Thursday, September 6, 2012

A clearcut problem

Jody Paterson
What would bring 20 busy coffee producers out to a mid-day meeting on watersheds? The realization that if there's a solution for what's happening to the water supply on their fincas, it will have to come from them.
The meeting was the first in what sounds like a long, slow process to have the Marroquin watershed in the hills above Santa Rita, Copan, declared a protected area.
Some 16,000 families rely on the water that flows from this area. But climate change and the dramatic loss of forest has taken a toll. One producer at the meeting - organized by Honduran NGOs and regional groups working on such problems -  figures his water supply is half of what it was a few years ago. That's a scary development in a country where access to water for crops and consumption is still far from a given in rural communities.
Much has been made in the international press about the loss of forests in Honduras. In the last four years the country has lost more than 33 per cent of its once-abundant forests, triggering problems ranging from mudslides and erosion to flash floods and road washouts.
The effect of deforestation on watersheds is more subtle, yet devastating over the long term. A forested hillside acts like a sponge for absorbing rainwater. Forests not only prevent heavy rains from wreaking havoc as they tear down slopes in a torrent, they retain water long enough that  underground sources can be replenished.
Climate change is already shortening the growing season dramatically in Honduras. Parts of the country lost half their corn and bean crops this summer when the rains didn't come. Old-timers say you used to be able to count on the rainy season arriving like clockwork every May 3; now, it's mid- to late June, and even then farmers can't be sure.
Deforestation is adding to the crisis.
The blame typically gets put on illegal logging, which conjures images of well-organized mahogany thieves smuggling valuable timber out of the country with no thought to the damage they're doing. And yes, that happens.
But the problem is more complicated than that. With almost 70 per cent of the population living in poverty, many of the country's forests are simply being cut down in tiny bits and pieces by millions of people trying to eke out a living.
Read more here.

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