THE BLOG
19/11/2013 08:44 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

They Paved Paradise - When Feed Cattle Replaces the Beautiful Amazon Forest

'They are devastating the rainforest, says Robert Goodland passionately, 'cutting down the trees, using slave labour for much of it and putting up cattle, cutting down more trees for huge monocultural fields of cattle feed..'

The man who served as the World Bank Group's environmental advisor for 23 years, has actually calculated 'how much man made greenhouse gas came from the live stock sector, the whole live stock chain, from deforestaton through forest burning through raising cattle through belching and farting, through slaughtering and through collection of the sewage, and discovered that 'instead of being FAO's 18% estimate, it was 51% which is a huge difference'.

'We scarcely have enough time' concludes Goodland, stating the urgency to reduce live stock production to free up land to grow food for the growing world polulation. 'If we do not act now' he warns ominously, we face the problems of 'world hunger and environmental refugees.'

Views strongly supported by The Rainforrest foundation's Simon Counsell who found the time to talk to me about the impact of the damage to 'earth's lungs' to the planet, empowering indigenous people, why the true environmental saviours are individuals such as Ofir Drori and the Rainforest Foundation's groundbreaking new website, MappingForRights.org.

'We have been working on this site for a long time' say Simon proudly, 'providing local communities with the technology to record their presence in the forest and show their actual movement around their habitat. Giving these communities a voice matters to us, from legal advice in the face of huge companies to raising awareness to the very live threat to their livelihood. For some of these people, the forest they know about the threats to the forest is when the logging companies 'show up' ...'

The new site provides, for the first time, accurate interactive maps showing the location of communities living in the forest and how and where they are using their environment. The site allows users to see how activities such as industrial logging concessions and clearance for palm oil, impact on existing forest inhabitants. The website and database show the existence of forest dwellers in the Congo Basin and areas important for subsistence hunting, gathering, fishing and cultural activities. There are also photos, videos and music providing a unique insight into the lives and livelihoods of the communities.

'MappingForRights.org literally puts African forest communities on the map, says Simon, 'the site can be an essential start in the process of securing legal protection for their land. Although we have so far mapped only a small fraction of these communities and so far only in Africa, the new website is already starting to show graphically how the areas of forest on which these communities depend have been handed out arbitrarily to logging companies, or put off-limits in National Parks or other strict conservation areas'.

I ask Simon to expand on this disturbing point. 'It all goes back to corruption' replies Simon, 'local individuals in powerful positions allocating precious rainforest land to friends and relatives as favours, or just to exert their influence. Most countries already have 'concessions' zones of forest allocated to logging companies. What is meant to happen is that companies need to bid in a way that will generate highest benefit and least damage but what tends to happen is there is a lot of corruption and under the table deals. Money passes to government ministers who allocate the forrest out, ministers can just give them away. It's a very valuable 'gift, because.a few men with chain saw and bulldozer is all you need to start up a logging company.'

I ask Simon if we have lost the battle or as Goodland says we can still do this if we act fast and agree that 'its going to be a massive challenge on the order of Roosevelt's marshall plan to reconstruct war torn Europe if not bigger'.

'I agree with Robert Goodland's argument for meat consumption being the main reason for deforestation as it is cleared for pasture and cettle feed' says Simon. 'Even though the Brazlian government and cattle growing industry have taken important steps to reduce the deforestation, it is still a major problem. In Brazil they found that instead of clearing land you can intensify the production of cattle, targetting low productivity that is linked to the poorness of the soil so with the right kind of land management you can increase production of beef. Greenpeace have been instrumentral in making some of these changes possible in Brazil'.

'One of the other food crops of great concerm is palm oil, more in South East Asia where it is one of the biggest causes. What is starting to happen now, because of campaigns, is that companies are starting to move into Africa. This is why educating the consuming public is very important and we are progressively putting online a guide to the public advising where palm oil is present so they can avoid it. High quantities can be found in ready made meals, cakes, biscuits, snacks, a wide range of products including cosmetics, soaps and make up'.

The Rainforest Foundation has always spoken out on behalf of local communities. 'We want to help communities such as the tribes in Cameroon and the Congo, secure the right to manage their own environment, allow them sustainable livelihood within the forest'.

I present it to Simon that this painfully tragic problem has been at the forefront of the world news agenda for decades and yet the 'rape of the Rainforest' goes on. 'Why is it huge charities with huge budgets achieve so little where relatively small operators and individuals such as Ofir Drori get real on the ground results?' I ask.

'I agree with the point Ofir is making regarding large charities often being ineffective. The difference between us and huge charities is that we, like Ofir, see the indigenous people as the ones we want to protect. We work on the ground and at local level. We help them challenge their government, we help with local organisation and give them a voice,

In the coming months, RFUK is due to launch a new element of the system in which, using Smartphones or GPS devices and locally available computer services, local people can send near-instantaneous, highly geographically accurate, reports of illegal felling of forest, such as by timber or palm oil companies, which will appear on national forest maps to show where urgent action is required to prevent deforestation. It is worth noting that due to the sensitivity of some of the data included in the community map database, access to this part of MappingForRights.org requires permission from the Rainforest Foundation UK.

Is this a lost battle? I do not think so but it is one we are running out of time to win. Unlike some of the bigger charities we refuse to compromise, we do not depend on local governments to secure our presence in the country as this leads to corruption and tragically, corruption is rife.'

'We certainly need to take different approaches' says Simon, 'Fifty million people are living in the forests and we must recognise the rights of these people, make a difference for them on the ground. That is what we have been doing with this web site; train local communities to make accurate maps of their local area, this is how you put these indigenous people on the map, showing how the area is actually used by the indigenous tribes. You make a difference to their lives by giving them the power to legally apply for a legal piece of forest. The government claims it owns the forest and so can dispose of the land in any way it wants to so we train African graduates about legal rights and send them to the forest to fight local battles..'