Poverty drives forest loss in Malawi

Southern Africa’s Malawi (yes, it’s a country — look it up) loses about 200 square miles of forest a year to illegal logging for firewood and charcoal; over a fifth of the nation’s forests disappeared between 1990 and 2000. Twenty-three tree species are endangered, streams are drying up, air pollution is increasing, and some rivers get so clogged with silt that hydroelectric-power operations are impaired. Poverty and joblessness are the primary drivers — about 8 million of the nation’s 12 million people earn less than a dollar a day, far too little to buy stoves or devices needed to hook up to the electrical grid. “The problem is that we have nothing else to do,” says one illegal logger. “We have no money … So we have to cut the trees to feed our families.” Studies suggest Malawians could prosper by using the forests sustainably — selling honey from forest beehives, or botanicals for traditional medicines — if they can just escape the daily struggle for survival.