'Revaluing' the forest

'Revaluing' the forest

If we are to find solutions to the environmental and climate change problems we face today, we need to think differently.

Protecting our forests is very important. There is relentless demand for scarce timber to build furniture and houses and to make paper. Forests will continue to be destroyed until we can prove they are worth more to us "alive".

Forests play a crucial role in our ecosystem, and cutting them down is one of the main causes of climate change. Trees and other plants convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, their roots prevent erosion and their leafy canopy helps regulate the earth's temperature.

The giant Southeast Asian island of Borneo contains one of the greatest remaining rainforests in the world. But it has come under increasing threat in recent years as the trees are felled for timber and to make way for farms and plantations.

The governments of the three countries that share the island - Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia - have published a report suggesting ways to keep their rainforests intact while still generating income for the people who live there.

The tri-nation study examines the economic value of the forest's ecosystem, such as storing carbon, regulating water flow and providing new genetic resources for medicines.

Realising the value of the forest is an important step towards saving it from destruction.

The problem, of course, is that many people still rely on harvesting rainforests for their livelihoods, even though they know it's bad for the environment.

The Brunei government is working with Japan's National Institute of Technology and Evaluation to explore the potential for "bio-prospecting" the richly diverse forest for its genetic resources.

Bio-prospecting is scientific research that looks for useful applications, processes or products in nature. The 22 million hectares of trans-boundary tropical rainforest known as the Heart of Borneo is rich in such resources.

Bio-prospecting is not new. Humans have harvested plants for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. But we have become so reliant on manufactured drugs that resorting to nature for health products is seen as a refreshing new approach.



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