SEATTLE — When describing a country’s wealth, the first statistics used to describe it are the gross domestic product, disposable income and corporate profits. However, the wealth of forests, or the value of a country’s natural resources, is often overlooked.
With the onset of climate change, these natural resources are quickly becoming endangered by pollution caused as a result of human activity. Many nations that consider these resources as essential to their national economy are disappointed that such assets aren’t considered in the most economic assessments. An editorial by Sunita Narain from Business Standard laments this fact, saying that “The Economic Survey does not even list forestry as a sector, for which accounts are prepared. Instead, it is lumped together with agriculture and fisheries.”
She refers to the wealth of forests in India, where the “growing stock of forests has decreased between 2005 and 2009” forcing the country to “import more and more forest produce, from pulp to timber.” As a result, revenue that comes from the Indian forestry industry continues to decline in the face of deforestation and mismanagement.
Because these natural resources are not recognized as legitimate economic assets, efforts to improve conservation and productivity have faded into the background. According to Narain, antiquated legislature in India leads to individuals halting timber production and discouraging the new planting of trees, a combination that causes stagnation in the industry and a decline in overall tree cover.
The wealth of forests goes beyond the monetary value that can be placed on it. A SciDev.Net article credited economist Rana Roy with the following statement: “Money is simply an instrument with which we measure the things we value.” Social, cultural, psychological and spiritual value are just a few of the things that add to the value of forests.
Benin’s communities have experienced a devaluation in their natural resources due to land clearing and overuse as reported by the United Nations Development Programme. The destruction of gallery forests, “narrow strips of trees growing on either side of waterways,” have caused “consequences such as flooding, impoverishing riparian communities and higher CO2 emissions due to deforestation.”
Elie Sewabo, a rural development officer in a village of the Ouémé River, explains that “the forest is our source of wealth.” Raffia for weaving baskets, medicinal plants and wood for cooking and building are just some of the few services that benefit the one million living by these gallery forests. Unfortunately, deforestation and contamination have caused these assets to wane.
In 2014, the European Union and the United Nations Development Programme set up a campaign to resolve these issues. In Benin, two goals have been identified in protecting the gallery forests: “Promoting conservation and sustainable community use of gallery forests” and providing high resolution photos for topographical maps to encourage green management. Funding for the program has reached 8.3 million euros, affecting 13 riverside communities.
This program is just a small part of a larger initiative to preserve the forests of the world and the wealth that it provides nations. Preserving these natural resources can prove to be one of the most efficient ways of fighting poverty, as seen by the United Nation Development Programme’s work in Benin. The United Nation’s Climate Summit in New York has suggested “a global timeline to cut natural forest loss in half by 2020, and strive to end it by 2030.” This New York Declaration on Forests could be a major solution for waning natural wealth.
– Jacob Hess