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Logging in The Amazon: A Jungle Lumberman Shows Us What It’s Really Like

by Guest Blogger | December 30th, 2009

Some woodworkers would revel in the idea of living near and endless supply of beautiful hardwood and then retiring early so as to keep the pesky trials of working-for-a-living a pursuit of the past, leaving only time for working the wood and spoiling the grandchildren.  Meet Jim King, a lumberman living in the pith of South America’s Amazon Forest, who very well may be living your dream.  Here’s his take on the laborious work to make a tree into workable lumber for us guys and gals who like to use wood for fun.


– Mark Stephens

Purple Heart Logs

Purple Heart Logs

In order to discuss this topic a number of things must be understood.  Possibly the most important and misunderstood fact is that people have been led to believe that there is a huge lumber industry in the Amazon.  This is simply not true.

The Amazon, as with any tropical forest, is biologically very diverse and it is not unusual for 100 species of trees to grow on one acre; and no one knows in fact how many species exist.

In the tropical forest there are but a handful of species of any value known and exploited for world  markets.   Generally speaking, tropical lumbermen are small businessmen of little means.   They work in a form that could be best related to as subsistence living.

The Long Process of Getting a Tree Out of The Forest

Typical logging operation winching logs out (built on-site).  Log is from a Lupuna tree which is cold peeled for plywood manufacture.

Typical logging operation winching logs out (built on-site). Log is from a Lupuna tree which is cold peeled for plywood manufacture.

The logs can be winched as far as a mile plus over a couple of days using a series of winches if the area has enough trees of a species to justify the cleaning and maintaining of a winch trail that long.  Nothing goes to waste, either. The cables used for winching will later be used to lash the logs together for the trip to market.

After a year's hard work with the entire family or families, the logs are lashed together and floated downstream to market

After a year's hard work with the entire family or families, the logs are lashed together and floated downstream to market

This happens normally starting in December when the water rises from the snow melt from the Andes Mountains and rises up to 40 feet to make  movement by river possible.  Depending on where the harvest was made, the unpowered float trip can take two weeks or more.  The young strong ones of the family do the majority of the hard work.  The mother, grandmother and kids do the cooking and the older men are in charge of obtaining food.

Logging in the tropical jungle is dangerous work

Logging in the tropical jungle is dangerous work

Once the logs arrive at a market, they are sawn into lumber at mills like this.

Once the logs arrive at a market, they are sawn into lumber at mills like this.

In the early 1900's this boiler served on a European ship.  It was salvaged out of the river and is now the heat source for a series of dry kilns.  It survived well to live again.

In the early 1900's this boiler served on a European ship. It was salvaged out of the river and is now the heat source for a series of dry kilns. It survived well to live again.

Scrap recovery for furniture parts

Scrap recovery

Primitive edge jointing

Primitive edge jointing

Flooring blanks

Flooring blanks

Purple heart bundles ready to go

Purple heart bundles ready to go

Loading a barge for transport to the ocean going vessel

Loading a barge for transport to the ocean going vessel

This is headed for international markets

This is headed for international markets


After the wood is sawn and possibly dried it is loaded on barges at a port and sent to mid river where it can be loaded onto an ocean going vessel for shipment to international markets.  Very little value added products are made in the Amazon, it is a supplier of raw lumber to developed countries.

Food & Daily Living

These make for a good meal, a capybara

These make for a good meal, a capybara

A deer shot by one of the men.  Sugar and salt are about the only food items they purchase

A deer shot by one of the men. Sugar and salt are about the only food items they purchase

Typical housing for loggers. An area of about 50 feet in diameter is cleared around the house to protect it from falling trees, and animals and snakes

Typical housing for loggers. An area of about 50 feet in diameter is cleared around the house to protect it from falling trees, and animals and snakes

A homemade table saw of purple heart and bloodwood.  See the rollers?  Handmade from Bloodwood.

A homemade table saw of purple heart and bloodwood. See the rollers? Handmade from Bloodwood.

A hergon, the most feared thing in the jungle. Very poisonous and they kill many people every year.  Not a good way to go.

A hergon, the most feared thing in the jungle. Very poisonous and they kill many people every year. Not a good way to go.


Making a Case for Responsible Lumber Harvesting

One of the few places rice will grow, the fertile riverbank during low water season

One of the few places rice will grow, the fertile riverbank during low water season

The people of the Amazon Forest survive on the equivalent of $19 per month, and few of them even know how to read and write.  In the mind of these local subsistence farmers, the big hardwood trees on their own property have little value for lumber or other products that could be sustainably extracted from trees – such efforts require mountains of paperwork and costly cutting licenses (which is approximately $1000 for every 100 acres).  The people of this region have one primary concern: how to feed, clothe, and shelter their families for $19 a month.

Slash and burn for agriculture that will not help the people or the forest.

Slash and burn for agriculture that will not help the people or the forest.

Right or wrong,  they slash and burn like they have done for centuries to make space for crop and grazing lands.  Now the problem escalates.  Cleared rain forest land has no long-term value as crop land. The soils are very poor in nutrients and high in pH due to the heavy rainfall and clay soils making plants not common to the rain forest such as corn and beans virtually impossible to grow.  Because it’s all they have, locals must clear new forest areas every couple of years in order to keep growing food.  Deforestation continues on.

It stands to reason that the people who live in the Amazon must learn to utilize the forest as a source of products to sell, not just chop it down, in order to exist.  The most logical thing is well managed productive forests.

If these people had a market for just a couple of trees per month they could live a middle class lifestyle “for the Amazon” and not destroy the forest.  Remember that the current average monthly cash income of a subsistence farmer family is $19.  It seems unfair when the people are living in one of the most naturally abundant areas of the world.

Caring for the Forest

Copia de No rootsThis is typical of a tree that is mature and about to die.  When trees reach maturity and reach the top of the canopy they normally just fall over and rot.  They have virtually no root system and the slightest breeze will blow them over creating light for the hundreds of seedlings below it to try and gain the spot.  One of seedlings will fight and fill this opening.

The future of the tropical forests depends on proper use and proper management of the forest.  The world is in the midst of a population explosion and it is very difficult to train people not to eat.  They need productive jobs, not service or office jobs or free sacks of rice.   They need to feed their families in a way that is not destructive and that they can be proud of.

Making billets out of logs on site in the jungle causes less damage to the forest than dragging out whole logs.

Making billets out of logs on site in the jungle causes less damage to the forest than dragging out whole logs.

The Amazon has a major renewable resource which is wood which if managed properly will feed the people and create a society that is not dependent on international welfare and without harm to the tropical forest.

The forest, as with any other resource, has no value unless it is used and managed.  According to the web site of “Friends of the Earth” Brazil produces some 6 billion board feet of lumber in total legally and illegally.  This is virtually the same as a typical years’ production for Oregon.  The Brazilian Amazon is 1.5 million square miles whereas the entire state of Oregon is  98,000 square miles.  The Peruvian Amazon, which also is much bigger than Oregon, produces less than 1% of the annual sustainable production of Oregon.

There is really not much lumber coming out of the vast Amazon.

The world should know that if they would buy tropical lumber products they would be helping save the tropical forests from clear cutting and destruction. Buy tropical lumber and save the tropical forest.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 30th, 2009 at 11:58 am and is filed under Tips and Tricks, Wood Conversations. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

  • Jim King

    Alvaro;

    To add to your point here is the linkk to the NON PROFIT ORGANIZATIONS regeistered in Peru.

    http://www.proviasdes.gob.pe/lip/archivo/Ong_Inscritos.pdf

    I think there are 66 legal and another 400 almost legal and registered with the government as any country including the US requires..

    Here is a list of several Million web pages from fake NGOs collecting money for them selves. I think we have about 5 million just here in Peru stealing money from well meaning people. There are a lot more.

    The Amazon
    $$$ Home of the Eco Con Industry $$$
    The Amazon jungle is not a place where the majority of its inhabitants live well but thousands of people in the “Ecology Industry” do very well from their self promotion by fraud and theft talking about the misery of the lifestyle of the Amazonian people and keeping them in poverty.
    One only needs to go to Google and do a search on

    FORESTRY
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 395,000 de Ngo peru forest. (0.27 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 944,000 de Ngo brazil forest. (0.27 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 270,000 de Ngo ecuador forest. (0.24 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 709,000 de Ngo guyana forest. (0.38 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 402,000 de Ngo surinam forest. (0.42 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aprox 225,000 de Ngo venezuela forest. (0.28 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 1,300,000 de ngo bolivia forest. (0.60 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 347,000 de ngo colombia forest. (0.26 segundos)

    HELP THE INDIGINOUS
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 1,720,000 de ngo colombia indigenous. (0.38 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 1,350,000 de ngo bolivia indigenous. (0.37 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 1,140,000 de ngo venezuela indigenous. (0.46 segundos)

    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 445,000 de ngo surinam indigenous. (0.41 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 593,000 de ngo guyana indigenous. (0.45 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 1,390,000 de ngo ecuador indigenous. (0.40 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 3,150,000 de ngo brazil indigenous. (0.39 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 1,770,000 de ngo peru indigenous. (0.43 segundos)

    ANIMALS
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 169,000 de ngo peru help animals. (0.35 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 49,300 de ngo brazil help animals. (0.35 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 12,300 de ngo ecuador help animals. (0.27 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 8,760 de ngo guyana help animals. (0.42 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 6,190 de ngo surinam help animals. (0.44 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 11,900 de ngo venezuela help animals. (0.32 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 12,100 de ngo bolivia help animals. (0.50 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 29,800 de ngo colombia help animals. (0.27 segundos)

    GOD
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 245,000 de ngo missionary peru. (0.35 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 903,000 de ngo missionary brazil. (0.40 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 2,240,000 de ngo missionary ecuador. (0.44 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 978,000 de ngo missionary guyana. (0.40 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 596,000 de ngo missionary suriname. (0.53 segundos
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 676,000 de ngo missionary colombia. (0.29 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 2,380,000 de ngo missionary venezuela. (0.44 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 2,120,000 de ngo missionary bolivia. (0.41 segundos)

    ECO TOURISM
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 36,700 de ngo eco tourism bolivia. (0.44 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 31,900 de ngo eco tourism venezuela. (0.44 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 39,300 de ngo eco tourism colombia. (0.41 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 9,400 de ngo eco tourism suriname. (0.39 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 14,500 de ngo eco tourism guyana. (0.44 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 41,300 de ngo eco tourism ecuador. (0.40 segundos)

    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 50,800 de ngo eco tourism brazil. (0.32 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 43,900 de ngo eco tourism peru. (0.44 segundos)

    MEDICINE
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 436,000 de ngo medicine peru. (0.49 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 767,000 de ngo medicine brazil. (0.33 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 641,000 de ngo medicine ecuador. (0.28 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 1,790,000 de ngo medicine guyana. (0.39 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 1,200,000 de ngo medicine suriname. (0.37 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 604,000 de ngo medicine bolivia. (0.24 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 899,000 de ngo medicine colombia. (0.32
    segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 645,000 de ngo medicine venezuela. (0.39 segundos)

    WATER
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 675,000 de ngo water peru. (0.59 segundos
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 1,840,000 de ngo water brazil. (0.07 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 663,000 de ngo water ecuador. (0.35 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 237,000 de ngo water guyana. (0.33 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 133,000 de ngo water suriname. (0.32 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 644,000 de ngo water bolivia. (0.62 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 894,000 de ngo water colombia. (0.30 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 616,000 de ngo water venezuela. (0.25 segundos)

    CHILDREN
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 612,000 de ngo children venezuela. (0.38 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 1,450,000 de ngo children peru. (0.36 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 1,970,000 de ngo brazil children. (0.28 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 614,000 de ngo bolivia children. (0.33 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 965,000 de ngo colombia children. (0.32 segúndos
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 942,000 de ngo surinam children. (0.42 segundos
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 228,000 de ngo guyana children. (0.35 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 640,000 de ngo ecuador children. (0.44 segundos)

    BANANAS
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 463,000 de ngo ecuador bananas. (0.64 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 604,000 de ngo colombia bananas. (0.42 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 518,000 de ngo venezuela bananas. (0.46 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 43,000 de ngo surinam bananas. (0.39 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 111,000 de ngo guyana bananas. (0.32 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 633,000 de ngo brazil bananas. (0.42 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 370,000 de ngo bolivia bananas. (0.40 segundos)
    Resultados 1 – 10 de aproximadamente 662,000 de ngo peru bananas. (0.49 segundos)

    AND THE LISTS GO ON

  • Jim King

    Alvaro:

    If you ever get to Iquitos please look me up. I am easy to find.

    What you have said about the NGOs and all those groups makes a person sick to think of it, the NGO industry makes the Ponzi scams look like beginners.

  • Alvaro

    Most of what I read from Jim is totally true and the Peruvian Amazon area is still ” reasonably” in good shape, as opposed to neighboring Brazi´s, which has been clear cut in far too many (huge) areas to plant soy, raise cattle among other non-forest developements.

    FSC certification in Peru is way out of it`s original purpose, too easy to accomplish and corresponding authorities ( Local & Int`l ) do not really care if carried out correctly. Even INRENA`s ( Peruvian Institute for Natural Resources ) necessary documents are easily bought ( yes, BOUGHT ) to legitimate whatever lumber need be officialy legal.

    NGOs do not really provide assistance in spite of the large amount of US $$ they receive. Most of that mainly goes to have nice offices in Lima ( far away fron the forests ) and of course, to have high salaries and expendables to lunch & dine in Lima`s finest restaurants. It is really a pity and funding parties should make extensive investigations.

    If only 50 % of those grants would have been destined to empower natives with complete MILLS, and further educate them in preparing KD lumber, then dimmension, problably mouldings, and so forth, like providing small shops ( artisans type ) and teaching and preparing them to manufacture whatever type of added-value articles, plus connecting the whole with socially responsible/fair trade buyers, we could be possibly getting near Jim`s goal to start demolishing poverty from the rainforests, and as a consequence the pressure on the rainforest would be diminished by requiring less forest products to obtain better income. If we add NON-FOREST products, of which there are plenty in the forest, the picture can get even better, FOR EVERYONE, with the possible excemption of the big lumber dealers, like some mentioned in previous comments, of which I have heard paying Peruvian Soles 25.00 ( some USD 9.00 ) for A WHOLE GENUINE MAHOGANY tree to natives….just make some numbers like the price you pay for a Mahogany BF…. and anyone can see what this means…. plus the fact… these big companies HAVE NOT, DO NOT and WILL NOT plant a single tree….

    This really calls for much more and knowledgeable people like Jim are of great help to try to find the way.

    Regards frtom Peru

    Alvaro Carpio

  • Steve Q.

    I read all these posts with interest. Having worked for over 30 years in forest management and with 5 of those years in the pine forests of Central America, I think I know a few things about growing trees, I think I know a few things about managing forests in developing countries and I know that I don’t know what I will know 30 years from now. One thing that Jim King knows that our mis-named “conservation biologists” and “environmentalists” don’t know is that the carrot works and the stick doesn’t. Providing the indigenous people of any country with incentives to protect and manage the resource will accomplish the goal. I remember years ago, in Central America, encountering an entire stand of Ocote pine that had been girdled with an axe and left standing. Under this forest of sticks was a well tended field of beans, corn and peppers. When I asked the gentleman who was tending the field, “Who girdled these trees?”, he responded, “Gee, I really don’t know. Terrible thing to kill trees, isn’t it? But then they have no value to a farmer like me because the government owns the trees on my land.” No incentive + no interest = no forest. Governments like Brazil’s need to look at the bigger picture and encourage multiple use management with assistance to the local folks to learn about agroforestry and pure forest management. Just because they have no formal education doesn’t mean they’re dumb.

    • Jim King

      VERY well said

      • Chris

        All very interesting points. Although, “Conservation Biologist” seemed to have a good point, that money is the overall deal maker when it comes to forest managment and the richest countries want the exotic timber. Who are we kidding, buy low sell high is the american dream. We can sure get the timber low from these under developed countries and sell high in the U.S. A few people who have connections in these countries and importing to the U.S and China are probaly filthy rich.

  • crtreedude Costa Rican tree farmer

    First of all Jim is right, a tropical forest is young. Eighty years is pretty much the limit, except for some very rare trees (like Ceiba). One reason in our neck of the jungle is that after 30 years, they either pull out of the ground, or rot from inside. Epiphytes will haul a tree down as well.

    For me, old growth is not a good term. I prefer mixed aged forest. Diverse is another good term. Honestly, removing a valuable tree from a forest is not a problem, if you replant one too, just to help replenish them.

  • Jim King

    Samuel:

    The FSC certification program in Peru has gone astray. These are the same guys that came up with the absurd forestry law to promote the certification business. I dont know if they have ever been here or not , but from the news about them it is questionable. Here in Iquitos we are the second largest lumber producing area in Peru and no one has seen anything of them.

    I don´t know the exact relationship between the World Wildlife Fund and FSC but they appear to be very closlely conected.

    I don´t know if the NGO business has any interest in the forest or not. I see the advertising about all the wonderful things they have done in Peru but I live here and see what happens and it is not true.

    The really strange part is that the US government only speaking of here in Peru gives these groups millions and millions of your taxpayer money with obviously no oversight. I cannot figure that one out either.

    Here is a link to one of the certification scandels in Peru. If you read it all it becomes very clear that they do not have a presence in Peru but suppsedly work thru others.
    It is all about money and not the forests.

    http://www.fsc-watch.org/archives/2007/07/20/Certification_of_Forestal_Venao__Peru__another_FSC_credibility_disaster__courtesy_of_SmartWood_and_WWF

    This is a good one also. The WWF arguing with the FSC. Nobody did it. All parties are innocent.

    http://www.fsc-watch.org/archives/2007/07/26/WWF_responds_to_Peru_scandal

  • Samuel

    Jim:

    From the Certification world, ENGO’s have grabbed onto this term, and have twisted its meaning to create a very strong backing for themselves. Case in point, Green Peace attacking Kimberley Clark for purchasing “old Growth Forest” from the Canadian Boreal. Our Aspen/polar stands, under the definition of “Old Growth” that are a result of forest fires 100 years ago, are very far from that. The Old Growth term I believed was derived from the coastal setting of Western BC and scattered throughout the western coast of the US, where there are legitimately old growth stands in excess of 200 years of age.

    Our aspen here in the Northern Alberta is about as old growth as your tropical rain forest, but as I alluded to, the ENGOs have blurred this definition so, that its very difficult for the general public (consumers) to understand.

    From my reading and discussions, I thought the biggest concerns in the rain forest that ENGOs and FSC had was deforestation and land conversion to non-forest uses?

    Hopefully some of this made sense for you.

  • Ron Wenrich

    Virgin timber usually means it was never cut and harvested before. I think a lot of lay people interchange the idea between virgin and old growth timber.

    Old growth contains a variety of species, as well as snags and downed trees. Tree age is often in the upper range of longevity.

    I would look at it more from a stocking standpoint. We use basal area to determine forest distribution. If you have 60-70% (my guess) of the stocking in the older trees, then I would classify it as old growth. Using that as a gauge, then you can manage for old growth while allowing other trees to grow into the age category.

    But, old growth forests would tend to grow into climax forests. They’re the ones at the end of the succession chain.

  • Jim King

    To make it clear the last few posts are because I solicited reinforcements form some professional foresters and others. I was not happy with my answer to “Conservation Biologist” as I did not have a clear answer to what is an “Old Growth Forest” and my own answer made me dizzy. I hope that these replies from some professionals will help.

    Thanks guys

  • Fuzzy bear Yukon , Canada

    Jim,
    I follow your story very closly and am very interested in your struggle. You educate people all the time. I live in the total opposite environment that you and am fasinated by it. Please never give up your fight, it is a good fight.
    Living here in the north we consider any thing over 80 yo “old growth”. This is a term that is used tongue in cheek. The forest have a very short growing season (4-5 months max) some of our oldest trees are only 6″ at the butt and 12 to 16 foot tall. They are around 130 yo. The biggest trees here along the rivers where there is good sun and water, grow to maturity faster. They reach 100′ tall but die at around 80 years old.
    Part of the major problem here is that during the gold rush of ’98 until the 1950′s we had 30+ paddle wheelers running the river. They burned up to 100 cords of wood per trip. The forests around the Yukon river were stripped clean. There are groves along the Peel river water shed that are over 300 yo. We are struggling to protect this area as it is the last piece of undisturbed “frontier” left in North America.
    We are fighting against a corrupt government as well as corporate interests for the gold and oil deposites located there. The peel river is a remote hostile wilderness that very few people have set foot in.

  • beenthere

    Jim

    I recall a friend coming back from a group tour (believe it was Belize or near there) where they were bussed out into the “Jungle”. The tour bus guide provide the explanation that they were looking at the original wilderness, untouched by humans. The local guide shortly after explained that through the years of occupation by the Mayans and Spanish, they had evidence the trees had been clearcut several times over. Guess the tour guide never did catch on to that fact.

    • Jim King

      beenthere:

      You have made an excellent point. If a survey were to be done here in the Peruvian Amazon the jungle communities and the indiginous would be responsible for over 90% of the current deforestation as was the case in Central America centuries ago. This flies in the face of the promotions put forward by the Ecology Industry . I am not saying that this is bad as the jungle quickly covers up for the continuous deforestation they create but facts are facts and they should be stated clearly.

      After the locals I would guess that the oil companies could be number 2or 3 causing deforestation but they reforest everything and leave thier work areas as they found them when they leave. But then you have the problem that the money from the oil companies funds hospitals, schools, transportation , jobs etc. for the famous indiginous plus they are paid to work but show up only to collect thier money to go to town and complain about the oil companies. True. We have the constant cry about the indiginous and how they want to stay with thier culture. That is fine if that is what they want but why do they need satilite dishes with internet , new hospitals, speed boats and on and on to remain in thier undisturbed culture ?¿.

      After the oil companies there is a strong case that Eco tourism is the next major deforestor if it was judged by thier own standards. Not to say that Eco tourism is bad but they should be honest with the world about how much land is deforested permantly for the lodges etc. . It is called development, nothing more or less.

      I dont know how far down the line is forestry in the deforestation problem but it would probably not show on a chart. Road building as little as there is would show as a factor. Expansion of housing areas is another factor , is it important yes.

      The only sure way to stop developement of the Amazon is to eliminate the people but that is not a popular theme either.

      A couple of years ago I flew across a good part of the States and when looking down all I saw was a vast checkerboard of deforestation where crops and people were planted. I was thinking that this was a great opportunity to start another phoney non profit and raise money from developing countries to clean up the US. “Joke folks” . Is the US bad ?? I dont think so. Does the world change ? Ask the dinasours.

      You have a bunch of groups promoting themselves as they say they want to preserve all species and stop natural eveloution. Do they understand that this is against all laws of nature and impossible? I believe it has been shown very clearly that the vast majority of species that have ever existed thru the milleniums are extinct. There are more coming and it is not important who thinks they can raise money from this theme. More species are created as we speak.

      Should we as an insignificant group currently occupying the earth try to change what is natural ? This is what the ecologists say they want to do but it it is against thier own self promoting phylosophy.

      In my opinion if the Ecology Industry was not as profitable as it is we would have a lot less fake crises such as deforestation by logging.

  • Tom

    Most people who use the term “Old Growth Forest” aren’t knowledgeable about trees or the forest.

    Old Growth, to most, means that the tree, or trees, is older than they are and might even be two or three generations old. They give no though to whether the trees were planted by a human, or for what reason they were grown. As a matter of fact, you now find many humans who are negative about planting trees because they say that it causes plantations and that even-growth, mono cultures are “Bad”.

    If I were to use the term “Old Growth”, I would have in mind an old, little touched ecosystem of naturally grown trees that live until they die from old age without the benefit of the hand of man or providing man any benefit. Virgin Forest is also a term used to exclude man from Nature.

    We, as users of trees, must be careful about some of our terms too, like “over mature”, when we are speaking to someone who hasn’t a clue.

    Good post, Don.

    • Texas Ranger Forester

      I truly think ” Old growth” is an environmentalist driven term, used to push politicians in one direction or the other. In your case OG is less than 100 years, in the southern US one can “create” old growth pine in less than 100 years, in the west and mountain areas the numbers expand considerably, as you mentioned the 1000 years old in California.

      An example is a National Forest here near me in Texas. It is constantly referred to as “wilderness” or “old growth”. It was all planted in the 1930′s when the CCC converted stump grounds to plantations. It has one of the largest groups of an endangered woodpecker in the state, in an old plantation. Yet it is not referred to as a plantation.

      Humans think of life spans in terms of their own, foresters think in terms of maturity, or used to, any way. There is some truth in that you cannot create old growth with all the species that used to exist. But it is amazing how many species reappear with just a little help. Cougar and bear disappeared in east Texas 50 or 60 years ago, yet they are still here. Part of the old growth biome that was supposedly lost.

      Propaganda by the Luddites.

  • Jim King

    Conservation biologist:

    I wish I could post photos on this blog, it would make it easier to explain things and I wouldn’t wear out one finger on each hand. I am not getting old , I have made it there and over half of my life has been spent in and out of tropical forests. I can only give the best information available and sometimes it is not complete as the information base about the Amazon is not very good so bear with me. With thirty five years in the jungle I have learned a lot only to realize daily there is so much that no one knows. This is not only in trees but in all types of flora and fauna. Some people estimate that only 20% of the plants and living creatures here have been identified. It could be true or it may not be, in a thousand more years someone will probably know. This is one huge swamp and most of it has not been studied in the least.

    As to “old growth” no one is sure what it means in the tropics. The tropical forest does not stand still, it is constantly growing and dying. If you ever walked thru the tropical forest it is a nightmare of crawling over 2 to 5 foot diameter fallen, rotting, slippery and smelly moldy dead trees. I have never seen a good description of what constitutes an old growth tropical forest. My description of an old growth tropical forest would be a mature forest that looks like man has never set foot there and loses 2 to 3 % of its volume yearly due to age. The problem with that description is that a forest which was selectively logged last year looks like that. You cannot find the stumps or signs of logging if done properly. I was charged with illegal logging a couple of times. The people making the on site inspection to verify that I logged the trees I planned for could not find the stumps a month later. I had to call in my people and with the GPS coordinates of the stumps and plus their memory they were able to locate most.

    The current train of thought is that there are very few trees in the Amazon that make it much over fifty years. With that one could say that within 50 years you can create an old growth forest here. That means that I am older than most of the trees. That´s not good. From the experience I have had working with older people in the villages I am a believer in that 50 years is a good point not exaggerating in either direction. This is not a Redwood forest where trees live centuries. The trees here do not have annual growth rings as we have a permanent growing season so aging them is not as simple as an Oak tree in a temperate climate.

    I have no idea why trees here for the most part grow extremely hard and dense. I have never heard a reasonable theory as to why fast growing forests as the tropics grow dense trees and slow growing temperate climate trees are much softer. To me it should be the opposite. Not all trees are as dense as Bloodwood or Ipe but probably 60% are.
    As for the costs of tropical wood I can say from experience that the paperwork trail is much more expensive than the production costs. On top of that as there is no real logging industry as you know it The costs of legal extraction are elevated due to the distances involved etc.. In addition tropical woods come from places that do not have available good economical shipping. Here in the Peruvian Amazon we have a ship every six weeks more or less that services the Caribbean ports. That is it unless the wood goes to China and then it goes up river a couple of weeks to Pucalpa on a barge and off loaded a piece at a time. That is where the first road is located and from there with no port facilities it is repackaged and shipped over the mountains to Callao a major port on the Pacific. The wood is then loaded again in containers and off to China. That is not a low cost trip.

    Hope I came close to answering you questions.

  • Jim King

    Here are the totals of each sector of tropical forest production of Peru and the volumes of each in cubic meters. 2008 was the highest lumber production known for Peru. A cubic meter contains 424 board feet. This information is from the National Department of Forestry and the Central Bank. Peru is the second largest holder of Amazon land and these figures would coincide very closley with the other countries that have the Amazon in their borders.

    It clearly shows that if there was a lumber industry in the Amazon producing income for the people there would be no need for deforestation to produce firewood and charcoal which is 88% of the trees cut. The firewood and charcoal is mainly from clear cut slash and burn subsistance farming land. The danger to the Amazon has absolutly nothing to do with timber production. The danger is from an exploding population with no way to earn a living.

    If the Amazon had a lumber industry there would be little or no deforestation.

    Now I would like to go cut down a tree so would you all please go out and buy some tropical wood and be a part of saving the rain forest.

    WOOD PRODUCTS PRODUCTION FOR PERU 2008
    Wood products production for Peru 2008

  • Jack Timber

    Great article. But is it a hoax? What are the chances of it being representative of tropical logging in general? In other words, Are Flintstone and Rubble alive and well and logging in the Amazon? And more to the point, Couldn’t Fred have come up with something more sophisticated than that windlass? I used to think that all lumbermen were brothers but these guys are more like neolithic ancestors. You say that logs can be winched “a mile plus over a couple of days”. Hey, they can be winched from Tierra del Fuego to Barrow, Alaska over a couple of millennia but what’s the sense?

    Jim, have you never heard the famous quote of Bismarck, “Laws are like sausages. You should never see them made.” Substitute tropical lumber for laws.

    • http://www.woodworkerssource.com Mark Stephens

      The point of showing that winch, I think, is to help answer the question, “How do they get logs out of the forest?” And it also illuminates the process of making lumber from logs is hard, long work.

  • R.T.Somaiya

    Great article.Well written and very well illustrated.
    Many thanks for this information.

  • Jim King

    Before we beat this subject to death I would like to add one more thing just as general information. Peru holds the second largest piece of the Amazon after Brazil. The timber production of the Peruvian Amazon on a yearly basis per acre is a piece of wood big enough to turn a nice ash tray.

    Most people trim more than that from the shrubs under the living room window every spring.

  • Dennis 59, former rain forest conservation radical

    RE RAINFORESTS SUCH AS AREA AROUND GORDON&FRANKLIN RIVERS SOUTH OF TASMANIA AUSTRALIA Having fought long and hard for years and seeing just a simple change of government SAVE IT I realized there that because the families dependent on the logging were not truly Indigenous, they were really interested in the paper industry its profits and the income provided. The forests have long since been cleared of Huon Pine. I agree that the real indigenous are the only people of living the life that will provide for all. The Inigenous tribe is long extinct

  • Conservation Biologist

    It is truly sick that the american greed has taken over in the world. Luckily CITES has at least stopped the trade of Brazilian rosewood. The overall bio-diversity of ogranisms is lessening with each piece of land being logged. I realize that the logging practices are becoming more enviornmentally aware, although as long as we are willing to pay upwards of 50 dollars a board foot for instrument grade rosewood, the illiegal logging practices will continue. Once the amazon rainforest is gone, it will be gone forever.

    • Anonymous

      Don´t be so hard on those Americans , they are not that bad or greedy. The Chinese now have the lead role in international greed. It is not a case of American greed in this case it is a simple case of ignorance of the subject matter by the public.

      Lets talk about Rosewood, several species of “Dalbergia” grow thru out the Amazon. It is not as common as some species but it is not by any means rare or endangered. It is a species of little or no interest to people here as it is not of good size and there are MAYBE ten people living in world that could walk into the jungle and find it. It is simply not worth the time and it being a small diameter nasty little tree would never attract the eye of a true lumber man .

      Rosewoods in the Amazon are destroyed in the slash and burn process due to necessity and not at all by harvesting for commercial sale. How many cubic meters of Amazon Rosewood are traded internationally ?? I would venture a guess that the total yearly production would not be equal to that of a dozen oak trees in an area the size of the continental US. I personally do not consider this a deforestation threat.

      A person would logically ask how many Rosewood trees are there in the Amazon ?? The simple answer is that no one has a clue. As there has never been a viable logging or timber industry in the Amazon there has never been forestry inventories or studies made. Not to mention who in this world could possibly make an forestry inventory in the Amazon. In all my years here I have never met a person from anywhere in the world who could walk into a parcel and ID the trees as would need to be done for a proper inventory. I have been researching and doing this for a long time and can tell you without question that experts are much rarer than a Rosewood tree.
      The false perceptions of Amazonian forestry are starting to change and people are starting to open their eyes. Yesterday I was in a meeting with people in charge of national forestry in Peru and about 40 ex or current subsistence lumbermen. The topic of the meeting was the absurd forestry law that we have which was created by a group of ecologists who knew nothing about tropical work but created this little forestry law jewel from their nice offices in the US and Europe. “In my opinion this is an example of the not too good American as you first mentioned.”
      Well over 50% of the meeting was about the cocaine industry taking over the entire area as the people were no longer able to harvest a few trees a year to buy some basics. Another part of the meeting was about the fact that the forestry law pushed thru by the international Eco Industry was a copy of a cold climate law and is extremely destructive to the tropical forest .
      There is a lot of work and education to be done but the fanatical screaming and hollering about the forest disappearing next year is waning and sensible sustainable things are once again coming into vogue. It is now becoming understood that the way to have forests is by using the renewable resource and keeping it viable so people don’t have to clear cut to make housing developments and farms.
      At least now the momentum is toward creating a viable and healthy forestry industry here in Peru and that is what will save the forests of the world. Maybe we have turned the corner and the Ecology Industry will no longer force people into poverty, cocaine production and the children into prostitution to benefit their own self promotion.
      I hope.

      • Jim King

        Sorry , I did not mean for the answer above to be anonymous

      • Conservation Biologist

        I completely agree with using the resources ina a sustauanble way. Although, most of the “greedy americans” want old growth tight grain lumber. This prized lumber obviously comes from old growth stands that are hundreds of years old. How can that be sustainable? In our lifetimes these old growths can never be sustainable. All I can say is that when an entire container of exotic lumber can be purchased from these tropical areas for a few dollars a board foot and imported to America and china and turned around and sold for 15-30 dollars a board foot, greed has taken over.

        • Jim King

          I will answer below as the blog here is getting very narrow.

  • Jim King

    Tim:

    I appreciate it when people ask questions like you have. It helps me a lot to see what people understand and think. Being in the Amazon forest for about 25 years in three countries and the tropical forest of Nigeria for 8 years I see the problem from this side and am not from the perspective that people like yourself have developed.

    1: Who is actually doing the logging, the local tribes people or imports? I see in the article it appears to be the indigenous people, is this the majority.

    The logging here is done by the native rural people. I have seen a few foreigners come and go with no results what so ever , they all loose their money and go home. This is another world and another culture and it is very difficult to drop in here and get a company up and running. You will see on a lot of websites where people represent that they own sawmills , plywood factories and what ever in the Amazon and only do ecologically sustainable logging. 99% of this is pure lies. I have seen in Brazil foreigners somehow involved in small flooring factories but not in mills. It certainly is possible that someone owns a sawmill here but I have never seen one.

    2: At $19/month is this before or after they logged? If before how much can they make when they switch to logging as a source of income? If it is after it appears someone is ripping them off?

    $19 a month is a typical rural family not doing logging or that matter doing anything but subsistence farming. A family when logging will typically earn over $5000 a year. When I was producing I had several families that earned considerably more. The difference here is that I was producing high end value added wood fully processed and each piece packaged in shrink wrap. I could afford to pay a decent price for the wood. Generally speaking lumber produced here is rough sawn and possibly dried. This does not allow for a profit and everyone from the logger to the exporter suffer.
    I bought 100 acre parcels for $2000 each from people who had received them free. Then I would obtain all the documents and permits . That process took several months and over a thousand dollars. When finally I had enough paper in hand to work legally I hired the people I bought the land from and paid them $0.50 US a board foot for the species I needed from the land delivered to my processing operation. A family with granny and the wife cooking and the rest working can easily cut 400 board feet of cants a day with a chainsaw and carry them out. I advanced the money for a small chainsaw, gas, oil parts etc. plus the freight costs for the wood to come to town and discounted the advance when wood was delivered. This worked out very well and everyone was happy. Now you can compare what I was able to pay for the raw material vs the typical export price for kiln drtied 4/4 Virola the most exported wood which sells from $ 0.40 USD to $ 0.80 USD per bf put on the ship.

    3. Who owns the land which is logged?

    There are three types of logging land here. Thousands of people have been given land with clear title by the last few governments. These parcels are generally 40 hect. or about 100 acres. The people then own the land but the government still owns the trees and the landowner needs a long series of approvals and paperwork to be able to start logging. This list of hurdles is costly and undoable by the rural people with no income. As a result they must continue the slash and burn existence farming in order to live.
    The second type is that most of the hundreds of villages have been given free title in the name of their community. The community can apply for a logging permit. These titles are from 1000 acres to 500,000 acres . Many times the government will do the paperwork and help with obtaining logging permission. These have not worked out either . At this time the government is starting a loan program to help the communities get into legal logging. A loan to rural individuals who live in proper villages is being given by the government. The uncollateralized loans are in excess of $25,000 each and will produce nothing. This approach has been taken to promote farming of various crops and all have failed for various reasons. The elections are coming so the loans will be very popular and the recipients will all have new battery powered stereos and TV`s , a couple of new wives and a big hangover.
    The third type is the concession program of 10,000 acres and up developed by one of the biggest Intl. eco groups and paid for by the US government. Millions of $$$$. This was designed by people who knew nothing about the jungle or tropical forestry and it was and is a total failure not worth talking about.

    4: How did the locals survive in the past, before logging came along?

    The locals as you have correctly said survived but did not live like people . This is one of the major problems in these areas that breeds revolutionaries and social problems. The problem is that for the most part they continue surviving and as you may have seen we have recently had several uprisings and many dead . This is another distinct problem.

    5: How is the lumber marketed? Is there a middle man and who is he?

    You could not really say the lumber is marketed. It is bid on. Buyers will come here from Mexico, China and the States and make an offer. The language barrier is a real obstacle here for the locals who cannot speak directly to foreign buyers. If you want to call the saw mills middle men they would be it. As no single group can bring in enough logs to produce the quantity required to fill an order the mills accumulate logs and saw to make the volume required for an export order.

  • Tim

    Who is actually doing the logging, the local tribes people or imports? I see in the article it appears to be the indigenous people, is this the majority.

    At $19/month is this before or after they logged? If before how much can they make when they switch to logging as a source of income? If it is after it appears someone is ripping them off?

    Who owns the land which is logged?

    How did the locals survive in the past, before logging came along?

    How is the lumber marketed? Is there a middle man and who is he?

    Tim

  • Jim King

    With reference to the acidity and soils of the Amazon here are a couple of excerpts from a very good article.

    “””Farmers burned off the forest cover of their fields. Woods explains, then tilled in the cinders. The ash reduces the acidity of the soil, which in turn reduces the activity of the aluminum ions, fostering microbial growth. “In addition,” he says, the ash “greatly increases the nutrient-retention capacity.”””

    “””The debate over the existence of a major prehistoric society in the Beni area of Bolivia (see main text) is tied to a broader dispute over whether the Amazon Basin has ever been able to support big, complex cultures. That dispute centers largely on soil quality. Despite its rich flora, Amazonia has many thin, aluminum-rich soils that can’t hold nutrients and are toxic to crucial soil bacteria. Societies that try long-term farming, say Smithsonian archaeologist Betty J. Meggers and others, will destroy the soil completely—and their resource base along with it. But evidence has gradually accumulated that the picture of the Amazon as a “counterfeit paradise,” to use Meggers’s phrase, may be overly simple.”””

    Here is the link , the second story titeled “the good earth” on the bottom of the page is good. This type of culture apparently existed randomly thruout the Amazon as there are areas here in the north of Peru also. Who were they ?¿ It appears no one yet knows much about them.

    I was taken to one of these sites about 12 yeasrs ago. It was a 6 hour walk in from the main river. There were still visable signs of straight raised areas altho totally forested they were still visable. I wish I would have had the presence of mind to take soil samples and other things but I didn`t. I would have no idea how to get there again as the old hunter that took me there has since died.

    http://www.sas.upenn.edu/~cerickso/baures/Mann2.html

  • Jim King

    Dave:

    I forgot to mention that another problem with non native food crops such as beans , tomatoes etc. is the insects and a multitud of diseases that kill the plants quickly. The excessive rain and humidity harms non native species up to and including Gringos.

    One thing that does grow well is pineapple as well as mango and citrus such as limes, oranges and lemons which are not native but tropical . Also there are a few truley exotic fruits of the region. Sweet potatoes grow naturally here in several colors.

  • Jim King

    James:
    You are absolutely correct in that education is the key. The education needs to start in Europe and the US with the big money groups that are forcing new laws on the developing countries. The latest series of laws pushed thru by outside governmental and nongovernmental groups in the name of saving the rain forests have been disastrous. The laws have resulted in forcing the people out of forestry and into more slash and burn and the results have been disastrous.
    Education is number one. Having lived in the Amazon over 25 years I can tell you that we as a world society need to put some “honest” effort into maintaining healthy tropical forests. The problem is that from one group of experts to another there is no consensus on the facts and that is not going to happen soon. We don´t know much. Just one example, in the entire expanse of the Amazon there is ONE wood collection and wood data library and that is in Manaus, Brazil. There are no data bases to draw reliable information from in the Amazon or the world.
    There is a lot of popular information floating around that is not necessarily or even possibly proven to be true. What creates more carbon dioxide ? A tree falling over and rotting or a tree properly harvested ?¿
    As you said, Education.

    Jim King
    Iquitos, Peru

    • Jim King

      James:

      Sorry that I did not answer directly your idea about other crops. As of yet there have been no crops introduced here that have prospered other than what is natural. There have been a lot of false starts and a lot of hope but nothing positive to date.

      As to the tree planting that also has been a failure. There is simply not enough known about soil types, elevations , germination , spacing, diseases problems, sunlight requirments etc.. The only tree planting that has been sucessful has been the natural regeneration which is radid. Mono culture reforesting has not worked out. You are correct in your assumption that in a few years trees are harvestable. The best guess of most people here is that it is difficult to find many trees exceeding 50 years of age. They grow extremley fast and fall over and die.

      The term “old growth forest” may well turn out to be 50 years.

      • Dave Klish

        It seems a proper fertilizing program should make the land grow crops much longer than a couple of years. Adjusting the PH is one of the cheapest way to grow crops too. Lime is cheap even considering a need for long distance shipping an logistics problems

        • Jim King

          Dave:
          As James said, education is everything. We grew up fertilizing our lawns and gardens as long as we can remember and it is normal but to the campasinos here it is a mystery why you would do such a thing. Soil tests for fertilizer applicaion are unknown here. Soil must be sent to the capital city for testing. The soil has no magnesium which is critical to the release of the other nutrients. The soil also has toxic levels of aluminum which the affects have yet to be studied. They think a person is out of his mind to plant a fruit tree that will take 3 to 5 years to produce so you can imagine the challenge in changing them.

          The general campasino is very transient and does not understand why a person would think of doing something like fertilizing when he will be moving on soon.

          There have been found thruout the Amazon what are called “Black dirt” areas. These were man made centuries ago by an unknown civilization and still are productive when found worked. It has been determined that these people using slash and burn methods went one step further and tilled the ashes into the soil and effectively limed it and sweetened the soil.

          The people inhabiting the Amazon today still have not learned to till the soil and are one of the last in this state in the world. If you took away the aluminum cooking pots and clothing they are not much different than the stone age. They are still for the most part hunter gatherers and it will take generations to change that.

          Things have to be very simple and natural here to be successful.

        • Anonymous

          I am a professional chemist and believe there is serious misunderstanding about the pH of Amazon soils. Jim King says that the soils are “of a high pH”. If this is so, that means that they are highly alkaline and lime is the worst thing that you can apply. However, if Jim is confused and equates high pH with high acidity than the lime would be correct. But low ph is high acidity and high pH is very alkaline!
          One would be safer to describe the soils as either acid or alkaline and avoid the logarithmic term pH for molar hydrogen ion concentration.
          Dale Bokowski

          • Jim King

            Dale :

            You are correct. I should have said ” High Acidity” . The average is about 4.6 pH.

            Sorry about that.

  • James P. Jueschke

    Wish local governments would be more responsible on the slash and burn that the natives do. For example have them plant one tree for every one they remove. In a few years they can harvest these trees.

    • James P. Jueschke

      The poor farmers and ranchers believe that they have no choice but to remove the trees in thousands of acres so they can grow crops but the land won’t support the farming and ranching but for a couple of years and then they remove that many more trees. They need to be educated on others means to live. Plant crops that put nutriants back in the soil. Plant fast growing trees that companies now want. Education. Education. Education.

  • stanjay100

    Excellent article. Illuminating!!!

  • Ingjr

    Very good article. Thanks.

  • Charity K

    I loved the article. I purchased about 4 different types of the exotic hardwoods that you were selling at the store from Peru and have loved working with them. I made a simple table for a fountain and can’t believe the compliments about the wood. No one noticed the fountain…but the wood was another story! I hope that you bring in more of these woods.

  • James G.

    I’m not surprised at all. I’ve been trying to get the word out about this for a long time. It is a matter of careful harvesting, training and supporting the locals etc. Think plastic is better than wood, think again. Plastic is a petroleum product produced by very harmful and unsustainable means. Plant a tree right where you are to protect trees. A tree in Wisconsin is just as valuable as one in the Amazon.

  • WL

    I too am very surprised by this article. I was aware of the slash and burn but totally ignorant of the fact that the Amazon was not being exploited for lumber. I believe the author has provided an excellent blueprint for everyone to follow which would indeed protect the forests for all of humanity.

  • Tom Kosin

    I am blown away by this article. It is interesting and alarming. This is not what I expected to find about life in the Amazon. Thank you for this fascinating report.

    • Lou

      And did you notice this: “such efforts [to harvest the lumber] require mountains of paperwork and costly cutting licenses (which is approximately $1000 for every 100 acres).” In other words, government graft and corruption is the reason that the people are practically starving and unable to utilize the resources available to them. Same old story, government is the enemy.