Deforestation is a major problem in Central America. A quick look at the statistics shows that in the past 15 years, 20% of the countries’ forests have been destroyed. As I have biked through Central America, I have seen countless roadsides which were once covered by forests, but are now ranch land or farmland.
The problems associated with deforestation include loss of biodiversity, soil erosion, more landslides, greater flooding, and more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Cutting down forests releases a large amount of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, and in these small, mostly poor countries, these emissions are comparable to the countries’ use of fossil fuels.
While in Panama City, I talked to someone who wrote Panama’s proposal to reduce deforestation. The people cutting down the forests, in general, are very poor – subsistence farmers who need to clear land to grow food to eat. It seems that the only viable method of reducing deforestation here is to find these people other work or to pay them to not cut down the forest. Protecting forests without finding these people other income could cause great hardship.
In Panama City, I also visited Futuro Forestal, a company that purchases pastureland and converts it to forest. The wood from the forest is harvested after 25 years, and sold. While this is not as good as a full forest, it still takes significant carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, and is far better than ranch land. It also provides local jobs and makes a profit. You can also buy carbon credits through them as well.
Stopping deforestation in poorer regions will require foreigners and locals to work together – with foreigners helping to provide financial incentives to protect the forests.