People's Stories Livelihood

Leave forests standing to get much greater value from them
by Erik Solheim
United Nations Environment Programme, agencies
Leave forests standing to get much greater value from them, argues Erik Solheim the Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme.
It is not always obvious, but forests offer greater value when they are kept intact instead of being chopped down for timber or converted to pastures, highways or mining pits.
The problem is that while timber has a clear price tag, the services that forests provide do not.
So what do forests give us and what is it worth? Consider the following services that forests provide and think about how much value you would attach to each.
The forest ecosystem helps to retain water and prevent soil erosion. Farmers struggle without forests, even if they are miles away.
By helping regulate rainfall and maintaining soil quality, forests give us productive agricultural lands.
They are also home to the birds that eat pests and the bees and other insects that pollinate our food crops.
And once the temperature and water regulating functions of forests are compromised, farmers are more likely to be exposed to droughts, floods, fires, and infertile soils.
The forest ecosystem gives us energy. In Kenya, hydroelectricity accounts for about 70 per cent of power generation.
Hydroelectric dams would not be able to function without the country’s vital water towers, the highland forested areas from where water flows to all but one of Kenya’s main rivers.
But these water towers need forests to provide these services.
Beyond regulating water, the forest ecosystem retains sediment that would otherwise flow into the hydroelectric plants and jam the systems. And then we have climate change. Forests are vital buffers against tragedy.
We are already seeing the dramatic and devastating impact of severe drought in the north of Kenya, and we know this will only occur more regularly as the climate changes further.
If we chop down trees, we are losing one of the best sinks to absorb human made carbon dioxide emissions - and when we conserve and help restore forest ecosystems, we are helping prevent climate change.
Without these essential functions, we have a world where food shortages are the norm, power blackouts common and climate change runs away from us.
So what would you pay to prevent these disaster scenarios? Surely, you might at least think twice before eliminating forests for agriculture, infrastructure, mining, and charcoal production, which are currently considered more “profitable”. Yet we keep losing our forests.
UN Environment has been helping many countries, including Kenya and Tanzania, by analysing the cost to the economy of ruining forest ecosystems.
A report in 2012 showed the true value of Kenya’s water towers. By degrading forests in the water towers, wood collectors lost revenues of about Sh1.36 billion a year. But the overall negative impact to the economy was estimated at Sh3.65 billion per year.
The river flows changed, and so agricultural land could not be irrigated and hydropower generation was also affected.
Original estimates pegged the value of water towers at 1.1 per cent of GDP. Adding the ecosystem services the forests provided to the calculation increased their value by over three times: 3.6 per cent of GDP.
Other efforts like the UN’s Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation support forested developing countries to receive financial compensation when they protect forests to stave off climate change.
And countries are taking notice of the value by enacting forest legislation. Kenya has set a minimum national tree cover target of 10 per cent in the Constitution.
Alongside other nations, they have pledged to restore 5.1 million hectares of forests by 2030. Forests cover about one third of the earth’s surface.
They provide the oxygen to seven billion people, but they also breathe life into economies.
If we continue to see forests degraded, we’ll find our economies fighting for breath. As we celebrate the International Day of Forests today, let’s keep this in mind.
May 2017
The Unstoppable Destruction of Forests, by Baher Kamal (IPS)
The world’s forests are being degraded and lost at a staggering rate of 3.3 million hectares per year. While their steady destruction in many Asian countries continues apace, deforestation of the world’s largest tropical forest – the Amazon – increased 29 per cent from last year’s numbers. And some of the most precious ecosystems in Africa are threatened by oil, gas and mineral exploration and exploitation.
These are some of the facts that have been repeatedly heralded by the scientific community and the world’s most authoritative voices, who remind us that globally, 1.3 billion people are estimated to be “forest peoples”, who depend almost entirely on them for their livelihoods.
Patrick Durst, the senior Forestry officer at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, on May 15 added to this figure that 28 per cent of the total income of households living in or near forests come from forest and environmental income.
According to FAO’s Global Forest Resource Assessment in 2015, forests continue to be lost in many countries of the Asia-Pacific region, including Sri Lanka. Moreover, the degradation of forest quality further decreases the forests’ capacity to provide goods and services necessary for human survival. These losses will be more acutely felt as the demand for forest products steadily rises in the future.
Latin America
Meanwhile, “the world’s ancient forests are in crisis, a staggering 80 per cent have already been destroyed or degraded and much of what remains is under threat from illegal and destructive logging.”
Greenpeace reported in 2008 that illegal logging was having a devastating impact on the world’s forests. Its effects include deforestation, the loss of biodiversity and fuelling climate change, the group noted, adding that this creates “social conflict with indigenous and local populations and leads to violence, crime and human rights abuses.”
According to Greenpeace, it is estimated that some 1.6 billion people worldwide depend on forests for their livelihood and 60 million indigenous peoples depend on forests for their subsistence.
Amazon Deforestation
Greenpeace reports that Amazon deforestation had increased 29 per cent from the numbers released for last year, according to data released by the Brazilian government on 31 November 2016.
Data from the Deforestation Monitoring Program for the Legal Amazon indicated that 7989 km² of forest in the Amazon was destroyed between August 2015 and July 2016, the conservationist organisation reported.
“This is the second consecutive year deforestation in the world’s largest tropical forest has increased, a direct result of the government’s lack of ambition in dealing with the challenge of curbing forest loss. It is the first time in 12 years there have been increases in deforestation two years in a row.”
Cristiane Mazzetti, Greenpeace Amazon Campaigner, says: “In recent years, public environmental protection policies in Brazil have weakened. For example, very few protected areas and Indigenous Lands have been created, and a new Forest Code was approved in 2012 that gives amnesty to those who committed illegal deforestation.”
According to Greenpeace, deforestation is responsible for approximately 40 per cent of Brazil’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
“With forest loss on the rise again, the country could find it difficult to fulfil its commitments under the Paris Agreement, recently signed and ratified by Brazil… It is estimated that the deforestation of 7989km² has released the equivalent of 586 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere—the same amount as eight years of emissions from all of the cars in Brazil.”
The illegal harvesting of timber, expansion of agribusiness and the conversion of forests into pasture are a few of the major drivers of deforestation, Mazzetti explained, adding that building large infrastructure projects, like hydroelectric plants, also stimulates land grabbing and speculation, leading to even more deforestation.
Kofi Annan, former UN secretary general and current chair of the Africa Progress Panel (APP), recently warned against the destruction of forests, which provide clean air and water, and local communities with food, shelter and livelihoods.
“Each day more forests are cleared, driven by multiple activities, from agriculture to infrastructure development, to the growing demand for wood and forest products, often made worse by illegal logging,” he said.
In his keynote address at the ‘Forests for the Future – New Forests for Africa’ conference in Accra, Ghana on 16 March, Kofi Annan said, “some of the world’s most precious ecosystems, such as the Virunga National Park in the Congo Basin, are threatened by oil, gas and mineral exploration and exploitation”.
Forests offer incredible impetus to the fight against climate change. “Forest restoration and reforestation in Africa can contribute to the global effort to tackle climate change and accelerate progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Annan, adding that “forest restoration of 350 million hectares could generate 170 billion dollars per year in net benefits from watershed protection, improved crop yields and forest products”.
In its 2014 report, Grain, Fish, Money: Financing Africa’s Green and Blue Revolutions, the Africa Progress Panel argued that effective protection, management and mobilisation of Africa’s vast forest resources are needed to support transformative growth.
The Panel estimated that Africa lost 12.4 billion Euros (17 billion dollars) to illegal exports of timber in 2011 alone.

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Drought fuelling East Africa Hunger
by Oxfam, World Vision, IPS, FAO, agencies
How climate change is helping fuel a massive hunger crisis in East Africa. (Oxfam)
Nearly 11 million people in Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya face terrifying food shortages. A massive drought has killed off crops and cattle throughout the region. Millions, many already in poverty, have been left with almost nothing.
Climate scientists and activists have warned for years now that climate change would cause or intensify crisis like this one.
After looking at the most recent research and consulting with various experts, we can say that climate change has made a bad situation worse.
Droughts are not new to East Africa. However, abnormally high temperatures in the region are linked to climate change. Greenhouse gases, from burning fossil fuels or deforestation, for example, trap heat in our atmosphere and raise the Earth’s temperature. Globally, the last three years have been the hottest ever recorded. These higher temperatures have intensified the drought.
Higher temperatures increase evaporation, meaning soil and plants lose more water. Heat has contributed to crops withering in parched, cracked soil.
Excessive heat during a drought can be deadly for livestock. In pastoral areas in northern Somalia and elsewhere, higher temperatures over the past six months have turned very poor rains last year into a terrible loss of soil moisture – helping to desiccate all available fodder for most of the region''s pastoralists.
Many farmers and herders in the region that Oxfam has spoken with say the same thing: things have never been this bad. Families have left their homes and sought help in temporary settlements, where they receive barely enough food and water to survive.
What needs to be done?
First, these communities need urgent help. The United Nations has asked for $1.9 billion to increase emergency food, water, and other resources to save lives. The international community needs to step up and meet this goal.
Second, we need commitments from the rest of the world to prevent these situations from reaching this point. The response time has been better than it was for the 2011 crisis, but it could still be improved. Not only does it reduce suffering but it is cheaper to help communities before they’re facing starvation.
Third, these crises hit people living in poverty hardest. National programs meant to help and improve the economic well-being of small farmers and herders means they’ll be better prepared to cope when the next drought hits.
Fourth and finally, it’s time for climate action. Even if all countries cut their greenhouse gasses by as much as they’ve promised, the world is going to get much hotter—more than 3 degrees Celsius.
Governments need to make deeper cuts to reign in global warming, and they need to put forth the funds that these communities are owed to help them adapt to this new reality.
East Africa Hunger Crisis. (World Vision)
A complex hunger crisis driven by drought, conflict and poor governance has left over 22 million people across East Africa in urgent need of life-saving assistance.
More than 3.5 million children are suffering from severe malnutrition, well above globally acceptable rates.
In Kenya, South Sudan and Somalia, certain areas of the country have already reached or are approaching famine levels. At the same time, those escaping conflict and hunger crises are increasing dramatically across the region.
There are more than 3.3 Million refugees and increasing fragility in the region, exacerbating the need to assist in multiple areas and contexts.
In South Sudan, where nearly 5 million people don''t and enough food and more than100,000 people are facing starvation, our need to respond is without question.
In Somalia, World Vision has been responding to address the severe acute needs in areas of displacement and drought stricken states. More than 2.7 million are affected by this crisis — and are still reeling from the ongoing conflict in the country. With more than 2.7 million people reaching crisis stage for food insecurity,
In Kenya 2.7 million people are facing severe food shortages.
In Ethiopia, a new food crisis has arisen as a result of drought. More than 5.6 million people are experiencing significant challenges accessing food. While this crisis directly affects children and their families, it is also destroying pastoralist.
Feb. 2017
Worst Drought in Decades drives Food Prices higher in East Africa. (IPS News)
The most severe drought in decades, which has struck parts of Ethiopia and is exacerbated by a particularly strong El Niño effect, has led to successive failed harvests and widespread livestock deaths in some areas, and humanitarian needs have tripled since the beginning of 2015, the United Nations warns.
East Africa’s ongoing drought has sharply curbed harvests and driven up the prices of cereals and other staple foods to unusually high levels, posing a heavy burden to households and special risks for pastoralists in the region, the United Nations food and agricultural agency on Feb. 14 warned.
“Sharply increasing prices are severely constraining food access for large numbers of households with alarming consequences in terms of food insecurity,” said Mario Zappacosta, a senior economist for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Local prices of maize, sorghum and other cereals are near or at record levels in swathes of Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania, according to the latest Food Price Monitoring and Analysis Bulletin (FPMA).
Poor livestock body conditions due to pasture and water shortages and forcible culls mean animals command lower prices, leaving pastoralists with even less income to purchase basic foodstuffs, FAO adds, while providing some examples:
Somalia’s maize and sorghum harvests are estimated to be 75 per cent down from their usual level. In Tanzania, maize prices in Arusha, Tanzania, have almost doubled since early 2016.
In South Sudan, food prices are now two to four times above their levels of a year earlier, while in Kenya, maize prices are up by around 30 per cent.
Beans now cost 40 per cent more in Kenya than a year earlier, while in Uganda, the prices of beans and cassava flour are both about 25 per cent higher than a year ago in the capital city, Kampala.
Pastoral Areas Face Harsher Conditions
Drought-affected pastoral areas in the region face even harsher conditions, the UN specialised agency reports. In Somalia, goat prices have fallen up to 60 per cent compared to a year ago, while in pastoralist areas of Kenya the prices of goats declined by up to 30 per cent over the last 12 months.
Shortages of pasture and water caused livestock deaths and reduced body mass, prompting herders to sell animals while they can, as is also occurring in drought-wracked southern Ethiopia, FAO reports. This also pushes up the price of milk, which is, for instance, up 40 per cent on the year in Somalia’s Gedo region.
According to the Rome-based agency, Ethiopia is responding to a drought emergency, triggered by one of the strongest El Niño events on record.
Humanitarian needs have tripled since the beginning of 2015 as the drought continues to have devastating effects on the lives and livelihoods of farmers and pastoralists — causing successive crop failures and widespread livestock deaths, it reports.
Food insecurity and malnutrition rates are alarming with some 10.2 million people in need of food assistance.
FAO also reports that one-quarter of all districts in Ethiopia are officially classified as facing a food security and nutrition crisis — 435,000 children are suffering severe acute malnutrition and 1.7 million children, pregnant and lactating women are experiencing moderate acute malnutrition.
Livelihood Crisis
More than 80 per cent of people in Ethiopia rely on agriculture and livestock as their primary source of food and income, however, the frequency of droughts over the years has left many communities particularly vulnerable.
Significant production losses, by up to 50-90 percent in some areas, have severely diminished households’ food security and purchasing power, forcing many to sell their remaining agricultural assets and abandon their livelihoods.
Estimates in early 2016 by Ethiopia’s Bureau of Agriculture indicate that some 7.5 million farmers and herders need immediate agricultural support to produce staple crops like maize, sorghum, teff, wheat, and root crops, and livestock feed to keep their animals healthy and resume production.
Hundreds of thousands of livestock have already died and the animals that remain are becoming weaker and thinner due to poor grazing resources, feed shortages and limited water availability, leading to sharp declines in milk and meat production.
* March 2017: FAO Crop Prospects and Food Situation report:
The 37 countries currently in need of external food assistance are Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Democratic People''s Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Haiti, Iraq, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Myanmar, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Syria, Uganda, Yemen and Zimbabwe.


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