Charles Karangwa, restoration coordinator for the International Union for Conservation of Nature, works to rehabilitate forests that have been degraded throughout Africa. Deforestation has been a recurring problem around the globe but Karangwa is looking for new economic motivations for farmers to save these ecosystems.

The ecosystems near Africa’s Great Lakes region bear similarities to tropical regions in Costa Rica or El Salvador where coffee is commonly grown. Growing coffee within an established forest has proven to increase the health of the plants, which has led to farmers pursuing shade-grown coffee.

Although some farmers grow bananas or other fruit trees in order to provide shade, a preferred scenario is to incorporate coffee in a rehabilitated forest.

Rwanda is both a coffee growing country and a country experiencing rapid deforestation.

In El Salvador, they mix the forest with coffee, so that’s something we could try more of here. – Karangwa

He also noted how Shea tree forests in Uganda were rapidly disappearing and being processed into charcoal. Once Shea butter became a luxury commodity, there was an economic incentive for farmers to keep these trees around. This in turn benefits the biodiversity and water quality of the region.

Simply telling farmers to stop destroying the forests isn’t feeding their families. Finding economic incentives to restore ecosystems is the only concrete way to rehabilitate these ecosystems. 

Once farmers buy into these sustainable incentives, it is likely to be a positive feedback loop. More economic opportunity will arise in the form of agrotourism, carbon sequestration funding, and at the very least, healthier ecosystems.

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