What is a forest worth?

What is a forest worth?

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If you are in charge of land use planning in a tropical country, how do you decide whether an area should be used for growing food, conserved for its biological diversity or protected for the ecosystem services it offers (such as control of erosion or pollination)?

Conventional criteria for calculating the value of ecosystem services ignore the nuances of tropical landscapes with great diversity, and even underestimate them, especially those farthest from populated areas, according to researchers in a report published in the journal Biological Conservation.

As a result, policies aimed at protecting areas where ecosystem services have high economic value end up excluding places of high biodiversity, even though these are vital to the food security and livelihoods of remote communities, the authors say. of the study.

We must take a more nuanced approach and focus our efforts on areas that not only provide ecosystem services, but also harmonize with biodiversitysaid Terry Sunderland, senior scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), a co-author of the study.


With the growing demand for food production in tropical countries, those responsible for managing the territory consider the value of ecosystem services to make decisions. But most of the calculations are based on intermediate values ​​that do not reflect the great diversification that exists in tropical ecosystems, the study highlights.

Using data from TEEB (The Economics of Biodiversity and Ecosystems), considered one of the most comprehensive databases on the value of ecosystem services, the authors mapped and analyzed the economic value of these in tropical areas of Latin America, Asia and Africa.

Despite the common assumption that protecting areas that provide high-value ecosystem services also protects places with high biodiversity, the researchers found that they are not always mainstreamed.

The economic value tends to be higher where there are a large number of people who benefit from a service, cautions Roman Carrasco of the National University of Singapore, also a co-author of the study. But generally, the most biodiverse places are remote forests far from populated areas.

The greatest biodiversity is in relatively undisturbed or pristine forests: this is where the greatest number of species liveCarrasco said. If there are a large number of consumers of a service such as water, it will have a higher value, but the species richness will be lower.

To compensate for this, land planners should include factors that go beyond monetary value.Carrasco said.

If we focus solely on economic values, we will be ignoring biodiversity. This is contrasted with the assumed knowledge that ecosystems are more homogeneous, said.

Biodiverse forests are extremely valuable to the people who live in or near them, and who depend on the wood, fruits, fibers, water, and other services they provide.

Although fewer people benefit from these services, as the population is more dispersed in remote areas, their dependence on forests for cultural benefits and food may be higher than that of urban dwellers, a nuance that estimates they do not consider, Sunderland and Carrasco point out.

The role of forest products as an economic safety net that includes benefits for dietary diversity, child nutrition and the health of millions of people living in the tropics is evident.highlights the same study, while the Poverty and Environment Network (PEN) led by CIFOR also indicates that income from forests and forest products provide more than a quarter of rural household income , this is almost as much as the crops.


The new study also suggests that land planners should add biodiversity to their accounting, especially when comparing the benefits of agriculture with those of forests, although there is still no agreement on how to put a monetary value on land. biodiversity, according to Carrasco.

We have to try to quantify human well-being, not just economic value. It is not about leaving aside the monetary value: we have to complement it with other indicatorshe explained.

This means exchanging general maps of ecosystem services for more detailed studies about the importance and therefore the value of these for the local population, even in the most isolated places.

An Amazon forest is much more valuable for an indigenous community that lives in it, than for a person from a distant city who has another type of income, he says.

We have to consider how fundamental these services areCarrasco said. If you cannot survive without the forest, that means the forest is invaluable to you.

Cifor Blog



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  5. Maur

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