Why forests

Sustainable Livelihoods

Photo credit: Fundaeco

Positive change is happening. NGOs, charities, businesses and governments around the world are doing all kinds of great work to improve the prospects of our poorest communities.

But is it working? Put it like this, the number of people living in extreme poverty has more than halved in the decade between 2005-2015. That’s a truly stunning result.

This has happened through people and organisations like ours coming together to create new economic growth strategies, support disaster zones and find new ways to eliminate disease and reduce malnutrition. It really is proof that when we all work together, when we treat people with dignity, when we ask the tough questions and answer them with action, we can all change the world.

But there is still work to be done. UNICEF has reported that a staggering 167 million children will live in extreme poverty by 2030 unless the world tackles inequality1.

So the next phase of our challenge begins now.

Working with nature

Everyone needs to make a living. The question is, how? While working with nature, rather than against it, makes long-term sense on paper, it’s often simply not practical in real life.

This is because many of the world’s poorest communities don’t do typical paid work. Instead they consume, and often end up depleting, natural resources just to survive. Small scale, subsistence farming (or ‘slash-and-burn agriculture’) and using natural resources as fuel are just two common examples.

But by working with our poorest communities to shift the focus towards more sustainable economic models, we can begin to consign poverty to history.

Charity isn’t the answer

Poor communities are like any other community. They are at their strongest and healthiest when they’re in charge of their own destinies, able to make a dignified living and look after their families without external support.

Spoon-feeding aid doesn’t benefit the long term. What is required instead is something that’s deeper and more all-embracing – building capacity of people.

Creating access to necessary resources. Making the most of institutional and logistical support networks. Being realistic about earning potential. These are all great starting points and together they create a holistic approach that can lift communities off the poverty line. Permanently. This is what developing sustainable livelihoods means.

The power of forests

It’s not surprising to hear that poverty and vulnerability usually go hand in hand. Poor communities live precariously, with very little cushion between them and negative climate events or social stresses. Storms. Droughts. Earthquakes. The impact is often devastating and long-lasting.

Yet forests can provide a critical safety net, transforming the resilience of rural communities. Which is why millions of people living in poverty choose to make our forest ecosystems their home.

They often survive by subsistence farming, so if ends don’t meet, they have to supplement their income by producing, processing and selling products growing in the forest.

Forests are also sources of food and fuel to cook with and boil water (essential for disease prevention). And trees provide vital shelter and shade for crops and animals in hot climates, too.

Beyond this, forests are powerful agricultural allies, creating rich fodder and mulch and performing vital services that help create a successful harvest – from fixing nutrients into soils to preventing land erosion and supporting natural water cycles.

Best practices for sustainable living

Any effective model for building sustainable livelihoods takes a considered view of how people and their natural environment interact. The idea is to build new ways of working that are socially and environmentally resilient: able to withstand all the inevitable shocks and stresses that will be thrown at them.

The bottom line is that local people need to work with the forest, rather than against it by creating businesses based on sustainable land use. It’s the only path that leads to true and lasting autonomy. People are nourished. Nature is protected. Livelihoods are sustained.

That’s why we’re helping communities create agricultural buffer zones around threatened forests and then plant sustainably-grown, organic crops like cocoa and coffee. Crops that can then become a sought-after fair-trade and sustainable commodity.

This approach achieves a social and environmental double whammy: creating sustainable incomes and at the same time protecting the forest ecosystem from further destruction.

Case study: Beautifully balanced model in Guatemala


Pepper spices growing on the Guatemalan Caribbean project. Photo credit: FUNDAECO archive

On the ground in Guatemala, NGO partner FUNDACEO is working to secure this kind of beautifully balanced outcome. Right now, they’re carrying out forest conservation and land-use restoration while teaching local people how to produce fruit and spices using organic growing techniques.

By consulting with local communities at every stage of the project, they’re making sure that what we’re doing is relevant, beneficial and economically viable.

So by putting in place vital training and giving people access to the legal and financial resources they need, the groundwork is also laid for future success.

Read more about the Guatemalan Caribbean project here.

Make change happen

Change will only come if we all openly face the real social and economic drivers of deforestation. Ecosphere+ has projects across Latin America that do just that.

We work with local communities to address inequality and create more sustainable ways of making a living that everyone can buy into.

Why not join us and become part of our success as we grow? Find out more about the work we do here and take the first step towards joining us.

Helping to achieve Sustainable Development Goals.

Sustainable Development Goal 8 – Decent Work and Economic Growth
Sustainable Development Goal 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities
Sustainable Development Goal 12 – Responsible Consumption and Production

[1] UNICEF (2016) The State Of The World’s Children