Cashing in to protect forests, conserve water towers

Thursday August 10 2017

Mau forest, which has been destroyed by

Mau forest, which has been destroyed by charcoal burners and loggers. PHOTO | FILE | NMG 

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Paying landowners in poor countries not to cut down trees could reduce deforestation rates by more than a-half every year, a study by a US-based environmental group says.

According to the findings of the two-year long research, deforestation in Ugandan villages, where households were paid $28 per hectare every year to conserve the forests on their lands, dropped by 4.2 per cent compared with 9.2 per cent in control villages.

The study involved 121 villages in Hoima and northern Kibaale districts.

“When you think of the damage brought by climate change, paying people to conserve forests is cost-effective,” said Northwestern University economist Seema Jayachandra.

Uganda’s forests are home to a majority of the world’s mountain gorillas and chimpanzees, but deforestation rates in the country are the third highest in the world.

According to Jayachandran, Uganda is a fairly forested country but there is rapid deforestation, mainly caused by loggers, charcoal burners or farmers.

In Kenya, at least 300 acres of the Olokurto Forest, one of the Mau Forest Complex’s 22 blocks were recently cleared to make way for wheat farming.

Also, vegetation around the Enapuiyapui Swamp in the heart of the Kiptunga Forest block in the eastern Mau Forest Complex, has not been spared by encroachers.

Environmental experts estimate that between 1990 and 2001, up to 107,000 hectares of the Mau Forest, which is Kenya’s largest remaining indigenous forest, were destroyed.

The research findings raise hope for similar initiatives to be rolled out around the world, particularly in developing countries, where strategies to fight global warming could harm the livelihoods of the people.

According to the Dr Isaac Kalua, the chairman of Kenya Water Towers Agency and founder of the Green Africa Foundation, payment for ecosystem services ensures environmental conservation goals are achieved without depriving local communities of their livelihoods.

As fast as the trees disappear, the chance of slowing or reversing climate change becomes slimmer. Tropical deforestation causes he main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, to linger in the atmosphere and allow solar radiation.

In 2016, global temperatures increased to a level not seen in 115,000 years, in the latest and clearest sign of increased global warming and climate change.