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FROM DESERT TO PARADISE

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During the last seventy years, the remaining forests in our planet have been lost at a speed and scale not seen since men began to use them. After the destruction of most of the temperate forests in Eurasia and North America during the previous centuries, the impact has shifted to tropical and sub-tropical areas (1).
A growing human population and the need for land and forest resources have kept the pressure on ecosystems at a high level in different ways, often without concern for the short and mid-term consequences. Around the globe, huge areas have changed in a dramatic and fast way due to urban expansion, large-scale wood extraction (legal or not) and clearing for plantations and cattle-raising. At the same time, the livelihoods of many people in poorer regions still rely on using natural resources in a destructive way, leaving the future of the remaining old forests in great danger if no changes are made. Cooking with wood remains the only alternative for many, with a single family needing 1 to 3 t of firewood every year. Indiscriminate collection of firewood, clearing forests for farming plots and grazing aggravates soil erosion, reduces available water and the sustaining capacity of the habitat. This leads to increased hardship, preventing people from building past survival strategies and short-term perspectives.

On a positive note, the rate of deforestation has slowed down in the last decade. Some areas, particularly in the northern hemisphere, have had gains or are being managed and restored in a positive way (2). Still, the areas destroyed every year remain large and the net global result negative (3).
Many of the benefits provided by forests - also called ecosystem services – have a great direct value for society: protected soil is less prone to erosion and has increased water retention; waterways are kept clean of excessive sediments, reducing the effect of floods; air quality is improved by not having particles and pollutants dispersed by the wind; fertile soil is retained and protected; drastic variations in temperature and rain cycles are partially regulated at a local level, reducing the swings between floods and droughts. Mature or intact forests have a greater capacity than newly-planted forests to perform these functions and are often more resilient.

Keeping healthy, mature forests reduces economic losses and threats to livelihoods, helping to mitigate social conflicts due to the lack of resources and the displacement of people. It also ensures an habitat for many other species and provides a source of beauty and inspiration for people. Finally, restoring forests to their condition 70years ago would capture huge amounts of CO2, just by growing trees, reducing the need for costly single-purpose solutions for fighting climate change risks.

References from text:

(1) Taken from FAO (2012) – The State of the World’s Forests. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Rome, 2012. Available online at http://www.fao.org/3/a-i3010e.pdf.

(2) See charts compiled from differents sources and presented here: https://ourworldindata.org/forest-cover/#global-forest-cover-change-over-the-last-centuries

(3) See also (2) and satellite images compiled by the Global Forest Change, available online at https://earthenginepartners.appspot.com/science-2013-global-forest