When a forest is worth more as a farm than as a forest, it tends to be cut down. That is why deforestation is a problem in many places. Why does the Amazon rain forest lose its value?

I recently heard a conversation between Miguel and Juan, two natives of the Peruvian Amazon, that helped me understand why the rain forest is losing value.

Miguel was explaining to Juan how to ambush peccary with bow and arrow in bamboo thickets: “You must go barefoot. Your feet just know where the thorns are. Boots are useless. They’ll give you away”.

Juan looked at his boots: “I used to do that. I can’t anymore. When I was drafted by the army, I had to wear boots. I lost my hard foot soles. Now, I can walk barefoot for short periods only.”

“You miss out on peccaries in bamboo?” Miguel asks.

“I just use a shotgun.”

Juan is an Ese’eja native from the Tambopata River in Amazonian Peru. Miguel is a Machiguenga who lives along the Manu River. Juan lives 20 kilometers by road from the town of Puerto Maldonado (50,000 people). Miguel is two days boat travel by river from the town of Boca Manu (500 people).

They are on a journey on the same path, but Juan has advanced further on it. The path was laid out in the nineteenth century by the Industrial Revolution. The path is no longer useful. You can see this clearly in the Amazon. When a native boy trades an arrow made of palm bark, wild cane stems and forest bee wax for a shotgun, the forest has lost a little bit of value to him. Every time a native boy forgets how to walk barefoot and loses a chance to hunt peccary in bamboo groves, the forest is worth just a little bit less. Every liter of mercury, oil or sewage poured into the Amazon River basin takes value out of it. Every time an Ese’eja or Machiguenga has to travel further to fish because his neighborhood stream is polluted, he has just subsidized us. How can this be? How can we change it?

We need a path leading into the Green Economy. Except I imagine that path more like the Amazon river basin, with hundreds of tributaries carving their way into one large river - the Green Economy. I will describe one of these tributaries: the tributary that adds value to forests. We need to add value to standing forests worldwide. Forests are the world´s largest carbon sink and hold most of our biological diversity. They play a critical role regulating the water cycle and soil erosion. So what does this added value tributary look like in the Amazon?

The Amazon is not empty. It is full of residents who use it. I know a lot of them: indigenous people and second or third generation settlers. Most of them have intense personal relationships to the forest. They want any excuse to keep it standing. Their reasoning is like this: “I will keep the forest standing on part of my property. I will do this because it is right, or because it is what my parents would have liked, or because it might prove to be a good investment. But, if I need money to send my kids to school, or to pay for my mom’s operation, then I need to cash in. I can do this by cutting forest and planting corn or renting out to palm oil planters.”

Your job is to help Amazon residents make an income out of standing forest. Get on the internet and find handicrafts, wooden decorations, ecotours, carbon credits and other products. Make sure their produced by Amazon residents bent on keeping their forest standing. Make sure you agree to their quality. Purchase them. You will help add value to the forest. You will help carve this tributary of the Green Economy.