Making people more prosperous with forests than without

jbush120By Jonah Busch*

Tropical forests store carbon that regulates the global climate. They provide clean water to farms. They shelter a dizzying range of unique plants and animals, and are a source of life-saving medicines. These services are enjoyed by people all over the world, for which they are sent no invoice and pay no bill. But the value that forests provide directly to local people, in the form of hunting, wood collection, and so forth, is often less than the value of cattle or crops. So for many local people, deforesting for agriculture is more profitable than leaving the forest standing.

International payments for forests’ carbon could change such calculations, making land more valuable as a forest than as agriculture (as explained eloquently by Lykke Andersen at 1:53 of The REDD Dilemma ). This concept is often described as “making forests worth more alive than dead.”

But forests don’t make zoning decisions, wield chainsaws, set fires, or plant crops. People do these things. So perhaps “making forest worth more alive than dead” has a corollary: “making people more prosperous with forests than without.” After all, what good is increasing forests’ value through carbon payments if people aren’t better off as a result?

This is where INESAD’s clever game, SimPachamama, comes into play (pun intended). In SimPachamama, you are the a mayor of an Amazonian frontier town, in which animated villagers creep further and further into the forest like little Space Invaders, turning green forest into yellow pasture. The mayor is responsible for investing in schools and clinics, ensuring jobs, levying taxes, and making payments for forest conservation. The mayor’s goal is to keep the town’s inhabitants prosperous enough to remain in office, without destroying too much of the forest, and without bankrupting the town’s finances. This challenge becomes easier when carbon payments start coming in from the outside world.

SimPachamama isn’t the first work to illustrate that forest conservation payments could enable a more prosperous development path for Bolivia. Economic modeling by INESAD and partners (full disclosure: I was one of those partners) estimated that $250 million/year in international payments through a conservation incentive mechanism could reduce Bolivia’s greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation by 18% while increasing the incomes of Bolivia’s poor by 10% on average. If complemented by a local tax on deforestation of $450 per hectare, emissions from deforestation could be reduced by 30% while simultaneously increasing the incomes of Bolivia’s poor by an average of 19%. But facts and figures only go so far; games can impress upon a wider audience. I invite you to download SimPachamama, take the reins as mayor, and make your village more prosperous with forests than without.

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*Dr. Jonah Busch is a Research Fellow at the Center for Global Development in Washington, DC.


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