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If a tree falls in the woods ...

Finding a way to slow the felling of forests is necessary to control global warming

"They survive drought where other crops fail,” said Laurent Sedogo, Burkina Faso’s minister for agriculture. “They provide goods from which villagers can earn money to pay for food.”

According to Tony Hill, who coordinates Tree Aid’s programs, the villagers in Burkina Faso already know that their trees are worth more alive than chopped down and sold as firewood.

When a tree gets the axe, it’s almost always because times have gotten so tough that the family needs immediate cash income to survive.

If you see them cutting those trees, that’s a sure sign that there’s a big crisis,” said Hill.

Tree Aid’s approach is to make sure that crisis never comes.

 According to Hill, many households in the regions already make roughly 20 percent of their cash income by selling products harvested from trees around their homes. But Hill believes that the villagers of Burkina Faso could make their trees even more profitable if better processing techniques are introduced and far-away markets are made easier to get to.

 “There’s an opportunity to add more value,” he said. Helping villagers make the most of their trees not only makes them more likely to consider them an asset worth saving.

 The extra income can be stored — usually through the purchase of goats or other livestock — and used to provide a cushion that can get villagers through the hard times without relying on their axes.

 Giving villagers a reason and a means to preserve what is, after all, a natural resource makes it more likely that the trees will remain standing to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

By helping the villagers of Burkina Faso with their short-term crisis, we come that much closer to solving our long-term problem.

Or as Miranda Spitteler, Tree Aid’s chief executive, puts it: “Trees are good. But they’re even better when they help people.”