Tropical rainforests cover approximately thirty percent of the earth's land area, around 2.5 million square miles, the size of the lower 48 states, despite the fact 80,000 acres (32,000) hectares are destroyed per day for economic reasons. Tropical rainforests are biodiversity hotspots. Rainforests are carbon sinks absorbing about half the carbon dioxide humans release into the atmosphere. Continued deforestation will affect the entire world with the ecological ramifications of species extinction, loss of carbon sinks, and loss of renewable resources. Deforestation reduces the availability of renewable resources like medicinal plants, timber, nuts and fruit, and indigenous game.
Over time, loss of rainforests can affect the global climate and biodiversity (National Geographic, 2010).
The destruction of the rainforest can be slowed and completely reversed in some cases. People of developed countries know something needs to be done, but know it is not an easy undertaking because of the economic pressures under-developed and poverty-stricken countries the rainforests are typically located. Therefore, the solution to deforestation must be based on practicality as well as feasibility in developing new policies for forest conservation, forest sustainability, and reforestation (Conservation International, 2010).
New strategies need to be implemented because past efforts of rainforest conservation have failed, as proven with the rapid rise in deforestation in some regions. Closing the rainforest or making the forests into parks or reserves does not help the local economies, or give the locals any opportunities to improve their quality or standard of living. Past efforts have not discouraged farmers from burning large parcels of forest every year to create pasture for cattle grazing or land for agricultural use or illegal loggers and developers from clear-cutting the forests for timber and urbanization (National Geographic, 2010). Rainforests will only continue if tangible economic incentives for the local economies can be generated from the plants and animals already in the forests. Local people and the governments of the countries need to realize some immediate financial gain to justify the cost of maintaining the forests and ultimately this tremendous diverse bioecosystem. Since the rainforests are typically located in the poorest countries of the world, the people's day-to-day survival is predicated on the natural resources obtained from the rainforest, living off the land, making use of what resources they know how to utilize for food and shelter. Because of such impoverishment, it costs not only their lives, but their countries' natural renewable resources and costs the world the ecosystem services provided by the rainforest; e.g., flood control, erosion prevention, fisheries protection, and the reduction of carbon emissions. One-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions come from the 13 million hectares of forest destroyed annually. This amount of greenhouse gas is a greater share than the entire world's trucks, cars, ships, and airplanes combined (Powers, 2009). In these impoverished countries, it is easy for their governments to neglect the continued destruction of the rainforests because of the lack of a viable alternative that would ensure economic development as well as maintaining the ecosystem. Conserving the rainforests in these countries require addressing conflicts of the day-to-day needs of the local people and the longterm ecological needs of the world. Forest loss has remain fairly constant over the years, with a shift from deforestation caused by individual farmers using the method of slashing and burning land parcels to grow crops for subsistence agriculture to cattle ranchers clearing land for cattle pasture.
Today humanity needs to be concerned how to use already cleared land to become sustainable farms for the small individual farmer and for the larger cattle rancher. I will address the different needs and interests of each of these groups with one sustainability plan to reverse some of the deforestation conserving the natural resources and helping to preserve the biodiversity of the remaining rainforests while improving the well-being of the farmers. The Brosimum Alicastrum Plan. The Brosimum Alicastrum is a large rainforest tree native to tropical regions and known as the Maya Nut tree. The tree grows to 130 feet, grows naturally in rainforest soils, can produce an average of 400 pounds of 100% organic nuts a year and have more vital nutrients than foods grown on farmed soils. Other than being one of the largest and fastest growing trees of the rainforest it produces a fruit high in protein, calcium, fiber, iron and vitamins A, E, C, and B. The nut can be prepared to taste like chocolate, coffee, or even mashed potatoes (The Equilibrium Fund, 2010). If dried and ground into flour can be used to make cakes, cookies, cereal. The leaves of the trees are high in nutrients that can be used for cattle fodder (Cable News Network, 2009). The nut was used in the ancient Mayan culture as food stable with special cultivated orchards designed specifically for this tree. Over the centuries this nut was forgotten. People living in the in the areas where the Maya Nut tree now flourishes, don't know about the fruit itself. Environmentally, this is the ideal tree to use for reforestation; fast growing, producing food, creating an earning income for the individual farmer while protecting watersheds, preventing erosion, helping with carbon sequestration, and protecting the biodiversity of the region. The leaves of the maya nut tree is an ideal sustainable source of fodder for cattle ranchers because the stems and leaves contain a crude protein that has nutritional value for livestock (Cable News Network, 2009). Whereas farmers and cattle ranchers slash-and-burn large parcels of forest every year to create grazing and crop lands, the forest's nutrient-poor soil often renders the land ill-suited for agriculture and even cattle pasture within a year or two. After the land is degraded, the farmers and cattle ranchers move on leaving a path of destruction and creating a new path of destruction. By planting 30 Brosimum Alicastrum, in four years these trees will produce enough food to feed the average family of an individual farmer, produce enough income to sustain that family and also enough forage for a couple head of cattle (National Geographic, 2010) (The Equilibrium Fund, 2010). To initiate the program, the first step is to give each native farmer and rancher incentives to use the land already deforested and incentives to reforest degraded land with the Maya Nut Tree. Addressing these two groups can be done at the same time with the same plan.Native Farmers To become a landowner the farmer instead of being allowed to burn more forest, would be given 30 seeds of Brosimum Alicastrum to be planted on land already deforested and that would be purchased with the fruit of the Maya Nut tree over a 20-30 year period starting after the first harvest of nuts. If the farmers have a stake in the land they are farming, they will have an interest in using the land efficiently instead of moving on to a new area of forest after the soils are exhausted. By owning his own land, the farmer will also have increased incentive to improve and maintain the soil quality. While the trees are maturing, the farmer will be taught how to improve soil quality of already deforested areas using charcoal and animal bones to improve the soil and also how to farm his remaining land using permaculture. Permaculture is a system of agriculture using a mix of trees, bushes, perennial plants, and livestock manure to create a self-sustaining ecosystem that yields crops and other products. This will give the farmer a broader revenue base and at the same time restore nutrients to the degraded soil. He will be able to sustain his family on the same plot of land while his trees are maturing just using the areas that have already been deforested. For an incentive, the individual farmer may also reforest surrounding areas of degraded land as partial payment for ownership.
The Maya Nut tree is excellent for agroforestry. For cattle ranches and grazing areas the trees can be planted in compacted rows for use as forage for livestock. It produces high protein forage from the first year of planting even in dry seasons. The tree is one of the fastest growing trees as well as one of the largest of the rainforests. The leaves can be used as fodder reducing the need for feed and the ultimate destruction of more rainforests. Dairy cattle fed the Maya Nut tree leaves have increased milk production by two liters a day. Cattle ranchers are given the incentives of cheap nutritional fodder for their cattle and the possibility of leasing more land at a reduced rate if they adhere to the reforestation plan. At the same time, cattle ranchers should be held accountable to reforest decimated areas with a penalty of loss of land or fines if they do not reforest lands they have clear-cut. With the incentives of leasing more land, the prospect of losing land, or a monetary fine if they do not reforest, will compel most ranchers to comply. Time Line Growing in the rainforests is year-round; therefore, this plan can be initiated at any time because it is an ongoing education program for subsistence farmers and ranchers in each quadrant. The area should be divided into quadrants with each quadrant having a team of educators to arrange village meetings with the area's farmers and ranchers. Each village would elect one of their own to represent them and be considered the on-site manager of that village. That on site-manager would be further educated in permaculture, cultivation and harvesting methods of the Maya Nut tree as well as are responsible in overseeing day-to-day operations. The elected representative, along with the district personnel, would help with the initial education of the rest of the village. Farmers would be allotted enough produce seeds for this year's crop and have access to enough organic matter to help with the first year's permaculture endeavors. Each farmer would be given at least 60 Maya Nut seeds with the opportunity to request more for the incentive program. Each extra hectare that farmer seeds a set dollar amount to be determined will be deducted from the amount he owes for his land, which he will start paying after the first harvest of the Maya Nut in four to five years from planting. If any slash and burning of the rainforest is done, fines and penalties will be assessed to the farmer responsible.
The Brosimum Alicastrum Plan is an ideal plan producing food and income for man, producing food and an ecosystem for wildlife while protecting the soil, water, and habitat biodiversity of the region. Brosimum Alicastrum Time Line 1-12 months | 1. Hire district managers for each quadrant 2. Managers to do onsite need assessment of each village, electing village managers. 12-15 months 3. Education of village managers on reforestation with Maya Nut Tree and incentives. 4. Education of cattle ranchers on reforestation and incentives and penalties. 15-18 months 5. On-site reforestation and permaculture education and ownership incentives of local populace. 6. Distribute Maya Nut seeds and produce seeds. I 18-48 months | 7. Six month visits to each village to check progress of reforestation and continue education on permaculture. 8. Continuing education of village managers and rangers on harvesting and drying of Maya Nut. 48+months | 9. Harvesting and educating communities on harvesting, drying and storing procedures of the Maya Nut.