Power through Handicrafts: Supporting Rural Women in Bolivia

This blog is the fifth post in Human Nature’s “Gender + Conservation” blog series.

boat of tourists in Rurrenabaque, Bolivia

Ecotourism in the Rurrenabaque region of Bolivia. Women involved in the jipijapa project in New Horizons sell their handicrafts to tourists passing through Rurrenabaque, a popular tourist town. (© Conservation International/photo by Bailey Evans)

The three women stand confidently behind their wares and tell the story of New Horizons, an indigenous community in the tropical northwest area of Bolivia.

Recognizing that the community’s meager agricultural production was not providing sufficient income, the women’s club of New Horizons began weaving jipijapa palm fronds into hats, baskets and other items. Thanks to the nearby tourist town of Rurrenabaque, the women were able to successfully market their crafts.

Now, nearly 15 years later, they are reporting some of the changes these activities have had on their lives: “It is we women who control [our income], we now have enough money for the kids for school, clothes, food … we complement our husbands.” Continue reading

3 Ways Conservation Efforts Can Promote Peace

From greenhouse gas-induced climate change to the rapid depletion of fisheries to dwindling freshwater supplies, the natural environment is increasingly linked to global conflict and insecurity.

Buddhist monks, Bhutan

Buddhist monks in Bhutan. (© Art Wolfe/ www.artwolfe.com)

Illegally mined minerals and timber stripped from Africa’s forests have financed some of the continent’s most brutal wars. Similarly, the illegal ivory trade has been linked to terrorist groups that pose a global threat.

In South Asia — home to three of the most densely populated river basins — competition for water is increasing at an alarming rate, presenting a major security challenge to the region.

And as we’ve learned in the Middle East and North Africa, drought and decreased agricultural productivity in one part of the world can fuel political instability in another.

We at CI have seen the links between conflict and the environment for ourselves. While these connections are many and complex, we are demonstrating that just as deteriorating environmental conditions can bring about or exacerbate conflict, abundant natural resources and healthy ecosystems can equally serve as the bedrock for healthy, prosperous and peaceful societies. Continue reading

Stop Treating Soil Like Dirt

This is our sixth blog about CI’s Nature Is Speaking campaign. Read all blogs in this series.

farm in Oklahoma during Dust Bowl

Homestead and farm in Texas County, Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl. (By USDA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Less than 100 years ago, a catastrophe of enormous proportions left thousands dead and millions homeless across the United States. The worst part? We could have prevented it.

The Dust Bowl is a stark example of how poor land management — and particularly poor soil management — can unravel a natural system. As farmers spread across America’s grasslands in the 1920s, they plowed the land until they broke up the structure of the soil and removed natural grasses and vegetation, leaving the soil exposed and making it more susceptible to erosion. When a drought hit the weakened landscape, it fed massive dust storms that blanketed entire states with soil.

The more soil was lost, the harder it was to grow anything — and the harder it was to grow, the longer soils were left exposed to the elements and the harder it was to stop the problem. We created a downward spiral. True, a drought sparked all of it, but the drought played upon conditions resulting from humans’ poor management of natural resources.

The question is: Have we learned our lesson?

In some cases, yes; in many other cases, signs point to no. The U.S. farming sector has made significant strides in reducing soil erosion — but improvements in managing soils and other natural resources like forests have been inconsistent, and more needs to be done.

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), about 25% of the world’s farmland is highly degraded. The cost of soil loss in the U.S. alone is hundreds of millions of dollars per year; the loss of just one inch of topsoil could take centuries to replace.

In 2013, record levels of haze from fires associated with clearing land in Indonesia led to dangerous air quality conditions in Singapore and Malaysia, resulting in closure of many schools and businesses, negatively impacting public health and economic development.

Clearly, we are — as Edward Norton says below — treating the soil like dirt.

Continue reading

First-ever World Lemur Festival Celebrated in Madagascar

This week marks the first-ever World Lemur Festival in Madagascar, which will culminate in World Lemur Day on October 31. This event is intended to raise awareness of the importance of these wonderful creatures both across Madagascar and around the world.

black-and-white ruffed lemur, Madagascar

Black-and-white ruffed lemur in Madagascar. All 105 known species of lemur are found only in Madagascar. (© Cristina Mittermeier)

Why should we care about lemurs? Well, aside from being delightful, beautiful creatures that are part of the mammalian order Primates of which we ourselves are members, they are also a major economic asset for a country historically plagued by poverty and political instability. Continue reading

Not Just a Rock: Why You Need Coral Reefs

This is our fifth blog about our Nature Is Speaking campaign. Read all blogs in this series.

coral reef, Malaysia

Coral reef in Malaysia. (© Comstock Images)

At 12 years of age, my life was about to change.

It was my first dive on a coral reef. As I slowly descended onto Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, I was magnetized.

Everywhere I looked, new forms of life revealed themselves in a flurry of activity. Colorful butterfly fish nibbled on the reef. Christmas tree worms retracted as I swam by. A baby whitetip reef shark trailed behind me, curious about my bubbles. I left the water charged with a sense of urgency to share everything I had just seen.

Since then, I have had the privilege of exploring many of the world’s most vibrant reefs — places buzzing in a riot of life. Sadly, I have also visited far too many reefs that are a mere shadow of what they once were.

Threatened by overfishing and destructive fishing methods, coastal development, pollution and climate change, 19% of the world’s coral reefs are already gone. Scientists consider approximately 75% of the remaining reefs to be threatened, a number that is projected to increase to 90% by 2050 if negative impacts continue. At that rate, by the time my grandchildren are old enough to dive, there may not be a healthy reef left for them to experience.

Like other ecosystems, coral reefs don’t have a voice like you or me. In “Coral Reef,” the newest edition of the Nature Is Speaking film series, Ian Somerhalder gives the reef a human voice.

Some people think I am just a rock, when in fact I am the largest living thing on this planet.” Continue reading

The Rainforest Speaks — and Costa Rica Listens

This is our fourth blog about our Nature Is Speaking campaign. Today’s post spotlights “The Rainforest,” a short film featuring Kevin Spacey as the voice of the forest. Read all blogs in this series.

rainforest, Chiapas, Mexico

Rainforest in Chiapas, Mexico. Almost 1 in 4 people depend on forests for their livelihoods in some way, yet global deforestation rates threaten the longevity of these ways of life. (© Conservation International/photo by Miguel Ángel de la Cueva)

Today, Costa Rica is known for its rainforests, where tourists from across the globe journey to swim in waterfalls, zip-line through the trees and search for the country’s unique wildlife. But it wasn’t always this way; just 40 years ago, the landscape (and economy) looked much different.

By and large, Costa Rica has learned from its mistakes; in the last 25 years, the country has doubled the size of its forests while tripling its GDP per capita. In the same time period, developing countries like China, India, Indonesia and Brazil have also multiplied their GDPs per capita, but they have all done so with a high environmental cost.

Costa Rica is proving that the protection and restoration of nature is not a burden for growth and prosperity. I believe my home country can be a powerful model for countries that still aren’t listening to what their rainforests have to say.

Perhaps the best way to explain Costa Rica’s shifting attitude toward forests is to tell you the story of my grandfather, Arturo Echandi Jimenez. Continue reading

New Legislation Helps Communities Benefit from Botanical Treasures

Elise Rebut is currently attending the 12th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity in South Korea. Read previous blogs from the meeting.

woman holds medicinal root in Malaysian forest

A woman in Malaysia holds up a medicinal root collected in a nearby forest. (© Benjamin Drummond)

Aspirin was developed from the white willow tree. Morphine was derived from poppy seeds. In fact, many medicines — not to mention cosmetic and cleaning products many of us use every day — have been derived directly from the botanical world.

Tropical forests are home to a disproportionate number of these resources; 70% of the plants identified by the U.S. National Cancer Institute as useful in the treatment of cancer are found only in rainforests. Yet historically, local communities who own or manage these resources have rarely benefited from their use by the outside world — until now. Continue reading

7 Wild Species We Must Protect to Feed the World

woman at market in Bhutan

Woman at a market in Bhutan. (© Art Wolfe/ www.artwolfe.com)

Although domesticated plants and animals (or products derived from them) probably make up most of your diet, everything you eat originates with wild species. That is a worrying fact, considering that human activities have elevated the extinction rate to 1,000 times its natural level.

Today is World Food Day, an international observance dedicated to raising awareness about the challenges and opportunities of working to feed a human population that could be growing even faster than we thought. In order to maintain global food security, here are seven of the many types of wild species we must protect. Continue reading

50 Years of the IUCN Red List: Inspiring Conservation Action

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, the global program that assesses the extinction threat to the world’s animals, plants and fungi. As the 12th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) meets in South Korea this week, CI Executive Vice Chair and primatologist Russ Mittermeier reflects on the list’s history and legacy.

Green-winged macaw in Brazil.

Green-winged macaw in Brazil. This macaw is one of thousands of species that has been assessed by the IUCN Red List; its extinction threat has been evaluated as “Least Concern.” (© Luciano Candisani/iLCP)

My first connection with the IUCN Red List dates back to my high school years in the mid-1960s, when the Red Data Books on mammals and birds first appeared. From the moment I opened these books, I was fascinated with them, in spite of the fact that they lacked any photos or illustrations. I pored over every page time and time again, and dreamed of someday seeing these animals in the wild and helping to save them from extinction. Continue reading

10 Things You’d Miss If the Ocean Called It Quits

This is our third blog about Nature Is Speaking, our communications initiative that uses a series of short films narrated by major celebrities to spotlight the vital links between nature and human well-being. Read all blogs in the series.

Humans have taken a lot from the ocean — but what if the ocean decided to call it quits? What if the ocean, encapsulated in the film below by the booming voice of Harrison Ford, really did stop providing us with the generous benefits it’s given us for all of human history? What would happen then?

This possibility is something that more and more governments, businesses and organizations are waking up to, and they are starting to worry. Just consider the remarkable range of benefits we get from healthy oceans: Continue reading