Stories of Forests

In-depth (based on site visits with extensive interviews)

  1. JapanHow Japan Saved its Forests: The Birth of Silviculture and Community Forest Management – Villagers devise silviculture and community forest management to save the nation’s forests.
  2. KenyaThe Green Belt Movement – Tree planting and other projects improve Kenya’s ecosystem and quality of life.
  3. Mexico – Oaxaca – Community Reforestation in the Mixteca Region – The Center for Integrated Farmer Development recently won the Goldman prize for reforesting highly eroded lands and rescuing the traditional sustainable agriculture of the region.
  4. Mexico – Quintana Roo – Sustainable Agro-forestry in the Zona Maya – Mayan communities augmented their ecological security with a cooperative
  5. Thailand – Trang Province – Taking Back the Mangroves with Community Management – Standing up to powerful interests to protect a commonly managed resource triggers a regeneration of society, economy and fishery.
  6. Thailand – Nakhon Sawan Province – Watershed Restoration with Agroforestry and Community Forest Management – The adoption of agroforestry farming and communally-managed forests empower impoverished villagers to optimize their resources, both natural and human.

Capsule (shorter pieces which appear below)

  1. China – Sichuan Province – Reforestation – Reforestation with local access restores a degraded watershed.
  2. IndiaChipko Anti-Logging Resistance – Grassroots action limits logging and its destructive consequences.
  3. India – Haryana Province – Forest Management – Communal forest management improves erosion control and productivity.
  4. India – Mumbai – Industrial Greenbelt – Reforestation in an industrial area restores soil, water, wildlife and aesthetics.
  5. India – West Bengal – Joint Forest Management – Cooperation between government and villages prevents overexploitation of their shared resources.
  6. Indonesia – Borneo – Restoring a Rainforest – An orangutan rescue project provides valuable lessons for re-creating a rainforest.
  7. Indonesia – Bunaken National Park – Coastal Resource Management – Mangrove restoration and bamboo cultivation provide alternative livelihoods and wastewater treatment.
  8. Mexico – Michoacán – Forest Reserve – A forest reserve famed for Monarch butterflies enlists active participation from local residents formerly skeptical of conservation projects.
  9. Peru – Amazon – Forest Product Farming – Raising poison dart frogs provides an economic incentive to preserve threatened rainforests.
  10. USA – Hawaii (Big Island) – Sustainable Forest Management – The Forest Service, Nature Conservancy, and private companies cooperate in a sustainable forestry venture.

China – Sichuan Province – Reforestation

The Qiang people live in an area important for its mountain forests, a major source of water for the Yangtze – -what happens here has downstream implications. Deforestation and population growth over four decades has caused forests to shrink by up to 40 percent, and biodiversity has also been lost. As the situation worsened, the government began to recognize the importance of the region and that something had to be done.

In the 1980s, the government funded a reforestation program, and scientists designed the model, but they first investigated the socioeconomic situation. The project relied on indigenous knowledge of the Qiang people – -key in conservation of biodiversity – -and their practices of forest management and home-gardening. Collection of plants for herbal medicines is a major source of income for the Qiang people, and the cultivation of plants was merged with reforestation. This guaranteed participation of farmers, which has in turn increased economic returns on reforestation investment.

Trees are planted in terraces; horizontal bands of original vegetation are alternated with bands of tree seedlings. Indigenous species are preserved in the bands of original vegetation. The practice of alternating bands of new trees with bands of original vegetation creates ideal conditions for medicinal plant cultivation, increases diversity of species in forest stands, and protects against soil erosion from water runoff.

Commonly, reforestation in China involves banning locals from entering forests. If this had been the case, the project would not have been sustainable, because Qiang people traditionally cultivate medicinal plants in common woodlands and around their homes. It focused not only on replanting, but on opening up woodlands to locals – -they may cultivate medicinal plants under the tree canopy as always. Because plants need shade, locals have always understood the need to plant trees first. The planting is supported by project funds, but they finance the cultivation of medicinal plants themselves.

This has also given higher status to medicinal knowledge, which may help ensure its being passed on to future generations.

For more information visit UNESCO.

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India – Chipko Anti-Logging Resistance

This was a defining moment in India’s environmental movement, and a modern application of the Ghandian principle of satyagraha, or nonviolent resistance, which has characterized many later Indian grassroots movements including, for example, protests over the damming of the Narmada River. It has also launched the careers of high profile Indian environmental activists including Vandana Shiva.

While forests are critical for subsistence (food, fuel, fodder, medicinals, materials) to rural communities everywhere, they are especially so to villagers of mountainous regions like the Himalayas, as forests provide valuable stabilizing services to the soil and water. (One of the slogans of the Chipko movement was in fact: “What do forests bear?/Soil, water and pure air.”)

In Uttar Pradesh State, where the Himalayas border Tibet, over the years, the state forestry department had been claiming forested land and leasing it off to commercial loggers; predictably, forest rangers were also parceling off land to contractors in return for bribes.

But the issue was more complex than just big bad loggers and innocent villagers. Although at one time, the communal institutions of villagers fostered careful management of forests, these began to erode after the state took control of forest land. As they felt like forests didn’t belong to them, the incentives to protect them vanished, and so overgrazing and overexploitation was creating a tragedy of forest commons as well.

Commercial logging began to be linked to the floods and landslides which were becoming more frequent and severe. In 1970, monsoon rains caused the Alakhganda River to rise some 20 meters, flooding hundreds of square kilometers, sweeping away homes, an entire village, 5 bridges and a bus laden with 30 passengers, and killing almost 200 people. Afterwards the state bore high costs clearing the state’s many irrigation canals clogged with silt.

Despite the tragedy, logging continued unabated, and in the village of Gopeshwar in the Himalayas, villagers (mostly women, along with children, who are the main gatherers of fuel and fodder), spontaneously began organizing against the companies. Chipko in the local language means “to embrace,” and the women put themselves between the loggers and the marked trees by hugging them. Over the next five years these protests began to spread throughout the districts in Uttar Pradesh, and won a major victory in 1980 when a ten-year ban on logging was declared in the area around the Alakhganda river basin. The movement saved some 100,000 trees, attracted media attention, and helped raise environmental awareness. Groups which have spun off from the original movement are not just blockading but also leading reforestation efforts, and by 1991 a million trees had been planted. They are also developing sustainable forestry operations, as one of the movement’s leaders, Chandi Prasad Bhatt, explained: “[the movement is not saving trees, it’s the judicious use of trees.”

This is also in line with the idea that the forest needs of outsiders (i.e., urban dwellers) are best met if forests are managed by those who live among them.

Services/benefits restored: Forest services, gender and rural empowerment, public awareness. This could be seen as a localized system influencing a larger system.

For more information visit Hug the Trees.

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India – Haryana Province – Forest Management

The Shiwalik Hills are in the foothills of the Himalayas in Haryana State, India. Over the years, the forested hills were in serious decline due to overexploitation, illegal felling, overgrazing, and the resulting erosion of the hills, vegetation loss, and declines in crop yields.

The Department of Forestry, alarmed at the multiple problems in the region, began building check dams and silt retention dams and restricting access to the forest, without much initial success (the state record on forest management is predictably mixed, but in 1990 the government had laid down norms for village involvement in forest land management – -this was the first case the state had addressed since this standard was created). Forced to look for other solutions, it realized that villagers’ basic needs would have to be addressed before they could cooperate with the conservation program, and a system of incentives and exchange was created. Farmers could irrigate their fields with the water supplied from the newly built check dams. With increased yields from the irrigated land, villagers had less reason to graze their livestock on forested land. The system of incentives included moving from a de facto open-access property regime to benefit-sharing from sales of forest products. Water and forest management bodies from the villages began leasing access rights for grazing and for harvesting bhabbar grass and bamboo to villagers, and this ensured their management and protection at the community level.

Some results:

  1. Villagers have incentives to protect forests against illegal logging/grazing.
  2. The agricultural capacity has increased, and soil quality has improved.
  3. Cottage industries such as baskets and rope made from bhabbar grass or bamboo are flourishing.
  4. Living conditions have improved, especially for women.
  5. The project is being replicated in some 60 other sites.

This is a good example of state intervention and its initial failure when it took a top-down approach, and later successes when it developed community-based management.

Benefits/services: food/fodder, economic recovery, incentive to protect a resource, soil erosion control, social relations

For more information visit World Bank.

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India – Mumbai – Industrial Greenbelt

BAIF is a development research foundation which is involved in afforestation and rural development. NOCIL, National Organic Chemicals Industries Ltd., is a chemical company located in an industrial area near New Mumbai in Maharashtra state. The greenbelt project began as a “joint venture” in 1990 between the company and BAIF, which in turn got help from the Forest Department and the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), who helped them with land development, soil and water conservation, harvest of water runoff, and choosing tree species suited to local conditions and attracting wildlife. Local people’s participation was also sought for the project, who gave advice on the species of trees to plant as well as help in planting the seedlings.

In the first year, 50 hectares of 35-40 different saplings (which included teak, bamboo and cashew as well as fruit and flowering species) were planted in a section of the Ghansoli hills, and irrigated with effluent from the plant (which had been analyzed for safety). The land was hilly, so trenches were dug in zig zag shapes on the hill contours in order to reduce the speed of run-off. There was also some “gully plugging” to impound monsoon water for two water tanks. In the second year, 55 hectares were planted, followed by the construction of an arboretum. As the trees began to grow, a microclimate developed and wildlife began to return to the area, including wild boar, hyena, panthers, rabbits, snakes and birds. There are 450,000 trees, some of which have grown to four meters high. With a natural waterfall, the arboretum, and two water tanks, the greenbelt also attracted visitors to the area from Bombay, and so some regulation and signs were needed to prevent littering, wandering off trails and other disruptions to the forest or wildlife. As the forest began to grow and bear fruit, local villagers stopped coming to the forest to cut bushes or trees. They have been encouraged to take grasses for fodder, which also protects the forest from fire.

The managers and staff working at the plant were further motivated to improve the cleanliness of the plants’ functioning. One chemical engineer found a way to modify a process in one of the plants so that no trace of heavy metal would remain in the effluent. The environmental division is now able to use all the effluent to irrigate trees on the premises, and now the company has stopped discharging effluent into the Thane creek. The general appearance of the factory has improved and become much cleaner. While this was a management initiative, the response and cooperation from the staff has been spontaneous. The project has sparked interest among other industries to take up similar afforestation projects in the region.

This case shows how the results of initial efforts towards sustainability will provide impetus among staff and management to find further creative solutions to other problems and affect deeper changes. BAIF has also undertaken other greening projects at industrial areas and nuclear power plants. While this is a step toward a new paradigm of industrial efficiency, it’s important to remember that some companies may not go further than this initial step, as the goal may be to improve its image. It’s also questionable that the highly controversial nuclear industry would ever be able to compensate for the dangers it poses to the environment by creating a greenbelt, and the motive to do so may be merely to deflect criticism away from more destructive practices.

For more information visit the BAIF Development Research Foundation

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India – West Bengal – Joint Forest Management

150 kilometers from Calcutta, the Chingra forests of southwest Bengal State are the home of the Munda tribal community. The Chingra forest had at one time been a very rich sal forest, some of which had trees over one meter in diameter. The region had at one time been very sparsely settled, so there was little pressure on the forests other than for roof frames, plows, hand axels, and minor forest products such as mushrooms and medicinals. The forests were shelter for the locals during storms and preserved the watershed.

But from the start of the 20th century, Chingra, like many of India’s forests, fell into decline as they were logged to meet wood demand for sleepers on the country’s growing network of rail lines. Later, after Independence, in the 1960s and 1970s, the Forest Department would contract village labor for logging concessions. As population pressure increased, so did demand for fuelwood for use or sale. In 1981-2 a severe drought caused desperate villagers to cut more fuelwood for income, or to clear new areas for grazing, which caused topsoil loss and other environmental problems that accompany deforestation.

Although the central and state governments have invested billions of dollars in reforestation programs, most have focused on technical solutions like planting trees, which have largely failed in their neglect of the social aspect of forest management. Their trust violated by state forestry departments which took control of formerly commonly managed forests, villagers not only abandoned their forest conservation traditions and overexploited them; as well, they became hostile to any attempts by the state to limit or regulate their use.

Since the 1970s, government efforts to counteract deforestation focused on planting trees on roadsides, village commons, canal banks, or private farms. The purpose was to provide other sources of firewood or fodder to meet local needs so they wouldn’t exploit state forests. But most of these trees were market-oriented species such as eucalyptus, excellent for poles for construction but a poor provider of fuel and fodder. As well, these monocultures did not provide minor forest products, an important source of income, especially for women. As a result, while programs were successful in increasing the commercial timber supply on village land, they failed to address the roots of the problems of overuse of state forests.

In the mid-1980s, a small number of senior foresters became alarmed by the situation and noticed a small, virtually unknown experiment in Arabari, West Bengal. When this project began in 1972, its goals were to find ways to cooperate with villagers over the preservation of a plot of sal trees at its research station. The research was failing because local people were grazing cattle on reserved plots or cutting saplings for fuelwood or sale. One forester, Ajit Banerjee, began meeting with villagers, and after several months of informal talks, Banerjee realized that efforts to save trees had to address poverty. For villagers their only source of income was from the forest, and if they were prevented from entering or using it, an alternate source of income had to be found. Foresters began working out a series of deals with villagers: in return for guarding a section of degraded forest and allowing it to recover, villagers would be either given jobs in agriculture or forestry where possible, or as this proved to be unrealistic, further meetings led to new agreements which guaranteed locals access to minor forest products as well as 25 percent of the timber profits once trees grew back.

Making villagers partners in forest protection and sharing revenue was a new strategy in India and came to be known as Joint Forest Management (JFM). It turned out to be very successful, allowing the forest to regenerate naturally. Allowing degraded forests to regenerate naturally was also cost-effective and practical, because the investment needed was about 5% of the plantation approach. Moreover, it allowed the entire forest ecosystem with all its diversity to grow back – -provided the degradation was not too advanced and there was some biological capital (i.e., stumps and roots were not removed).

The timing was ripe for this success, as other progressive foresters in West Bengal were disillusioned by the failure of its traditionally antagonistic relationship with villagers.

A turning point followed a confrontation between police and local people in another West Bengal District which resulted in three deaths, and several senior foresters began encouraging field staff to follow the Arabari model, and by the mid-1980s there were several similar projects around the state. In 1986 a visionary district forest officer, S. Palit, was elected Conservator of Forests for the southwestern region of the state, and actively promoted JFM. JFM is a collaboration not only with state governments and villagers but also with rural development organizations and other non-governmental organizations. They provide support teams to help design resource development plans and alternate income generation projects.

West Bengal also enjoys political support for this approach, known for having a progressive and populist stance on land reform and other issues. Today, over 1,600 rural communities in southwest Bengal have joined with the government to manage some 200,000 hectares of natural forest, and in one district alone, the forest cover has increased from 11 to 20 percent of the land.

In the case of Chingra, in the early 1980s the forest seemed on the verge of collapse. Alarmed by the degradation, a young Munda tribal named Mahadev Munda Singh was especially disturbed by the failure of a eucalyptus plantation. As the leader of a local youth club, he mobilized a group of young people and in 1984 approached the local forester with an offer to allow them to recreate the plantation and allow them to protect it. As club members realized that guarding the land helped the natural biodiversity of the forest to revive, and encouraged by this they asked for more land to be placed under their protection. Eventually the area extended to 450 hectares, with a promise by the forester to give them a share of the produce and profits.

As the villagers began to realize the benefits of protecting the forest and observing common rules, communities stopped resisting and began supporting the program, and other communities from surrounding regions also formed their own committees. Originally patrolled, the forest is now protected by collective vigilance by villagers, who band together to stop outside intruders from cutting the forest.

As the forest has regenerated, the amount of minor forest products – -and the income from them – -has also increased. People are able to find a larger supply of tubers, mushrooms and other foods from the forest. As well, women are able to make plates from the leaves of sal to sell in the market. This has generated enough income to stop or slow down seasonal migration.

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Indonesia – Borneo – Restoring a Rainforest

Willie Smits’ love for orangutans led him to create a rainforest for them. His innovative, integrative technique can serve as a model for similar projects elsewhere.

Smits, a native of Holland, conducted his dissertation research on the symbiosis between mycorrhiza fungi and the roots of tropical rainforest trees in Indonesia. In 1985 he began working as a conservation advisor to the Indonesian government and witnessed with great frustration the relentless destruction of Borneo’s rainforests. They were being clearcut for timber, then burned to make way for oil palm plantations. Smits’ sophisticated GIS system for monitoring orangutan habitat only made the problem more clear.

Smits had a life-changing experience in 1989, he says, when he saw the saddest eyes he’d ever seen. They were those of a baby orangutan in a cage, for sale at a market. When he returned later that day, the orangutan was on a garbage heap. Smits nursed it back to health, and soon he received other orphaned or confiscated orangutans to care for. In 1991, Smits founded the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOS) and built a rehabilitation facility at the Wanariset forest research station. The object was to release the healthy orangutans back into the wild—but the wild was shrinking so rapidly that orangutans found it difficult to survive at all. The great Indonesian wildfire of 1997-1998, which burned 5.5 million hectares (including the underground coal), made the situation much worse.

In 2001, BOS began buying land from villagers at Samboja—badly degraded land where only alang-alang grass (Imperata cylindrica) grew. At that time it was a “biological desert,” according to Smits. Removing the rainforest had caused the disappearance of all the birds and other animals that lived there. It also led to less rainfall. People were paying about 22% of their income to buy water; crops failed repeatedly, leading to malnutrition and poor health. Unemployment was around 50%, and crime became a problem as well.

In all, BOS bought almost 1,900 hectares (4,700 acres) at Samboja. The land was divided into three zones: (a) an outer ring of sugar palms for fire protection and a source of renewable energy (ethanol) superior to palm oil; (b) a rainforest wildlife sanctuary; and (c) the BOS campus, which includes smaller sanctuaries as well as research and education centers and an eco-lodge. It is called Samboja Lestari, meaning Samboja Forever.

The first step was to plant fast-growing acacia trees to shade out the toxic alang-alang grass. About 1,300 other tree species were planted as well, at a rate of about 1,000 trees per day. With the help of Smits’ specially concocted organic fertilizer (organic wastes plus sawdust and manure and a microbial agent made from sugar and cow urine), plus fungi and bacteria that serve as natural “nutrient pumps,” the planted trees soon began to resemble a natural, diverse tropical rainforest. As of 2008, many of the trees were two stories tall. According to Smits, about 137 bird species have returned to the area, along with 9 species of primates. The microclimate has improved significantly, with temperatures 3 to 5° C lower than before and rainfall 25% greater. Humidity increased by 10% and clouds by 11.5%. Water is abundant again—enough for Samboja and its neighbors as well. Through an agreement with the local water supply company, Samboja Lestari helps provide water for 40,000 people.

Smits with trees approximately 18 months old

Source: Jane Braxton Little. Regrowing Borneo, tree by tree. Scientific American Earth 3.0 18(5), 2008, p. 64-71.

Having observed how conservation projects often fail without local community support, Smits made sure that the 600 families of the local Dayak tribe were fully involved. The villagers are paid to work in the nursery, to plant and care for trees, and are allowed to grow food crops (e.g., pineapples, beans, ginger, bananas, papayas) between them. They also make money by growing food (mostly melons) for the orangutans. Thus they have an interest in preserving, rather than destroying, the rainforest. Overall about 3,000 jobs have been created. And this agroforestry system includes far more food than an average rainforest.

Local youth tend saplings in a nursery
Source: Jane Braxton Little. Regrowing Borneo, tree by tree. Scientific American Earth 3.0 18(5), 2008, p. 64-71.

Smits’ project is based on the principle of integrating people, profit, and planet. A project must be socially acceptable, economically feasible, ecologically sustainable, have a clear legal status, and be science-based, he says. Fairness, cultural values, and a system that is difficult to corrupt are also essential. Renowned scientist Amory Lovins remarked that “the ecosystem is beautifully and comprehensively integrated with the local economy, making the people so much better off. This may be the finest example of ecological and economic restoration in the tropics.”   If successful in the long term, the project could provide a very valuable model for rainforest rehabilitation all over the world.

Aerial view of forest at Samboja Lestari

Perhaps equally important to re-creating a rainforest is Smits’ discovery of the sugar palm. It happened by accident: the dowry requested for his Indonesian princess wife was six sugar palms. Smits wondered why so little was asked, since each tree was about the price of a chicken. He later discovered that besides fire protection, the sugar palm yields about 60 different useful products for the local people. On further investigation, Smits discovered the sugar palms provide three times more energy per hectare than other crops, on a sustainable basis. The sugar water can be tapped daily without harming the plant. The sugar palms at Samboja Lestari produce enough ethanol to generate 5 megawatts of electricity. Smits calls them “biological PV cells.”

See a 2009 presentation by Willie Smits at:

For more information on orangutan rescue projects, visit

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Indonesia – Bunaken National Park – Coastal Resource Management

The site is Bunaken National Park, a series of Islands in Northern Sulawesi Province, Indonesia. This coastal resource management is based on models of mangrove community resource centers in Sri Lanka. With degradation of the mangrove forest in the national park, Yayasan Kelola (a local NGO) and the Mangrove Action Programme joined forces to establish the CCRC (Coastal Communities Resource Center). This is intended as a space for coastal resources protection practitioners to gather for workshops and seminars to promote appropriate technologies and livelihood alternatives for coastal communities, with showcases on the following:

  1. Improved fuel-efficient cookstoves (relying on charcoal from coconut shells, which coconut farmers tend to throw away as waste instead of a resource), which have been found to save 10% of a fishing family’s monthly income that would be normally spent on fuel needs.
  2. Eco-bamboo treatment facility – -this was designed to provide sustainable alternatives and supplements to fishers’ and farmers’ income. Bamboo grows fast and so is easily renewable, and use of this in place of mangroves relieves pressure on mangroves and rainforest. The bamboo is treated by environmentally-benign borax and boric acid which keeps it insect – and rot-resistant. The bamboo has been used in construction of the CCRC and orders are being placed for it already.
  3. Wastewater Gardens – -this is a variation on the theme of phytoremediation (water purification using plants).
  4. A permaculture demonstration.
  5. A showcase of other local materials such as the nyapah palm used for thatch.

The project is in the first phase of a two-phase plan to rehabilitate a disused shrimp pond beside CCRC, by organizing planting by villagers and elementary schoolchildren (the remaining 10 hectares had been unsuccessfully planted three times by local government and forestry department).

Services/benefits recovered: income and economic incentive to preserve a resource, food, fuel, waste treatment, storm protection, water regulation, knowledge systems, education, values, sense of place, ecotourism

It should be noted that this is still a pilot project in the early stages, so the benefits are mostly “potential,” although probably more developments have taken place since the last published report.

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Mexico – Michoacán – Forest Reserve

This is a good example of the failure of “top down” conservation, and how, even if local people ultimately understand its importance to their well-being and future, may not participate willingly for various reasons such as poverty or resentment at being left out of the process, and how efforts by a local non-governmental organization (NGO) could reconcile between conservation and the needs of the campesinos (peasant farmers who are descendants of indigenous peoples).

The mountainous forests east of Michoacan State were declared a special biosphere reserve in 1986 to protect the monarch butterflies, who would migrate here from the US and Canada in the winter season, attracting an increasing number of tourists and trekkers. But the 200,000 campesinos who lived in and around the forests were not consulted about the creation of the reserve, and authorities had trouble enforcing its protection. The campesinos live without access to basic services, and high unemployment rates have created dependence on illegal logging of the reserve. Also, they harvest wood for building materials and fuel as they have always done, except now various pressures on the forests have made this practice unsustainable.

When Alternare, a Mexican NGO run by two biologists, arrived on the scene in 1998, they realized conservation needed a base in a certain level of security to the farmers in order for them to have motivation to protect the nearby forests. Alternare decided the only way to gain their participation in this goal was to assess their needs and try to find ways to harmonize them with conservation.

There were meetings with some eight villages, where Alternare gave the villagers the lead in deciding what they needed. The villagers were not against the reserve itself; in fact, they overwhelmingly understood their dependence on a healthy forest, so they identified current obstacles to those needs, to which the government had been insensitive when creating the reserve.

After finding out their needs and developing a strategy with them, Alternare made a long-term commitment to the people living near the most degraded areas of the forests, and got funds from various donors to offer support and training workshops on various initiatives:

  1. Diversifying both the farming methods and farming produce (increasing vegetables; until then, they had lived on a diet of beans and corn). Some villagers also branched out into keeping bees for honey production and growing medicinal plants. Some five training manuals on ecological agriculture techniques have been produced. All of these projects made use of local knowledge of farming methods and the forests.
  2. Building 30,000 square meters of ditches and terraces to make better use of soil and water.
  3. Introducing composting to improve fertility of soil and manage waste better (organic waste which would have otherwise been burned).
  4. Introduction of more fuel-efficient stoves to reduce dependence on forests.
  5. Reintroduction of adobe houses, which was a traditional material that had fallen into disuse. This took pressure off the forests as houses were being built out of wood.
  6. Creation of tree nurseries and reforestation of indigenous species. The goal is to plant 2,000 trees/year.
  7. Building fences to prevent chickens or other farm animals from escaping.

Since the start of this young program, some farmers are acting as trainers to disseminate the practices in their communities, and villagers in general are more supportive of conservation, and even working with authorities who once excluded them. For example, some are helping to police illegal logging.

Benefits/services restored: Better health (villagers eat a more varied diet and are suffering less effects from indoor air pollution due to fuel efficent stoves), improved soil, higher yields, improved waste management, more incentive to protect forests, more confidence and active involvement with improving their situation.

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Peru – Amazon – Forest Product Farming

This is a projection based on a successful pilot project of raising tree frogs in the Peruvian Amazon.

Peru is one of eight so-called “mega-biodiverse” countries which in total possess 70% of the world’s biodiversity. Yet logging, agriculture and infrastructure development are clearing away habitats of abundant species still yet to be discovered. Many conservation projects lack long-term funding, and so ecologist Rainer Shulte is creating a sustainable business out of conserving the habitat of the threatened poison dart frog.

The poison dart frog is important as an indicator of the overall health of its tropical rainforest habitat. It also helps in insect regulation, consuming various insects, including mosquitos, which are common vectors of disease. Its venom is being studied for its potential both for medicines and natural pesticides, and it is an important example for the study of the evolution and dispersal of species.

The frogs will be raised by local farmers (campesinos) in 250 production lots covering 3,000 hectares, most of which are located in buffer zones of national parks or reserves. Artificial breeding sites (plastic containers) are set up in the frog’s natural nesting grounds in generally highland tropical forests. The tadpoles are harvested from the bottles, put in cages, and transported overseas, where demand for these beautiful animals is high and can fetch 40 to 120 US dollars each. Because raising them in situ is contingent on an intact ecosystem, it is expected that the growth of this industry will provide both an economic incentive to preserve the forests, and will help to provide an additional source of income to struggling farmers. This will also provide a disincentive for the smuggling of frogs (the exotic pet trade is poorly regulated and has been blamed for endangering marketable species). Other benefits include:

  1. Raising the frogs creates “surplus” which is harvested so the “capital” (original population) remains the same. This surplus can also be used to repopulate areas where the frogs are disappearing.
  2. The method is low-cost, low-tech, and user-friendly.
  3. The project aims to create links with credible local ecotourism operators for tours of the project sites, which will diversify economic opportunities.
  4. Revenues from the project will be invested in full-time conservation specialists and forest rangers.

There are also longer-term plans, such as ecological education to increase awareness and strengthen the long-term benefits, and some agricultural training will be given to encourage campesinos to adopt lower-impact farming instead of “slash and burn” or other methods unsuited to local conditions (especially in the highlands, many farmers are immigrants from other areas and so unfamiliar with the terrain). While the well-being of the frogs can’t be guaranteed once sold, it is assumed the target market, hobbyists who pay a high enough price, will spend a lot of effort and time caring for them. In addition, they will know their purchase is supporting an activity that helps to preserve the rainforest. The project’s own website will feature links to the best websites of care and feeding of the frogs, and will also produce its own educational materials for buyers. Shipping methods will be such as to avoid stress or injury to the frogs. It should be noted that the proposal doesn’t address the possibility of the frog becoming invasive, which is something to investigate, since the exotic pet trade has been blamed for the invasion of certain kinds of fish and other species.

Benefits: Incentive to preserve habitat, poverty alleviation, education.

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USA – Hawaii (Big Island) – Sustainable Forest Management

This project was a collaboration between the US Forest Service (USFS) and The Nature Conservancy (NC), a US-based nonprofit organization that targets near-pristine land and buys it for the purposes of conservation and protection.

The Forest Legacy Program, created in 1978, is a partnership between private landowners, participating states and the USFS to identify and protect environmentally important forests from being converted to “non-forest uses.” It is seen as a cost-effective way to give private owners the means to maintain native forests on their lands. In 1999-2003, the Nature Conservancy began buying forested land in South Kona from private owners, with the intention of helping the Forest Service gain control of the land. The Forest Service then bought what is called an “easement,” (or usage rights, which include restrictions on the way the land is used, to protect it from activities local authorities deem inconsistent with sustainable forest management such as industrial logging, ranching or development of subdivisions), from the Nature Conservancy. As Hawaii is the only state without National Forest Lands, this was the strategy of the Forest Service to offer long-term protection of Hawaii’s important forests. While Forest Legacy Easements have been authorized since 1978, this is the first case in Hawaii.

The NC usually only buys undisturbed land to ensure its continued protection. This area had been severely degraded in places by intensive grazing and logging in the 1950s and 1960s. But it was also considered to be important, both to the local watershed and native species. It was intended to be a good opportunity for the NC to experiment with reforestation, and to explore options for economic revenues through controlled logging and possibly some limited ranching. The koa, for example, is a major canopy tree, providing shade and wind protection to a diverse range of species; the NC will through its work rehabilitating the land decide whether it’s viable or sustainable to log some of the koa and remove it without causing extreme damage to the forest.

It should be noted that this project, and the Nature Conservancy, is not free from controversy. Some critics are fear buying the land will open it up to logging under the guise of “sustainable forestry,'” and that logging of the native koa may not be sustainable. While the NC’s aim is to redirect some of American corporate wealth for conservation on a scale otherwise unachievable, critics say the compromises it has made along the way to its donors have undermined some of its successes, have led to some scandals over lack of disclosure on financial transactions, and that vested interests in the governing board members have silenced it on issues in direct conflict with its stated policies, such as opening the Arctic Wildlife Refuge to drilling.

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