Monday, June 19, 2006

Protein and Poverty

Does protein have a direct correlation to poverty? Many scientists think it does, for equatorial West Africa at least. Several studies in the past few years have focused on the supply of bushmeat (wild game hunted and sold for food), the fishing industry, national parks, and the level of poverty in this area. For a clear, concise example of one of these studies, look to the Brashares, et al. article in the November 12, 2004 issue of Science. Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Equatorial Guinea, and the Congo Basin are all featured in this study. Each nation has extreme poverty and often times extreme concentrated wealth. When a cheap, domestic protein source, such as livestock, is unavailable the people in these nations turn to bushmeat.

There are at least three problems which result from this scenario. The first, and the reason this issue came to my attention is the way it affects biodiversity. Simply in terms of species biodiversity, when large wild mammals, birds, and reptiles are hunted for their meat, the food chain is disrupted. Smaller mammals, birds, and reptiles grow out of control, and may then devastate the next level of organisms under them. In a short time, the wild areas surrounding the poor populations in these countries could be changed forever.

The second, and more important problem, is the social situation in these countries forcing bushmeat hunting. Hunting bushmeat indicates that these populations are in dire straights, as often times they are in coastal villages and towns and working for large multi-national corporations, which are clearly exploiting their labor. Hunting bushmeat means time away from other domestic tasks, such as the farming that many of these peoples subsist on and putting themselves in danger, as many of the regions bushmeat comes from are protected areas and guarded.

A third problem associated with this issue, and at the heart of it for Ghana at least is the supply of fish. Fishing provides much of the protein for coastal populations in Ghana, but the overexploitation of the world's oceans has left fish in short supply. Also, because of Ghana's inability to protect its waters, pirate fishers from other nations fish the waters illegally in order to sell the fish at the high prices they bring in markets, especially European ones.

The solution to these problems must include domestic livestock rearing in these areas, the protection of ocean resources, and an evaluation of the root causes of protein shortages. I believe the problem lies with the corporations which exploit the labor of coastal African populations without providing adequate social support. Once domestic livestock raising and protection of these nations oceans are implemented, these areas must look to sustainable uses of the land and sea. There are sustainable and biologically responsible ways of fishing, farming, and of raising livestock. They encompass a thorough understanding of how the natural systems work from which we take so much of our own sustenance. The raping of Earth's natural resources has left the planet with little natural wilderness, and a rapidly shrinking number of species. Now, our greed has led directly to the impoverishment of human populations and the further depletion of natural resources.


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