woman dressed in blue caught my attention. We were wearing the same color that day, and I soon found that she and I shared a few other things in common.
The members of the community in the Bulugolla village in Sri Lanka breathed a sigh of relief. It was the month of October and the rice harvest had gone well. The rains had been plentiful and their meddlesome neighbors (seen in picture above) were abiding by their boundaries. This has not always been the case.
As the head of the village explained, “We depend upon a rice harvest to earn our livelihood. While we culturally and traditionally have lived in harmony with elephants, we cannot survive without our paddy farms and so we have to keep the elephants out”.
Human wildlife conflict is currently one of the greatest conservation challenges. As human populations grow, wildlife habitat shrink and humans and wildlife come in contact with each other as they compete for resources. In addition, wildlife such as elephants cannot be limited to the boundaries of protected areas as many protected areas can only support a certain number of elephants. In Sri Lanka, most elephant live outside protected areas amidst paddy fields, community villages, highway railways and other development infrastructure that is intended to support the growing human population. Conflict is inevitable but failure to reduce it will result in extinction of wildlife species.
For the first time in history, more people live in cities than in rural areas. Although cities hold the promise of a better future, the reality is that many cities cannot live up to expectations. Too often, cities lack the resources to provide even the most basic services to their inhabitants, and cities all over the world fail to protect their people effectively against the onslaught of natural disasters or climate change.
It is estimated that worldwide, investments of more than $4 trillion per year in urban infrastructure will be needed merely to keep pace with expected economic growth, and an additional $1 trillion will be needed to make this urban infrastructure climate resilient. It is clear that the public sector alone, including development finance institutions like the World Bank, will not be able to generate these amounts—not by a long stretch.
Dried, mopane worms are traditionally offered to foreigners visiting Zimbabwe as a welcoming snack. Not really worms at all, they are the caterpillars of the Emperor moth (Gonimbrasia belina), hand-picked from mopane trees in the wild, their names “madora” in Shona and “amacimbi” in Ndebele a testament to their local popularity.
Africa’s unique natural assets—its iconic wildlife, snow-capped mountains, waterfalls, rapids, majestic forests, unique bird populations, pristine beaches and coral reefs—represent tremendous value. Wonders of nature such as Mt Kilimanjaro, Mt Kenya, and the Victoria Falls, as well as Zanzibar’s Stone Town and its beautiful beaches, and the wildebeest migration between the Masai Mara and Serengeti, are some of the world’s best-known tourist attractions.
The more we know about our rapidly changing environment, climate, and demographics, the more we learn about how critical forests are for our resilience, overall wellbeing, livelihoods, and economies. Unfortunately, in a world of budgetary constraints and competing interests, governments face increasingly complex decisions when it comes to supporting different sector priorities. The solution is to move away from the traditional approach of sectors operating in isolation or in competition with one another, and more towards an integrated win-win approach. But how?