Establishing sustainable environment relationship key to natural resource conservation

FROM time immemorial human beings have had some kind of interactive and binding relationships with nature.
There was an unwritten covenant between human beings and forests, especially by the nature of reciprocal relations that prevailed ever since.

From the beginning, it was the bible that observed the relationship between people and nature through stewardship of the environment and dominionship.

Even myths had a part to play in establishing and maintaining relations with the forests. Legends had it that, once upon a time, there were gods of forests or nature, spirits of the woods and guardians of forests.

Other stories also likened the forests to women due to their productive nature and also many countries are referred to as the mother lands, and the list goes on and on.

This discussion is not about revisiting legends and myths, and to go back to live in the forests, but to establish the reciprocal relations that prevailed between humans and environments since time immemorial.

These relationships had a huge and sustainable bearing to forest conservation before the situation went out of hand, due to the complex nature of the human mind and actions.

The ability to respect the natural environment and its productive nature contributed to an environmental bond and peaceful living, devoid of greed, corruption and lust for forest resources and products, as well as the insatiable desires to control and dominate nature.

Of course times have changed, but the failure to control the devil and monster in us has led to the failure to respect nature, by coveting and mortgaging it as well as engaging in a wide range of eco-freak behaviours which have led forests to be battle ground for conflicts in attempts to control the physical environment.

With the advent of rising populations, demands for agricultural land, building spaces, forest resources and products, mining activities and greed, humans have lost self-control and ethics have been thrown out of the window, culminating in the death of the conscience.

The advent of climate change has also compounded the forest woes where water conservation has not been practiced, resulting in water stresses and scarcities, forest destruction, land degradation, small-scale water conflicts, poor harvests, droughts, lack of grazing land, unsustainable agricultural practices, siltation of water bodies and lifelines, among others, have witnessed the painful disappearing of many forests around the world.

Although the concept of peace with the environment should start within and with an individual, before spreading to other people and communities, peace should not bypass the environment.

Human beings need to regulate and tame their lust for forest resources and products, first and foremost.

They need to stop engaging in language use and practices which contribute to environmental harm, continue disregarding rules and regulations aimed at nature conservation.

The role of communication in strengthening forest values, cultures and indigenous knowledge systems, has not been sufficiently observed, let alone respected.

Due to successive droughts and food insecurity, people turn to the forests for hunting, harvesting of fruits and timber, wood for charcoal and medicines in order to improve their livelihoods.

As a result, there has not been any peace in the forests and communities fighting for scarce forest resources and products, have been inherent practices ever since. It has been the rule of the axe, tree-cutting saws, mining excavators and caterpillars engaging in forest destruction.

Instead of competing for scarce forest resources, communities can organise themselves and engage into forest sustainable forest farming, planting a variety of indigenous and exotic tree species that regenerate lost forests.

They can exercise patience until the time to harvest these tree-resources is ripe and sell them to improve their livelihoods and create jobs.

By so doing, communities would be agreeing on areas of cooperation in order to conserve natural resources. These established forest plots and woodlots would compensate loss of forest fruit products, edible insects, forest seeds, honey and animals. By so doing, biodiversity conservation would be practised.

Poaching would also be avoided while communities will benefit from approved hunting and culling programmes. These practices can establish order in the forests and even burning of forests can be a thing of the past.

The major undoing in attempts to regulate peace in the forests is unequal power relations, with politicians meddling in forest matters and lacking accountability.

In Africa, toxic politics has led to the destruction of forests through illegal and proxy logging practices, thereby mortgaging nature and the people’s heritage.

Politicians have also benefitted from weak environmental laws, which are either duplicating or take decades without being amended. All these vices lead to lack of accountability on the part of a broad network of corrupt and greedy political elites.

When this happens, politicians would benefit from this chaos, conflict and confusion. People have witnessed many situations whereby wetlands have continued to be destroyed through urban expansion and agricultural practices and no one is arrested.

Communities still need ongoing conservation education, through relevant reading materials written in the languages they can understand. These would improve the people’s levels of environmental literacy, awareness and education.
People also need interactive platforms to conscientise each other about the need to preserve forests, even through launching annual forest conservation awards. The role of storytelling is as good as defunct; but can be resuscitated as well.

School children can also compete in sponsored environmental debates, poetry, songs, drama or nature games, in order to catch them young and nurture the spirit of stewardship and accountability as life-long skills.

These symbiotic working relations would transform the environment and contribute to long lasting peace with nature, replenish the environment and above all, forest regeneration and wisdom.

Peter Makwanya is a climate change communicator. He writes in his personal capacity and can be contacted on:

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