Friday, March 23, 2007

Reforesting for sustainable lives

Is that photo a desert somewhere? No, it shows a landscape in the central Nicaraguan region of Matagalpa, at the end of the dry season. Nicaragua's forests are in trouble.

Nicaragua's forest cover declined from an estimated 8 million hectares in 1950 to a current level of less than 4 million hectares, and today deforestation is spiraling out of control. The claim is frequently cited that if current rates of deforestation are allowed to continue, Nicaragua's remaining tropical rainforests will be all but gone within 10-15 years. There is a frightening and very real possibility that unless immediate steps are taken, Nicaragua may follow the path of its smaller neighbor, El Salvador, which has already lost 97% of its original forest cover.

Big corporate agriculture and lumbering of valuable hardwoods have taken their toll, but, as well, hungry people will do what they have to do to get by. Unfortunately, that means using Nicaragua's forests in an unsustainable way.

Some of the best roofs on rural houses are made with cast clay tiles, tejas.

Many of the best buildings, including latrines, use fired bricks. Picture shows Mark Smith of San Francisco who helped the aid group El Porvenir to construct this latrine.

And here's where the tejas and bricks are fired in wood-fired kilns.

At home in the countryside, rural women cook over wood-fired ovens. This is a good one, under a separate roof from the owners' one room house. The board across the opening keeps the chickens from wandering in.

And so, poor people, of necessity, are denuding Nicaragua of its woodland. And when the woods go, the water does too, as root systems help the ground hold water. And without water, there can be no life.

So the water group El Porvenir has made encouraging reforestation a part of its work. Sometimes the result is a little group of bushes around a new well that helps keep the pigs out -- and sometimes it is a whole stand of young trees.

Don Chema is proud of his little forest.

And so are El Porvenir staff members Amparo Vallejos Martinez (front) and Marta Oneida Hernandez. The nonprofit has enabled 85 rural Nicaraguan communities to plant more than 175,000 trees!

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