Whether we like it or not, we are all connected to the world`s forests, regardless of which part of the world we live in. In fact, perhaps a better way of putting it would be to say man is inextricably linked to the forests.
Although it is a fact that some parts of the globe such as those in the Southern Hemisphere are more thickly forested than those in the Northern Hemisphere, forest life and its effects still cut across the entire planet. That is why the impact of the tropical rain forests of the Amazon and the African tropics are felt in countries as far off as in Europe, North America and Asia.
Forests serve as homes for of the world`s people such as the Baka of the Rainforest of Cameroon and the Indian indigenes of Brazil. Forests serve as shades against the scorching and devastating sun and thus work as a bulwark for the fauna and flora that thrive under them. The interaction of forests with the soil has a symbiotic beneficial value for both forests and the other living things which use its vicinity as their natural habitat. Forests through their roots absorb and retain water from the earth and use it to help in refreshing the atmosphere. Forests also help in producing and sustaining the rain cycle which is vital to life in all living organisms. Trees and forests help as a fortress against erosion which can be very harmful not just to agriculture but also to the environment as a whole. Through their roots and three backs, forests are the raw materials from which an overwhelming majority of medicines used in the world are made. Some tree roots and leaves serve as a source of nutrition for some of the earth`s inhabitants.
When a tree is dry, it can be used as a source of fuel because it can be cut up and used to make fires which are in turn used for cooking food and keeping people warm.Distant countries such as those in Europe, North America and the Former Soviet Union benefit from the forests in the tropics when the latter are felled and carted away to be transformed into timber and wood which they then use for building construction and for furnishing homes and work places.
Nonetheless, over-exploitation of the world`s forests has in recent times been cause for concern because scientific evidence shows that globally, more trees are cut down than are planted. When trees are felled, the process is called “deforestation” and when they are planted, it is called “forestation”. The cutting of trees, especially in the tropics has become big business characterized by huge sums of money exchanging hands. In fact, environmentalists and ecologists have been known to accuse governments of the countries where deforestation is taking place of being accomplices in the depletion of the world`s forests.
In 2009, Awake magazine sounded the alarm bells when it quoted a United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) report which stated that in the space of just 13 years, up to 15 million hectares of forests in South America had been destroyed. The publication went on to state that the surface area represented by such a loss was equivalent to all of Central America. We understand the magnitude of the problem better when we realize that Central America is made up of up to 7 countries. That is frightening!
According to the report, the damage of forests incurred by individual countries of South America stood as follows: Brazil – 23 million hectares and Mexico, 6.3 million hectares. Haiti, El Salvador and St. Lucia were said to have lost between 46 and 49 per cent of their own forests in the same period.
The dangers of deforestation are even more telling than we can imagine because as the forests disappear, so too do thousands of species of medicinal plants. The bereft area then becomes exposed to the debilitating effects of the sun and human settlers are forced to flee through forced migration which turns them into refugees. Families are dislocated, the education of children is interrupted, and poverty and disease set in. Wildlife disappears with consequences that are detrimental to the environment generally and tourism in particular.
José Gradiano da Silva in his capacity as Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General charts the way forward in his introduction to the publication entitled: State of the World`s Forests 2012. He says: “a challenge for the forestry profession is to communicate the simple idea that the best way of saving a forest is to manage it sustainably and to benefit from its products and ecosystem services. If the principles of sustainable forest management are applied and forest products and ecosystem services play an increasing role, the global economy will become greener.”
Even so, the battle to give the world`s forests the place they deserve is one that should involve each and every one of us. So, firstly, let us stand up and observe a minute`s silence for the world`s fallen forests, and above all, think of what we can do as individuals and collectively to save the trees that are still standing. After all, the world has become one global village in which all of us living things are interconnected and interdependent.