The most absurd headline for today is in the Scotland (newspsper).

Bagpipes a threat to the environment (and we’re not talking noise pollution)


What’s going on is that bagpipes, which were originally carved from the swamp oak, are now made from blackwood trees, and that illegal blackwood logging is simply one aspect of illegal logging that is decimating the forests of Africa.

Their solution isn’t really to make the pipes from plastic or oak, but to encourage people to give to a charity that subsidizes the planting of this valuable tree in Africa.

The African Blackwood Conservation Project is hoping the publicity will bring them money to fund the replanting of trees. The Global Tree project has more information here about the over logging of the trees without replacing them.

The problem is, of course, that if the people remain poor, that these trees will quickly be cut down and sold (either by locals or by outsiders who hire locals), or even used by firewood. The problem is not cured by planting trees, but by making forestry sustainable by encouraging forestry practices that allow cutting trees to provide jobs but requiring that the trees be replanted at the same time. And of course, deforestation to cook meals can be helped by cheap propane (which we use here in the Philippines) or alternative cooking methods.

Deforestation is also a problem here in the Philippines, where it is almost impossible to buy new hardwood legally (our doors etc. come from recycled wood). Several of our workers died a couple years ago from a mudslide caused by excess rain and the denuded hills thanks to illegal logging. Yet with a large coastline, it is hard to stop illegal logging: a ship will come in, someone will bribe the local officials, hire the local men to cut and transport, and voila, instant deforestation, and trees shipped out before Manila figures out what is going on.

What will work best in the long run is not government but business investment, where businessmen recognize the need for long term replacement of the trees.

In Asia, the Chinese immigrants essentially run the business community (but since they frequently intermarry with Filipinas, they are no longer seen as “outsiders).

In Africa, entrepeneurs did exist, from Muslim traders to the market women of West Africa. But in colonial times, shops tended to be started by Europeans or immigrants from India. Yet lack of intermarriage led to resentments in many countries, yet universities that failed to stress business expertise led to a dearth of local entrepeneurs.
Yet lately, there are several organizations that are now encouraging African entrepeneurship and capitalism. African Path’s Cheetah project and the African Executive have reports on what’s going on for those who want to look into the fledgling business community in Africa. One hopes that in twenty years the African Cheetahs will replace the Asian Tigers as examples of how business can bring prosperity.

In the meanwhile, NGO’s have a place, if for no other reason that there is a need to work at grassroots levels and help governments with expertise to build public infrastructure. They also are good watchdogs to make sure that government or businessmen don’t loot and destroy the environment.

An example of how government help has eliminated famine in a NYTimes article on Malawi: Where the World Bank opposed subsidies of farms, but when the government decided to subsidize indigent farmers with fertilizers and high yield seed, the result was a surplus of food.

All this is good, but one hopes eventually farmer’s coops and small banks can be run independently of the government. Small banks that are corrupt can quickly be eliminated by competition, whereas aid money can be siphoned off  by local politicians and goverenment fertilzer mislaid to sell on the black market.

An unrelated matter but one that may help small businessmen in Africa is the transfer of money via cellphone. Western Union does this already for those with relatives overseas, but now networks are being set up to pay small bills by cellphone (rather than check) in a way similar to how Americans use paypal or use debit cards and ATM’s.

Such small things going on rarely make the headlines, but you should be aware that the “ain’t it awful” stories are not the only stories that can be told about Africa.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket, and she writes about Zimbabwe’s human rights problems at MakaipaBlog.

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