During my recent trip to Peru, I spent a few weeks in the Peruvian Amazon, around the region of Iquitos. It’s not hard to fall in love with the jungle. The forest is dense, really dense. Insanely tall trees fight their way to the sunlight, beautiful vines crawl on their trunks and all sorts of different types of grass and low plants fill every tiny bit of space on the ground. The forest is buzzing. There is life thriving on every scale. Colorful insects, butterflies, birds, animals, coexist symbiotically with the rain forest. People, live symbiotically with the rain forest. The indigenous tribes of the Amazon in the course of thousands of years, have created an immensely sustainable relationship with the jungle. They have developed knowledge on medicinal plants and shamanic practices that are just now starting to become known to and appreciated by the rest of the world.
The rainforest is being cut down or burnt to serve the wood industry, agriculture and cattle ranching.
It’s time to raise awareness on the importance of the Amazon to us.
Here are some facts:
The Amazon is a vast region that covers over a billion acres and spans across eight rapidly developing countries: Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana.
It’s the most species rich rainforest in the world with millions of insect species, tens of thousands of plants species, thousands of species of fish, birds and mammals.
The landscape contains:
- One in ten known species on Earth
- 4 billion acres of dense forests, half of the planet’s remaining tropical forests
- 4,100 miles of winding rivers
- 6 million square miles in the Amazon basin, about 40 percent of South America
The environmental value:
- The Amazon Rainforest has been described as the “Lungs of our Planet” because it provides the essential environmental world service of continuously recycling carbon dioxide into oxygen. More than 20% of the world’s oxygen is produced in the Amazon Rainforest.
- More than half of the world’s estimated 10 million species of plants, animals and insects live in the tropical rainforests. One-fifth of the world’s fresh water is in the Amazon Basin.
- One hectare (2.47 acres) may contain over 750 types of trees and 1500 species of higher plants.
The medicinal value:
- At least 80% of the developed world’s diet originated in the tropical rainforest. Its bountiful gifts to the world include fruits like avocados, coconuts, figs, oranges, lemons, grapefuit, bananas, guavas, pinapples, mangos and tomatoes; vegetables including corn, potatoes, rice, winter squash and yams; spices like black pepper, cayenne, chocolate, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, sugar cane, tumeric, coffee and vanilla and nuts including Brazil nuts and cashews.
- At least 3000 fruits are found in the rainforests; of these only 200 are now in use in the Western World. The Indians of the rainforest use over 2,000.
- Rainforest plants are rich in secondary metabolites, particularly alkaloids. Biochemists believe alkaloids protect plants from disease and insect attacks. Many alkaloids from higher plants have proven to be of medicinal value and benefit.
- Currently, 121 prescription drugs currently sold worldwide come from plant-derived sources. And while 25% of Western pharmaceuticals are derived from rainforest ingredients, less than 1% of these tropical trees and plants have been tested by scientists.
- The U.S. National Cancer Institute has identified 3000 plants that are active against cancer cells. 70% of these plants are found in the rainforest. Twenty-five percent of the active ingredients in today’s cancer-fighting drugs come from organisms found only in the rainforest
- Vincristine, extracted from the rainforest plant, Periwinkle, is one of the world’s most powerful anticancer drugs. It has dramatically increased the survival rate for acute childhood leukemia since its discovery.
- In 1983, there were no U.S. pharmaceutical manufacturers involved in research programs to discover new drugs or cures from plants. Today, over 100 pharmaceutical companies and several branches of the US government, including giants like Merck and The National Cancer Institute, are engaged in plant research projects for possible drugs and cures for viruses, infections, cancer and even AIDS.
- Indigenous people such as the Yanomamo and other groups of mixed ancestry (e.g. themestizos of Peru or the caboclos of Brazil) have perfected the use of chemical compounds found in plants and animals. Knowledge of using these plants is usually held by a medicine man (shaman), who passes on this tradition to an apprentice, a process which has been ongoing for centuries and that forms an integral part of people’s identity. With rainforests going fast, the continuity of this knowledge for the benefit of future generations is under threat.
The humanistic value:
- More than 30 million people, including 350 indigenous and ethnic groups, live in the Amazon and depend on nature for agriculture, clothing and traditional medicines. Most live in large urban centers, but all residents rely on the Amazon’s natural bounty for food, shelter and livelihoods.
- The many tribes of the Amazon are very diverse in culture, language and heritage. There are approximately 180 different languages spoken by these indigenous people.
- The tribes live off the land and grow different types of fruits and vegetables such as bananas, passion fruit, papayas, corn, manioc and beans and the popular “super fruit”, the acai berry.
- Both legal and illegal activities have threatened the Amazon Rainforest tribes. Some of the reasons for declining populations are due to deforestation in the Amazon, war, disease, oil development and drug trafficking. In response, Brazil has set up a type of reservation to protect the Amazonian tribes.
Deforestation of the Amazon:
Deforestation is the process whereby natural forests are cleared through logging and/or burning, either to use the timber or to replace the area for alternative uses.
Main reasons for deforestation:
- Industrial cattle ranching and agriculture
- Infrastructure development, including roads and hydro-electric dams
- Mining, especially gold and bauxite (the main component of aluminium)
- Unsustainable logging (both legal and illegal)
- Oil exploration and extraction
- Small-scale farming
Today, the Amazon faces deforestation at an alarming rate and if this trend continues it could be wiped out by the end of this century. We are losing 137 plant, animal and insect species everyday due to deforestation; that equates to 50,000 species a year.
The rainforest is mainly seen as a resource for cattle pasture, valuable hardwoods, housing space, farming space (especially for soybeans), road works (such as highways and smaller roads) and medicines.
- around 17% of the forest has been lost in the last 50 years
- Between 1991 and 2000, the total area of forest lost in the Amazon rose from 415,000 to 587,000 square kilometers.
- Road construction, logging and clearing are the main methods of deforestation
- Most rainforests are cleared by chainsaws, bulldozers and fires for its timber value and then are followed by farming and ranching operations, even by world giants like Mitsubishi Corporation, Gerogia Pacific, Texaco and Unocal.
- 91 % of land deforested since 1970 is used for livestock pasture
Local and Global effects of deforestation:
We are losing Earth’s greatest biological treasures just as we are beginning to appreciate their true value. Rainforests once covered 14% of the earth’s land surface; now they cover a mere 6% and experts estimate that the last remaining rainforests could be consumed in less than 40 years.
- One and one-half acres of rainforest are lost every second with tragic consequences for both developing and industrial countries.
- Experts estimate that we are losing 137 plant, animal and insect species every single day due to rainforest deforestation. That equates to 50,000 species a year. As the rainforest species disappear, so do many possible cures for life-threatening diseases. Currently, 121 prescription drugs sold worldwide come from plant-derived sources. While 25% of Western pharmaceuticals are derived from rainforest ingredients, less than 1% of these tropical trees and plants have been tested by scientists.
- 55 indigenous populations vanished in the first half of the 20th century.
- Reduced biodiversity: Deforestation and forest degradation cause biodiversity to decline. When forest cover is removed, wildlife is deprived of habitat and becomes more vulnerable to hunting. Deforestation puts at risk a majority of the Earth’s biodiversity.
- Release of greenhouse gas emissions: Deforestation causes 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Of these, carbon dioxide emissions represent up to one-third of total carbon dioxide emissions released because of human causes.
- Disrupted water cycles: As a result of deforestation, trees no longer evaporate groundwater, which can cause the local climate to be much drier.
- Increased soil erosion: Deforestation accelerates rates of soil erosion, by increasing runoff and reducing the protection of the soil from tree litter.
- Disrupted livelihoods: Millions of people rely directly on forests, through small-scale agriculture, hunting and gathering, and by harvesting forest products such as rubber. Deforestation continues to pose severe social problems, sometimes leading to violent conflict.
- Furthermore, unfortunately, the crops that replace forests only absorb a fraction of CO2 compared to rainforests.
Companies involved in the deforestation of the Amazon
Palmas del Amazonas
Agricola La Carmela
Oh, the Amazon rainforest is on sale here: