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PodcastMay 20, 2024

Forests: How Can We Prosper in Harmony With Nature? | The Development Podcast

FEATURING: Valerie Hickey, the Global Director of Environment, Natural Resources and Blue Economy at the World Bank / Cristián Samper, Managing Director and leader of Nature Solutions at Bezos Earth Fund / Florita Jimenez Martinez, Community Leader in Costa Rica / Dr Tulshi Suwal, a Nepalese conservationist.

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Use the following clickable timestamps to listen to the podcast.

[00:00] Welcome and introduction of the topic

[02:55] The relationship between people and the forests in Nepal

[07:07] The link between ecosystems and economic growth

[12:50] How the World Bank works on biodiversity

[16:05] Protecting the forests: Visions from a community leader in Costa Rica

[19:05] Partnerships to preserve biodiversity in forests: Bezos Earth Fund

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Forests are disappearing at an alarming rate of 10 million hectares each year and about 12% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to deforestation and forest degradation. But nature provides the foundation for inclusive growth, jobs, food security, ecosystems and human wellbeing. So, what are the economics of biodiversity and how can we achieve growth whilst protecting forests?

Join The Development Podcast on a trip around the globe from Nepal to Costa Rica as we hear from: Dr Tulshi Suwal, a Nepalese conservationist; Valerie Hickey, the Global Director of Environment, Natural Resources and Blue Economy at the World Bank; Florita Jimenez Martinez, Community Leader in Costa Rica; and Cristián Samper, Managing Director and leader of Nature Solutions at Bezos Earth Fund.

Tell us what you think of our podcast here >>>. We would love to hear from you!

Featured Voices

  • Valerie Hickey, the Global Director of Environment, Natural Resources and Blue Economy at the World Bank
  • Cristián Samper, Managing Director and leader of Nature Solutions at Bezos Earth Fund
  • Florita Jimenez Martinez, Community Leader in Costa Rica
  • Dr Tulshi Suwal, a Nepalese conservationist

Forests: How Can We Prosper in Harmony With Nature? | The Development Podcast


[00:00] Srimathi Sridhar: Hello and welcome to The Development Podcast from the World Bank Group. I'm Srimathi Sridhar coming to you from Washington DC. This episode, the latest in our exploration of what it'll take to end poverty on a livable planet is all about the economics of biodiversity. To coincide with the International Day for Biodiversity, we'll be taking you on a trip around the globe from Nepal to Costa Rica. And we'll hear why biodiversity matters, not just for the well-being of the planet, but for the prosperity of people. We'll be getting the big picture from the World Bank on the economic gains from the preservation of biodiversity and forests.

Valerie Hickey: Nature and forests are an engine of economic development. They're the path out of poverty for communities who live in and near forests.

Srimathi Sridhar: The Bezos Earth Fund talk us through some of their projects and partnerships from East Africa to the Amazon and why empowering local communities is key.

Cristián Samper: We must find a better path for development that looks to balance these issues, protecting and restoring nature, while at the same time improving the lives of people.

Srimathi Sridhar: And we'll be hearing from indigenous conservationists who tell us why they're campaigning for the forests they're living alongside and why they're proud to be custodians of nature for the next generation.

Dr. Tulshi Suwal: Sustaining life without biodiversity is impossible. Therefore, it matters to all of us for our existence.

Srimathi Sridhar: The Development Podcast, Livable Planet, coming to you from the World Bank Group. This is the intoxicating sound of the Amazon Rainforest. The Amazon is about as vast and bustling a place as it's possible to imagine. The world's largest rainforest spans nine countries in South America and is home to 10% of the world's species. Often referred to as the lungs of the earth, removing carbon from the atmosphere on a huge scale. It is also critical to our future. But as in so many parts of the world, agriculture, infrastructure and consumption are having a devastating impact on the plants, trees, and wildlife that make up the rich biodiversity of the Amazon. But it's not just the Amazon. Across the world, deforestation and a loss of biodiversity come at a high cost. 10 million hectares of forests are lost each year globally. An area the size of Portugal. Almost a million species today are at risk of extinction. 12% of global greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to deforestation and forest degradation. And the impact on human beings is also sobering. Millions of people around the world depend on forests for their food security and livelihoods. 

[02:55] Srimathi Sridhar: Our producer, Sarah Treanor, spoke to one Nepalese forest conservationist, who is on a mission to bring these issues to the attention of the world.

Sarah: The sound of a religious festival in Kathmandu, Nepal. Children dance as they chant and move through the ancient city streets. Nepalese culture is as diverse as its landscape, from the highest mountains on the planet to vast forests and national parks. It's also home to many endangered species. From the solitary snow leopard to the Bengal tiger and the small pangolin. For 16 years, Dr. Tulshi Suwal has worked tirelessly to help save the endangered pangolin. The shy, scaly mammal, which lives in the forests of Nepal, has been hunted for its scales, meat and body parts, as well as driven from its habitat due to, for example, forest fires. It's part of Tulshi's broader work to preserve the forests of her home country and its rich biodiversity. She told me more.

Dr. Tulshi Suwal: Hello, Sarah. It is my great pleasure to speak with you from this beautiful mountainous country Nepal.

Sarah: I asked her to explain a bit more about the relationship between people and the forests in Nepal.

Dr. Tulshi Suwal: People extract fruits, medicine and fodder from the forests. However, communities could not directly benefit from forests to uplift their livelihood. So forests are under threats due to illegal logging, overgrazing, wildfire, illegal wildlife hunting, expansion of agriculture, as well as infrastructure development.

Sarah: So what are some of the solutions and adaptations that she feels effectively help to both preserve the forest and promote livelihoods?

Dr. Tulshi Suwal: Forests have multiple values, but communities are aware of the forest conservation only for timber production. There fore, they need to be educated that forest conservation also includes forest management, watershed management, and wildlife management.

Sarah: Tulshi, do you feel like there is an ongoing tension between people and the preservation of nature and biodiversity? How can we overcome this, do you think?

Dr. Tulshi Suwal: Yes, it is true. There is conflict between economics, resources and the conservation of forests because forest conservation is being done for timber with the intention of economic gain. So the communities and stakeholders are more focused on monoculture and career cutting that adversely impact biodiversity. The conflict can be resolved by developing local stewards and establishing green enterprises like ecotourism, agroforestry, etc. The participation of local people and indigenous knowledge are keys for the sustainable forest management.

Sarah: Can you sum up for me how you think people need to rethink their relationship with nature and biodiversity?

Dr. Tulshi Suwal: We human believe that we are the most powerful and superior animals on Earth. However, we often forget that we are entirely dependent on nature for everything. The interaction of all living things in nature is biodiversity. So it is the basis of the food chain, everyone's welfare and the foundation of our future. Therefore, it matters to all of us for our existence.

[07:07] Srimathi Sridhar: Thank you, Sarah and Dr. Tulshi Suwal. So that's one example of a part of the globe grappling with deforestation and forest fires. And as Tulshi mentioned, it's not just critical for animals like pangolin that forests are preserved. Forests and landscapes support livelihoods, health, well-being, jobs and food security. Indeed, low-income countries could lose 10% of their annual GDP by 2030 if ecosystems that support forests, fisheries, and pollinators collapse according to the World Bank. Air pollution is another urgent issue leading to health risks contributing to 7 million premature deaths each year according to the World Health Organization. But let's really dig into these issues and get an idea of some of the solutions. Valerie Hickey, the global director of environment, natural resources and blue economy at the World Bank, came to see us here in the studio. So Valerie, it's often said that healthy ecosystems lead to healthy economies. Is this true? And can you speak about the link between ecosystems and economic growth?

Valerie Hickey: One of the things I've been talking about a lot recently is the fact that there's two original sins in development and both have to do with forests. So stick with me for a minute. The first has to do with the fact that traditionally in economics, we've had this paradigm of grow now, clean up later. And that has also meant deforest now, figure out how to reforest later. That's why we've ended up losing an area the size of Ethiopia in the last 20 years and in the 20 years before that. Because we simply haven't valued nature, we haven't valued forests. And given that over 1.5 billion people live within five kilometers of forests, 300 million people live within or on the boundary of tropical forests.

Srimathi Sridhar: That's a huge number.

Valerie Hickey: It's a huge number. So if we don't think about forests as an engine of economic development, we make a mistake. The other original sin that we have is that for too long, we talked about conservation when it came to forestry. And we asked those 300 million people living in tropical forest, for example, to forgo their development. "It's okay for you to stay poor as long as the trees stand." And that's not okay. For most people who live in rural areas, forests and the ecosystem services they provide are the only path out of poverty. Think about land degradation. So 40% of people globally are suffering from land degradation. Places like Rwanda, they're losing 25 tons of topsoil per hectare per year. This is in a country that routinely suffers from drought or flooding, that isn't always food secure, and yet you're losing all this amazing topsoil because the forests have been cut. And so how do we make sure that we protect our forests? How do we take advantage of things like nature-based tourism? Which is mostly forest-based tourism. For every dollar that a tourist spends, there's $6 in the local economy that's created. That's a huge return on investment. Nature and forests are an engine of economic development. They're the path out of poverty for communities who live in and near forests.

Srimathi Sridhar: So paradoxically, some of the world's poorest people live in and around some of the world's richest ecosystems like the Amazon or the Congo rainforest. Why is that?

Valerie Hickey: It's one of the terrible ironies of today that we do have some of the world's poorest people being asked to shoulder the burden of protecting the world's richest natural capital. The 50 million people who live in the Amazon, many of whom, most of whom are living below the poverty line, or at least are living in a way that is more poor than the average people in those countries. That's not okay. And part of it has been because for too long we've asked them to conserve the forest without thinking about how do we then transform those forests into paths out of poverty? And that's why one of the things we're looking at, for example, is diversification of economies. How do we help local communities actually diversify their income so they're not just working on subsistence agriculture? How can we get them access to public infrastructure so they can increase their margins, they can access markets. How can we get them access to that public infrastructure to bring services to them? How do we get access to finance for communities? One of the things we don't talk about enough is how small commercial banks, local banks and communities are actually the engine of making micro and small businesses work. That's how communities end up diversifying their income. They build businesses. You can't do that if you can't borrow from your local bank. And an awful lot of people can't borrow from their local bank because banks don't know how to work with nature-based businesses, they don't know how to collateralize it. They don't know how to think about repayment periods differently because if you're going to, for example, be involved in agroforestry, which is a wonderful way to diversify your income. It might take two, three years before you can get a return. Most banks want a return that first year. So how do we help local commercial banks become much more comfortable working in nature-based businesses? Think about the Congo. Almost 90% of people who live in and around the Congo depend on wood-based fuels as their only source of energy. Over 95% of harvesting in the Congo Basin is used for wood-based fuels. So how do we begin to change that dynamic? How do we begin first to make sure that those wood-based fuels are better managed so that people can access them, they can access them in a more regular way. The prices are better, the wood supply chain is better, but then how do we also make sure the work in the Congo so that people can also think about it as more than just wood fuel? They can think about other sorts of jobs from sustainable forest management, for example. Less than 5% of all the harvesting that happens in the Congo Basin, which is this enormously wealthy area, is actual timber harvesting. And most of that is exported. So how do you build those value-added businesses that can bring jobs to where people are instead of always having to force people to decide "if I stay in this forest, either I stay poor or I have to begin to engage in illegal activities because it's the only way to make money." It's our job to change that dynamic.

[12:50] Srimathi Sridhar: Now each May, we mark the International Day of Biodiversity. Valerie, can you speak about how the World Bank works on biodiversity and the goals of the Global Biodiversity Framework that was signed in 2022?

Valerie Hickey: I have to say, we were super excited to be in Montreal when the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework was signed. It was a wonderful moment for the global biodiversity community. In part because it wasn't just about the 30% of land and sea that the GBF, the Global Biodiversity Framework, countries committed to protect. It was also about the other 70%. And that's something we do at the Bank. We don't just think about nature in terms of protected areas. We think about nature as something that underlines the whole of economy. We, for example, in Malaysia did a report with their central bank to figure out how much of their commercial loan portfolio is actually dependent on nature to be able to repay those loans. It's over 54% Sri. The second thing we do a lot of is thinking about data and analytics. We have a whole program on natural capital accounting, and that's the way we think about putting biodiversity and nature on the balance sheets of government and in C-suites. Because if nature isn't on the balance sheet, we know that it's not going to be taken into account. Finance is another key part. How do we help countries access the finance they need to not just protect their biodiversity, but then transform the flow of goods and services from a healthy stock of biodiversity into jobs in GDP? How do we do that? What does that look like? How do we bring climate finance into the discussion? Because we all know, like it or not, if we could turn every coal-fired power plant off in the morning, we couldn't bend the climate curve of emissions to zero without protecting nature. Because nature is absolutely critical to managing climate change. Part of our job is figuring out how do we use our money at the bank to help public sector, to help think about repurposing subsidies, for example. It's a big discussion we're having here at the bank. Just look at agricultural subsidies, $635 billion a year spent on agricultural subsidies. We know that that contributes directly to 14% of deforestation. So those are the sorts of conversations we have. And then on the private sector side, how do we use our money to de-risk? What does it look like to get the private sector involved in conservation, involved in nature? That means thinking about co-investment. Thinking about specific risk reduction, working together with our friends at IFC and MIGA to think about the kind of guarantee wraps we need to provide so that the private sector is comfortable going in and doing the kind of biodiversity-based businesses that they may not know how to do, but they're interested in doing. And they need that guarantee in that space to do it. One of the really exciting things we're also doing is ourselves trying to figure out how much are we actually spending on biodiversity, investing in biodiversity every year? So together with our friends in other MDBs, we've actually come up with a methodology to be able to tag our finance as being nature finance or not. If we don't pay more attention to nature, and if we don't pay more attention to the people, most of whom are the poorest people on the planet, who are the ones who depend on nature for their everyday food security, for their everyday income in their pocket, then we're not doing our job as the World Bank.

[16:05] Srimathi Sridhar: Thanks again, Valerie, for coming to speak to us. Well, almost 40% of the world's remaining intact forests are on indigenous people's land. These peoples and communities have a huge amount of expertise and ancestral knowledge, which can help adapt to and reduce climate risks. The World Bank has been working with many communities on projects across the globe. So let's now hear about one partnership in Costa Rica. Costa Rica is a real success story when it comes to climate action. It's the first tropical country to have actually reversed deforestation. And it's hugely diverse rainforests now cover around 60% of the country, having previously shrunk as low as 40% in the late 1980s. And it doesn't stop at that. At the end of 2023, the Global Dialogue of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities was convened in Costa Rica, led by an indigenous person steering committee with support from the World Bank's first carbon partnership facility and the EnABLE Fund (Enhancing Access to Benefits while Lowering Emissions). Let's now hear from one community leader who explains what the forest means to her.

Florita Jimenez Martinez: [foreign language] My name is Florita Martinez Jimenez. I am from the [foreign language] community, which is part of the [foreign language] indigenous territory. When it comes to the conservation of the forest, God made us indigenous people, the guardians of the forest, the protectors of the forest. It is a mission that God gave us. That is why we protect it, because it's like a mother, like our father. So it's that mission, that calling, the reason why we need to protect it. It's a legacy. So that is why for us as indigenous people, the conservation of the forest is so important because it is our blanket. The one that protects us from everything. It is the one that feeds us. It is the one that gives us life because it is the one that brings us everything. It's like a supermarket where you can look for everything. For us indigenous people, that is our supermarket, our restaurant, our jacuzzi, our music. It's everything.

Srimathi Sridhar: She went on to talk about the benefits she feels she and the broader community get through protecting the forests and their partnerships with the World Bank.

Florita Jimenez Martinez: I have always told my indigenous community, my indigenous people, that sometimes the benefits we receive cannot be wasted because we do not know if they will still be there in the future. So what we must do is invest and develop projects. That is where we bring in ideas for improving tourism, ideas for improving the way we cultivate food, for sowing new seeds, for rescuing seeds, for buying soil that is fertile and regenerate the ones that are not as fertile so that trees can grow. So that these forests can continue to be preserved. That is what we have done with the funds.

[19:05] Srimathi Sridhar: Great to hear from Costa Rica and from such inspiring leadership. It's of course not just the World Bank working with communities across the globe. Partners such as the Bezos Earth Fund have been striving to engage in community projects from the Congo to Colombia. As Sarah Treanor found out.

Sarah: The Bezos Earth Fund was established in 2020 after a $10 billion commitment by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, to fight climate change and protect nature. The entire sum of money is to be dispersed by 2030. I spoke to one of the people responsible for doing just that.

Cristián Samper: So my name is Cristián Samper. I'm the managing director and leader of Nature Solutions at the Bezos Earth Fund. I'm joining you today from New York City.

Sarah: It's a hard balancing act, isn't it? Between economic prosperity on the one hand and nature on the other. How do you see this playing out?

Cristián Samper: We must find a better path for development that looks to balance these issues, protecting and restoring nature, while at the same time improving the lives of people and the quality of lives. And unfortunately, we've seen historically for many times, quite often what happens is we look at focus on short-term benefits and we transfer. We lose forests, we do overfishing. We have so many other aspects that we do, and we transfer those costs to future generations. The good news is that there are many win-win solutions. We know, for example, that creating marine protected areas in coastal areas can be incredibly good for both biodiversity and people because many of these areas we'll see increases in biomass of fish, which increases the yields to local fishermen. So I think there are many examples that we can look at that would be win-wins for people that can create local wealth or even global wealth. And I think this is an incredibly exciting moment. What we do in the next decade or in this decade will probably really shape the world for centuries to come.

Sarah: I know you've done a lot of work when it comes to the issues surrounding our global food systems and biodiversity. Tell me how you see the challenge of reducing carbon emissions in the global agrifood system and preserving ecosystems while still feeding the globe's growing population.

Cristián Samper: We think it's one of the absolutely core imperatives. The way we look at the nature of solutions at the Bezos Earth Fund is we find in three keywords: protect, restore, and transform. We need to protect the most important places that we have. We need to restore some of the areas that we've degraded, but we have to transform the way we live. And that includes transforming our food systems and transforming our energy systems, which are critical. And food is one of the major challenges. We know that we have already transformed just over 70% of the surface of the planet or the terrestrial surface of the planet. And most of that has been for food, and most of that food is directly for cattle and other means. So the question is, how can we feed the planet, 10 billion people, improve their livelihoods and without destroying that other 30% and ideally even restoring some of what we have lost? And we think that we have the tools to do this, and many people don't realize we have enough food across the planet to feed the planet. The problem is the distribution of this food. And we're particularly concerned about what will happen in continents like Africa, where we expect to see major growth in population. And the question is how do we support that without necessarily destroying so the natural forest ecosystems that are still left there in the wetlands. But we think that there are ways that we can definitely improve the food systems to be able to reduce the footprint, free up some areas, reduce the pressure of natural ecosystems, restore some areas and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions.

Sarah: And how important are partnerships when it comes to preserving biodiversity in forests?

Cristián Samper: Well, we think they're absolutely critical because the only way this is going to work is by working with and empowering local communities to be stewards of nature. And it starts by, we do a lot of work with indigenous peoples and local communities around the whole issue of securing tenure rights. We just started last year building a portfolio of grants in the Brazilian Amazon. And one of the cornerstones of that effort is helping secure the rights of indigenous communities to their territories. And we have very good evidence showing that when these communities are empowered, it can really manage these territories, the rate of deforestation in these areas is substantially reduced. And we also have to do it in food systems and restoration. For example, in East Africa, we're doing a lot of projects focusing on the restoration of local enterprises, really working with communities and planting trees, agroforestry projects that are critical in terms of providing more food, more income for local communities that at the same time will help capture carbon and really restore some of these areas.

Sarah: Are there any projects that you found particularly inspiring?

Cristián Samper: Well, one of our cornerstone initiatives is something we call '30x30', which is this big global initiative that's been adopted to protect 30% of the planet by 2030. It's an idea that'd been out there, but it's adopted as part of the new Global Biodiversity Framework. And it's something that we're very excited about and we've picked certain places that we think we're really trying to protect now. So for example, the Tropical Andes, which is where I'm from. I grew up in Colombia. We are helping set up some national parks and community reserves, just came through last November. It's a new national park in the Llanos of Colombia called Manacacias, which is a very interesting ecosystem because it's the grasslands of the Orinoco. It's an area that's been largely transformed from cattle and various agricultural areas. So we were able to secure the 60th National Park of Colombia thanks to the work of many of our partners. And it was just declared at the end of last year by the press of Colombia. Now we're looking at strengthening and setting this up and rewilding some of these ecosystems. So that's a project that was many years in the making, and I'm very pleased that it came together.

Srimathi Sridhar: Well. That's all for this episode of The Development Podcast. It's been a race around the globe, but hopefully some inspiring food for thought. We'll leave you now with more of those immersive sounds from the Amazon. Thanks for tuning in and we'll be back again soon.

Iliana Jimenez, Community Leader and Forest Custodian, stands in the middle of a vibrant forest in Costa Rica.



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The World Bank is one of the world’s largest sources of funding and knowledge for low-income countries. Its five institutions share a commitment to reducing poverty, increasing shared prosperity, and promoting sustainable development on a livable planet.

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