Jane Goodall and Robert Nasi: Put forests at forefront of COVID-19 recovery

Small scale farming, crop diversity, local people crucial, experts say at GLF
Jane Goodall discusses food security and the growing human population
Primatologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute. Milken Institute (used under creative commons license)

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One of the major problems in the world today is food security and the growing human population, said primatologist Jane Goodall on Friday in an address that was broadcast as part of the Global Landscapes Forum from Bonn, Germany.

Goodall first gained international renown for her landmark research into the behavior of wild chimpanzees 60 years ago in Tanzania’s Gombe National Park.  Her efforts became a lifelong passion, leading to broader activism related to concerns over deforestation, the bushmeat trade, trapping of live animals and habitat destruction.

At a 1986 conference, she discovered the precarious circumstances the primates were facing in other locations, subsequently traveling to other countries in Africa.

“I visited six range countries and I learned a lot about the plight of the chimps, but I also learned about the plight of so many of the African people, living in and around chimpanzee habitats, the crippling poverty, the lack of good health and education facilities, the degradation of the land,” she said during a session on: “Beyond the GLF Bonn Digital Conference.”

These concerns were compounded when four years later, she flew over Gombe in an airplane.

“When I began in 1960, it was part of the equatorial forest belt stretching across Africa,” she said. “By 1990, I looked down in horror at a tiny island of forest, surrounded by completely bare hills.”

Four years later, through the Jane Goodall Institute she had founded in 1977, she began consulting with local Tanzanians who spoke with people in the 12 villages around Gombe, an effort that led to the introduction of community-based conservation efforts.

Working with the local government, the process of restoring fertility to the overused farmland began through the introduction of water management, health and education programs.

“It’s been shown all around the world that family size tends to drop when women are well educated,” she said. “We provided workshops where local people came and learned about family planning, we introduced micro-credit programs.”

The programs now operate in 104 villages throughout the chimpanzee habitat in Tanzania, supporting small-scale family farming and volunteer forest monitors who use smart phones to monitor the health of their forests.

“There are over a thousand small-scale coffee shade grown coffee farms around Gombe, with the biodiversity coming back because of the trees,” Goodall said. “These small family farms have the diversity of crops so that if there is an extra-long drought or the rainy season comes at the wrong time, which it does with climate change, they are not reliant on one crop like monoculture.”

In 1991, she launched Roots & Shoots with 12 Tanzanian high school students. It now operates in 65 countries.

“It’s young people choosing projects to make life better for people, for animals, for the environment – learning about the different animals, understanding that we need the natural environment for our future – protecting the forests around chimpanzee habitats isn’t just for wildlife, it’s also for the future of local people and future generations,” Goodall said.

“It’s helping young people understand that animals like us, chimpanzees … baboons and bush pigs, pangolins and all the rest, they are sentient beings and they have a role to play.”

Human health, animal health and environmental health are all one, she added. “It’s all interconnected, that’s really the message.”

Small scale family farming, diversity of crops, engagement of the local people, helping them understand the need for conservation and giving them the tools so that they can undertake conservation are key, she added.

Goodall was one of 300 speakers at the all-digital GLF conference, which attracted more than 5,000 people from 185 countries to 60 sessions for discussions on challenges to food security and livelihoods amid multiple systemic shocks, including the climate crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Some believe that if there is a silver lining to the global pandemic; that the environment could be the unexpected beneficiary,” said Robert Nasi, director general of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), which jointly coordinates GLF with the U.N. Environment Programme and the World Bank.

Nasi was referring to lockdowns that have led to a reduction in pollution and emissions and a resurgence of flora and fauna in both the natural world and urban environments.

“Maybe, but the planet faces a series of self-reinforcing recurring or endemic crises,” he said in his speech, which came after Goodall’s.

He listed a series of challenges, stating that nature is in crisis from climate change, biodiversity loss and environmental degradation, adding that society is in crisis due to rising inequalities, widespread malnutrition, broken food systems, weakening democracies, rampant racism and xenophobia, inept leadership and all these are put to the fore by a global epidemic crisis: COVID-19.

“Jane Goodall says: ‘Humanity will be finished after COVID-19 unless we change our ways,’” Nasi added. “Let’s see whether we can change, together, one step at a time.”

We need to invest in science, fundamental and applied to sustainable production, health and food, focusing on both technological and societal advances and changes to be made rather than spending trillions of dollars in military expenditures, he said.

“Nature doesn’t need us, and the Earth will still be there, whether we walk on it or not.”

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