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The forest road to gains and losses

Longtime uphill villagers have used nearby forests in sustainable ways. If not, they would not have survived. Therefore, the mere fact that they live there for so long indicates their local wisdom.

They collect dead wood for cooking fires. They find additional plant food and medicinal herbs. They go for hunting to enrich their diets.

They prevent over-exploitation, not by building physical fences around the nearby forests, but by ‘social fencing’, by checking on each other. Whatever anyone brings home is noticed and discussed in the village.

And social fencing is reinforced by inner fencing. Children already learn what to use of the natural habitat and what not. The customs are internalized and more or less applied automatically.

But social and inner fencing are powerless in the face of what arrives on the new government road. The villagers fear for it the ecological destruction by timber logging and plantations companies.

But many villagers see benefits of the road. It opens the way to benefits of the modern world: commuting for work and wages, going to doctors and hospitals, visiting hospitalized relatives, shopping in the nearest town or finding entertainment to break away from the monotony of isolated village life.

The smart students are more fascinated by computer science than by farms or jungles. And the small entrepreneurs desire the road to ease their import and export of goods.

The families of commuters and entrepreneurs, with their externally gained incomes, lose a vital interest in the sustainable dynamic of vegetation, slope soils and water. And they can afford to ignore pressures of social fencing by co-villagers and grab from nearby woods what they want.

The road, and all it brings and takes, corrupts the traditional culture that included inner fencing. External integration is the winner, local ecology the loser.

Neither only blame governments and large companies, nor only the uphill villagers. Most of them, for better or worse, want the benefits of modernity.


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