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Saving the Rich Biodiversity of the Rainforests

When slash and burn farmers adopt Inga alley cropping they do not need to cut down more rainforest

 Rainforest pool

Rainforest pool, Rio Corinto, Honduras. Photo by FUPNAPIB 2006.

So long as people can only make a living by cutting down the rainforest they will do so. Whatever way one tries to save the remaining rainforests it has to make it possible for people living near them to feed their families. Inga alley cropping enables slash and burn farmers to cultivate the same plot year after year and even cultivate cash crops so that they can make a decent living without needing to cut down more rainforest.

Rainforests cover 5 – 6% of the earth’s land surface near the equator. Once they covered 12 – 14%. Perhaps half of all land species live there, many millions, but as many have never been studied or identified we cannot tell how many.

This is not the place to give a detailed account of the immense value of the rainforests. We will give a brief summary of what their destruction is costing us all, and links to what we think are some of the best websites for you to read up more.

Destruction of the rainforests

  • Increases carbon emissions to a considerable degree(see Keeping the Carbon in the Trees).
  • Damages the climate, locally if the destruction is small, but it can affect the climate further afield when there is extensive deforestation.
  • Water supplies are damaged when there is deforestation in the watershed.
  • Hillsides can become unstable and landslides can occur when there are no more trees to bind the soil.
  • About one in four medicines contain an ingredient developed from something found in the rainforests. There are many more plants and animals that have never been studied and which may well provide many more such ingredients.
  • People live in rainforests.  When these are felled this has disastrous consequences for indigenous peoples.
  • The knowledge the native rainforest people have regarding many uses of native plants and animals is lost
  • Similarly the rich biodiversity has provided many food plants, and many more may be found.  Moreover the gene pool of wild varieties can be very important to breed food plants with special characteristics, such as resistance to disease or capacity to cope with changing climate.
  • Large scale destruction reduces the oxygen generating capacity of the rainforests.
  • Quite apart from all these practical issues many people value the rich diversity and beauty found in the rainforests.

Rainforest waterfall

Waterfall,Honduras. Photo by Antony Melville 2007.

References and recommended further reading

If you put “rainforest” into Google there are over 16 million references. We have not even remotely searched them!  Do browse for yourself, but here are some we liked best for those of you who would like some more information, or just want to admire the beauty of the rainforests in photos but have not the time to even begin to think of browsing 16 million references. So we’ve kept the list short.

1. Mongabay not only gives a lot of general information about the rainforests, but also important news stories, and there’s a section for kids as well.

2. Raintree is a commercial site that helps to bring home how many valuable products are sourced from the rainforests.

“In fact, the latest statistics prove that rainforest land converted to cattle operations yields the landowner $60 per acre; if timber is harvested, the land is worth $400 per acre. However, if medicinal plants, fruits, nuts, rubber, chocolate, and other renewable and sustainable resources are harvested, the land will yield the landowner $2,400 per acre.”

3. For campaigns to support, as well as information and many links and news try

4. If you want lovely wildlife photos to marvel at we found lots at Jungle Photos. And they don’t just display nice photos, they tell you a bit about the wildlife in the photo too