Thursday, April 26, 2007

Ten Billion Hungry Mouths

Laguna Maxbal (lake Maxbal) lies deep in the jungles of Guatemala. It isn´t in any of the tourist guides yet. It is an unspoiled jewel in a wilderness where howler monkeys still roam free. From the misty shores the only sound we can hear is a cacophony of insects and birds. This is a beautiful place. It is wild.

The people in the nearby village of Maxbal recognize the value of the lake. They know that a beautiful spot like this will attract tourist and money. They know that if they cut down the trees or fill the lake with garbage, people will not come. A warden is responsible for protecting the lake and escorting visitors to make sure they don´t leave any trash. There is even a hostel, waiting the day when the first tourists arrive.
Yet despite all this, Maxbal is under enormous pressure. The population of Guatemala is exploding. People need land to feed their families. They need places to live. Places like Maxbal.

Not 30 minutes up the road from Maxbal is the future. A huge wound gapes in the earth. Burnt trees stick out of the tortured ground. A new village is being hacked out of the jungle. There is land here for the landless. To us it looks like hell, but to a landless peasant this is hope.

People with empty stomachs don´t think about the future. They don´t have the luxury of caring about the valuable hardwoods they are burning to grow corn. They don´t have the luxury of caring about sustainability. They care about feeding their children.

If we want to save places like Maxbal, we need to provide alternatives for the rural poor. We need to rethink how we feed the planet. We need to restructure how land is valued so that we no longer cut down rainforests to produce crops which can be grown hundreds of times more efficiently in other places.
As the earth´s population climbs to 10 billion people the waves of humanity will surge ever deeper into the remaining wilderness. Unless we do something soon, places like Maxbal will be swept away forever, or become islands surrounded by a sea of people.

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