Deforestation caused by human beings has been a problem for many societies since humans mastered agriculture to the present day. Once humans began to urbanize society, they began to deplete the natural resources around their settlements. Total deforestation and resource depletion was devastating for any culture that caused it. The Native American society that flourished in the Cahokia Mounds area of southern Illinois probably disappeared because they depleted their resources including deforestation for fuel and building materials as well as clearing land for planting domesticated crops.
But in the past, if one group of people used up the resources they had at hand, they may have died out or moved on and the land recovered. But today the rate of deforestation has increased to such a pace that it not only threatens the people who live in the disappearing forests and causes animal extinction there, but the effects are felt around the globe because the planet can no longer recover from such large scale depletion.
Not only are we depleting our natural resources through deforestation, but deforestation increases greenhouse gas emissions from the fires created to destroy the plants and from the loss of the carbon cleaning properties of the plants lost. And countries have few incentives to curb their current rates of deforestation.
Forests are razed to create timber, make room for domesticated crops, or open up pasture land. All of these activities bring in short term income for cash poor countries while strategies that maintain the forest and generate income can take many years to be profitable. Financial rewards need to be available to these countries if we want them to slow their rate of deforestation.
One disincentive for cutting forests for timber include conservation of paper, but that doesn't answer the need for money that the people living in countries where the deforestation is the greatest because they have the largest tropical rainforests. The other is to learn to eat locally grown food when it is in season and forgo things like table grapes in December. But again, these things won't bring money into these countries to sustain the population.
A better option is to make sure that the products we consume are grown/produced from sustainable forests by companies that pay sustainable wages to their employees and suppliers. The best way to help the regions economically and still have the products we enjoy and crave is to demand the products we buy meet these criteria. And two of the products that grow naturally well in these areas can be produced profitably and ecologically with relative ease-coffee and chocolate.
That's right, two of the industrialized worlds favorite indulgences can be consumed to satisfy our cravings while helping us help the planet and the people who live on it.
Fair-Trade crops grown in the shade are the perfect solution. So coffee drinkers and chocolate lovers, lets put our money literally where our mouths are and demand that our favorite treats are grown sustainably and the growers are paid fairly. Fair trade coffee has been around for a long time and several organizations certify it. And the most sustainable is shade grown. Fair-trade chocolate is a newer product, but it generally meets the same criteria as fair-trade shade-grown coffee and not only supplies the workers a living wage, but prevents slave labor. Coffee growers are paid poorly, but chocolate workers are often not paid at all!
Though many may disagree, coffee and chocolate are not nutrients necessary for life like say protein and vitamin C, and we can demand that our store at least provide the option for us to purchase fair-trade products. And we can demand that the corporations that buy. package, and distribute the products to the mass market ensure that they use as much fair-trade product as possible or we won't buy from them. We can even demand that our legislators support international efforts to make the production of these products profitable for all from the families and children who tend the plants to the mega-corporations that distribute it world-wide.