Fighting Poverty Can Also Fight Deforestation, New Study Finds
The program that Indonesia started, Keluarga Harapan program, or "Family Hope" program, which provides direct cash transfers to low-income households to bring them above the poverty line, had no intention of helping the country's forests, which have been slashed down at a remarkable rate.
Instead, the program gave families money if they met certain conditions, like attending regular doctor visits, keeping kids in school, and participating in health and nutrition training. While conditional cash transfers are used in several countries around the world to alleviate poverty, they are not viewed as an environmentally friendly action, according to Science News.
That's because economic growth is often correlated with environmental degradation. But, that's correlation, not causation.
The new study, published in Science Advances, examined the habits of 266,533 households in 7,468 rural villages across 15 provinces on multiple islands between 2008 and 2012. The researchers then compared where the cash was distributed to satellite images of forests during the same timeframe. That's when they noticed that forests where the government was making payments were faring far better than other regions of Indonesia.
"For decades, people have been debating whether alleviating poverty and protecting the environment are at odds with each other. Resolving this debate is important because lots of poor people are found in the same areas where we find the most endangered ecosystems, like the rainforest," Paul Ferraro, an author of the study from Johns Hopkins University, told Newsweek.
Saving Indonesia's forests is crucial for the health of the planet and wildlife. The forests are home to a diverse range of species and are efficient at capturing carbon. However, forest destruction is responsible for 10 percent of human carbon dioxide emissions, and much of it is the result of extreme poverty, as Bloomberg reported. For rural villages, selling timber and clearing land for cultivation is often an income stream of last resort.
Indonesia is home to the world's third-largest tropical forests, but it's also the top global producer of palm oil, which generates millions of jobs but is blamed by environmentalists for forest loss and fires, according to Reuters.
Not only does Indonesia suffer from troubling rates of deforestation, it also has terrible income inequality. According to Global Forest Watch, Indonesia had the third-highest rate of rainforest loss in the world in 2019. It also saw the divide between its richest and poorest citizens grow faster than any other country in Southeast Asia over the last two decades, and now has the sixth-largest wealth inequality gap in the world, according to Oxfam International, as Mic reported.
"No matter which way we looked at it, the anti-poverty program on average leads to reduction in deforestation in the villages receiving it," said Ferraro, as Reuters reported.
The researchers suggest their results may spill over to other countries in Asia that have similar experiences, such as cutting down forests to grow rice as a supplement to a poor harvest. They also say that their study shows that's what's good for people is also good for the environment.
"The value of the avoided deforestation just for carbon dioxide emissions alone is more than the program costs," said Ferraro, as Science News reported, adding that the economic benefits of saving the forests justify the intervention.
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By Katherine Kornei
Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
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