The world’s forests are in serious trouble and unsurprisingly, humans are to blame. Although these lush, ancient green spaces provide us with the oxygen that we need to survive, we treat forests like they are nothing more than a commodity for us to destroy and exploit. Every minute an area of forest the size of 20 football fields is leveled for human use and it has been estimated that if this continues, there won’t be any rainforest left in the next 100 years. Considering that around 31 percent of the world’s surface is covered with forest, this statistic is nothing short of disturbing.
By compromising the future of the world’s forests, we are compromising our own future as well as those of every other living species on the planet. With this in mind, we have an enormous responsibility to end the damage that is being wrought on forests and actively work to restore the forests that have been slashed and burned for our use. Luckily, there is hope.
Just take this incredible story for example. In the Nayagarh district of India’s eastern Odisha state, a group of women are working to uphold the 2012 amendment to India’s Forest Rights Act (FRA) that enables tribal villagers to claim titles to their land, and subsequently carve out a simple life, and a sustainable future for their children.
In Odisha, women have risen up as leaders of the efforts to protect native lands. According to a report from the Inter Press Service, “Under the leadership of women … 850 villages in the Nayagarh district of Odisha state are collectively managing 100,000 hectares of forest land, with the result that 53 percent of the district’s land mass now has forest cover. This is more than double India’s national average of 21 percent forest cover. Overall, 15,000 villages in India, primarily in the eastern states, protect around two million hectares of forests.”
The women work by surveying the land that belongs to them using GPS devices. They will travel through hilly terrain and dense forest to ensure that all of the forests that are under their ownership are protected and not being illegal exploited or destroyed for the timber or mining industries. To these incredible people, protecting the forest is so much more than holding on to land, the forest provides a vital source of nutrition for the community and many villagers make their livelihoods off of selling cashews and other goods that can be grown there. Not to mention, the tree cover helps moderate the climate and protect against drought to sustain local agriculture.
“No one can cheat us of even one metre of our mother, the forest. She has given us life and we have given our lives for her,” a woman explained to Inter Press Service.
By taking ownership of these forests and actively working to protect them for their long-term value, to the community and the planet at large, these women are ensuring that the world will be a much greener place for years to come. While we might not all be able to directly benefit from the protection of this forest in the same way as these local communities, we all breathe the same air – air that is being made possible thanks to efforts such as this.
If we hope to see a world where the world’s forests are not carelessly destroyed for the fleeting profits of timber, palm oil, or any other industry, then we all need to take action now.
To learn more about what you can do to prevent deforestation, check out these resources:
- Why You Should Avoid Palm Oil, and How to Do It
- Put Down the Palm Oil: Planet-Friendly Alternatives For Your Home
- Snacking Smarter: How Rethinking Palm Oil Can Save Animals and the Environment
- How to Wean Yourself Off Palm Oil
Image source: Manipadma Jena/IPS