Sunday, July 18, 2010

An Interview with Abby Ray, Communications Associate at the Rainforest Alliance, part 1

When we asked our “What You Can Do “ fans which topics were of most concern to them, an overwhelming majority said protecting our rainforests. Thus we set off to complete a week of one minute ideas dedicated to halting the destruction of this precious resource. In the course of our research we were lucky enough to find The Rainforest Alliance whose help and expertise proved invaluable in our assembly of this week.

Here Abby Ray, our contact at The Rainforest Alliance, took the time to answer some questions for us . Please read on for Part 1 of our interview.

Please tell us why rainforest conservation is important?
It’s important to conserve rainforests, in part, because they are often considered “the lungs of the planet,” absorbing much of the carbon dioxide that can contribute to climate change. Also, the rainforest is home to rich biodiversity, and some plants and animals only exist in the rainforest. There’s a reason why rainforests are called the “world’s largest pharmacies;” we have already developed medicines to fight cancer, diabetes and heart diseases from rainforest plants, and more cures could be found there. One-quarter of the Western medicines that we use today are derived from plants, yet less than one percent of these tropical trees and plants have been screened by scientists for pharmaceutical properties. Deforestation causes destruction of wildlife habitat and therefore loss of wildlife, the release of carbon dioxide which contributes to climate change, soil erosion, contaminated waterways and often poor health conditions for local communities.

Please tell us a little bit about the Rainforest Alliance.
The Rainforest Alliance, an international nonprofit organization, works with people whose livelihoods depend on the land, helping them transform the way they grow food, harvest wood and host travelers. From large multinational corporations to small, community-based cooperatives, businesses and consumers worldwide are involved in the Rainforest Alliance’s efforts to bring responsibly produced goods and services to a global marketplace where the demand for sustainability is growing steadily. We work in sustainable agriculture, forestry, tourism and climate.

How much of the rainforest is lost ever year?
Nearly half of the Earth's original forest cover has already been lost, and each year an additional 32 million acres (13 million hectares) are destroyed (a land area the size of Nicaragua or the State of Louisiana).

Why is the rainforest being destroyed?
Around the world, people are clearing land to grow crops. While people need to grow food, in many countries, there are no laws to prevent people from entering a forest, cutting it down, burning the dry vegetation, and planting seeds. Because most of a rainforest's nutrients are found in its diverse flora, the soils that support so much biodiversity are actually quite thin and poor. The farmers can grow crops in the ashes of burned forests for a few years, but eventually, the nutrient-poor soils give out, and the colonists must move farther into the forest and start over. The abandoned lands are often used by ranchers to graze livestock. On average, six acres of pastureland in the tropics are needed to feed just one cow. People who need wood for fuel also cause deforestation. When timber companies cut down valuable hardwoods in a forest in an irresponsible way, the process usually destroys all surrounding vegetation and jeopardizes the wildlife that depended on that lost vegetation. Illegal logging is also a problem. Development projects like dams, new settlements, highways and large-scale mining and petroleum projects are also leading causes of deforestation. In the Amazon, in particular, forests are being cut down to grow soy beans and acai, graze cattle and build developments. Other tropical areas face similar threats but from different crops like palm oil, sugar cane or sun-grown coffee.

To find out more about the Rainforest or about the Rainforest Alliance, please visit - The Rainforest Alliance.

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