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Focus on Forests (text version)

More to think about...

Forests, like other landscapes, can have different levels of protection. ‘Wilderness Areas’, for example, are very strictly controlled, with almost no human activity allowed. Rules for ‘National Parks’ are slightly less strict: some forms of ‘recreation’ are allowed. Local people often object to the rules. Francois Bikoro, of the Cameroon magazine, Africa Express, says:
“You destroyed your environment and got developed, now you want to stop us doing it! What do we get out of it? You have your TVs and your cars, but no trees. People want to know what they gain by conserving the forest.”

Buffer Zones

There are often ‘buffer zones’ around a strictly protected area. These may be ‘Managed Resource Protected Areas’. This means that people can live there and make a living from the forest but there are rules which protect the ecosystem and preserve the forest for future generations.

Farms, Villages and Cities

Small-scale farmers all over the world practise ‘shifting cultivation’ (or ‘swidden’ farming or ‘slash and burn’). In the Indonesian Outer Islands more than one million families out of a total of 12-13 million depend largely on this system. Charcoal found in forests world-wide shows that this practice is centuries old. When there are not too many people and the forest is large, farm fields can be widely spaced and each one left fallow for many years to recover.

More people means fields have to be closer together – destroying more forest - and sites have to be re-used before they have properly regained their fertility.


Road can bring disadvantages as well as benefits. Once new roads are opened it is easier for settlers to move in and cut down more forest for farming. Sometimes governments give people land rights if they clear the forest for growing food. And when there are settlers, new towns develop, using more land and requiring more farms to produce food. In the Brazilian state of Pará, the deforested area of the Amazon rainforest increased from 0.6% to 17.3% after major road construction.

The easier movement of people also brings diseases to the forest people. Again in the Amazon, imported disease has wiped out 90% of the Surui Indians.

Sometimes loggers move into an area against the wishes of the local people. Often this is illegal, but in other cases it is because the Government has sold the logging concession to earn the foreign exchange the export of the timber will bring. Sometimes, the concessions are sold by corrupt officials or ministers.

In Sarawak, Malaysia, the Penan people blockaded the roads when the forest where they lived was threatened. Many were arrested, and some died. One of their leaders said:
“The Forest is our livelihood. We have lived here before any of you outsiders came. We fished in clean rivers and hunted in the jungle. We made our sago flour and ate fruit of the trees. Our life was not easy but we lived it in content. Now the logging companies turn rivers into muddy streams and the jungle into devastation. The fish cannot survive in dirty rivers and wild animals will not live in devastated forests.”

The meat of wild animals has always been important in the diet of forest dwellers, just as farmed meat is for other people. When roads are opened, it is easier for forest people to earn much-needed money by selling bushmeat in the towns. In the same way that European town dwellers consider game (such as venison and grouse) a luxury food, so urban people in Africa are willing to pay high prices for bushmeat. Unfortunately, where logging trails open up the forest, hunting becomes much easier and brings in outsiders. In the Mambele area of Cameroon, for example, locals, loggers and city hunters are between them killing so many antelope, monkeys, anteaters and even gorillas that they are in danger of wiping them out.

Photograph of a forest road .

National Parks

Sometimes people are turned out of their homes when a National Park is created. In the 1980s in Rajastan, India, villagers were evicted to make way for tourist facilities. They were so angry, they beat up the game warden. Some governments give people good places to live elsewhere, but too often they end up on poor land or in makeshift villages (‘shanty towns’) on the edge of towns where they find it hard to make a living.

Clearly there are many pressures facing the forests, but Programme for Belize and the people of Ekuri are not the only ones trying to work out a fair and sustainable system as the following six mini-case studies show.

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