EarthTalk: What are so-called “debt-for-nature
swaps” and how do they work?
-- Howard W., via e-mail
debt-for-nature swap is an agreement by which a wealthier,
developed nation like the United States forgives debt owed
to it by a developing country in exchange for a promise to
use some or all of the money instead to preserve critical
environmental areas. Typically, such deals are brokered by
international non-profit organizations like The Nature Conservancy
or Conservation International, which sometimes contribute
additional funds to provide grants to local community organizations
participating in the projects.
One of the largest debt-for-nature swaps to date occurred
just recently, in October 2006, when the U.S. agreed to forgive
$24.4 million in debt from Guatemala to free up the money
for use in forest conservation efforts there. The Nature Conservancy
and Conservation International were instrumental in putting
that deal together, and each committed $1 million toward Guatemalan
conservation initiatives as well. A similar deal will allow
Botswana to repurpose $8.3 million in debt payments owed to
the U.S. for conservation and restoration of its tropical
forests in the Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park regions.
To date, the U.S. has arranged a dozen debt-for-nature swaps
(one under President Clinton and the rest under George W.
Bush), forgiving $135 million worth of loans for conservation’s
sake from not only Guatemala and Botswana, but also Bangladesh,
Belize, Colombia, El Salvador, Jamaica, Panama, Paraguay,
the Philippines and Peru. Under the terms of the Tropical
Forest Conservation Act, enacted in 1998, developing countries
with a tropical forest of global or regional significance,
a democratically elected government and plans for economic
reform are eligible for debt forgiveness from the U.S. as
long as they are willing to undertake conservation efforts
accordingly. They also must cooperate with the U.S. on international
narcotics control measures while neither supporting terrorism
nor violating human rights.
While the U.S. has been the leader in encouraging debt-for-nature
swaps, other developed countries are starting to get in on
the act as well. Germany has forgiven tens of millions of
Euros owed it by the governments of Indonesia and Bolivia,
among others, for the benefit of the environment. And last
June, France joined the fray by forgiving $25 million in debt
from Cameroon in the name of protecting still pristine stretches
of the Congo River Basin, the world's second largest tropical
forest after the Amazon.
Debt-for-nature deals have not all taken place without some
controversy. According to the Uruguay-based World Rainforest
Movement (WRM), last September Canada forgave $680,000 in
debt from Honduras in exchange for that country’s establishment
of tree planting and forest conservation programs. Arranged
primarily within a debt-for-nature framework, Canada will
actually get credit in the deal toward the greenhouse gas
emissions reductions it promised under the international Kyoto
Protocol. Says WRM, “The powerful hand of industry is
behind this project… this allows a major carbon dioxide-producing
country…to be able to avoid implementing real measures
to either reduce carbon emissions at their source or to implement
the conservation of its own forests.”
CONTACTS: Conservation International, www.conservation.org;
The Nature Conservancy, www.nature.org;
World Rainforest Movement, www.wrm.org.uy.
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foods like these tomatoes will last for years without refrigeration,
while retaining the same taste and vitamin content as the
day they were harvested.
My grandmother was a home canner, and I'm interested in
getting involved myself. Where do I learn about the benefits
to my health and to the environment?
-- Sylvia Fragiband, Indianapolis, IN
For more than a
century, home canning has been a popular way to preserve and
enjoy homegrown fruits and vegetables, not to mention fresh-caught
seafood and other delicacies. One of the key benefits of home
canning is limiting exposure to the chemicals and pesticides
used on most commercially available produce and seafood. Also,
most commercially prepared spreads and sauces contain added
sugar, salt and preservatives which are unnecessary in most
diets and can even be harmful for people suffering from health
problems like diabetes or hypertension.
Also, by preserving produce when it is at its peak of ripeness,
home canners can indulge in flavorful spreads and sauces all
year long, even if the backyard harvest is just a distant
memory. And according to Jennifer Wilkins, a nutritional scientist
in Cornell University’s Life Sciences department, foods
at peak ripeness offer superior nutritional advantages, even
when preserved. She cites the example of Vitamin C content
in tomatoes increasing when the vegetables are allowed to
fully ripen on the vine.
Yet another benefit of home canning is self-reliance. “If
there is a natural disaster and supplies are short, you will
have your own food,” says master gardener and home canner
Connie Densmore, who teaches an online course in home canning
through the UniversalClass.com website. She adds that home
canned foods can last for years without refrigeration (especially
useful if the power goes out) while retaining the same taste
as the day they were harvested.
Prior to the days of widespread use of food preservatives
and refrigeration, home canning was one of only a few ways
to safely preserve foods from decay at the hands of naturally
occurring microorganisms. The home canning techniques developed
in the late 1800s to prevent enzymes, mold, yeast and bacteria
from spoiling foods and causing botulism and other illnesses
are still effective and in wide use today.
Those looking to learn how to home can should consult the
U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Complete Guide
to Home Canning,” available free online. The guide details
the principles of home canning as well as how to select, prepare
and can a variety of foods. The website HomeCanning.com also
offers a wealth of information as well as lots of recipes
for canning fruits, vegetables and meats. The site is produced
by Jarden Home Brands, one of the leading suppliers of home
canning jars and equipment. Some other leading purveyors of
home canning supplies include the Canning Pantry and Home
Canning Supply and Specialties.
For more hands-on instruction, would-be home canners should
check out the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension’s
“So Easy to Preserve” video series. Eight shows,
each 20 to 35 minutes long, contain the most up-to-date recommendations
for home canning, pickling and making jams and jellies.
CONTACTS: Canning Pantry, www.canningpantry.com;
Home Canning Supply & Specialties, www.homecanningsupply.com;
“So Easy To Preserve,” www.uga.edu/setp;
“Complete Guide to Home Canning,” www.uga.edu/nchfp/publications/publications_usda.html.
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