December 11th, 2008
07:55 AM ET

The battle comes down to food on the table

Program Note: CNN’s award-winning Planet in Peril returns this year to examine the conflict between growing populations and natural resources. Anderson Cooper, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and Lisa Ling travel to the front lines of this worldwide battle.
Watch Planet In Peril: Battle Lines Thursday 9p ET

We devote several days on the blog to smart insight and commentary related to the special.

Mat Lebreton
Ecology Director, Global Viral Forecasting Initiative

Sometimes I have to remind myself where I am working, the heart of Africa, at the source of the Congo River... It's easy to forget that this is a place that many people in the west only imagine visiting and some have never even heard about.

Surrounded by incredible forest and amazing though reclusive wildlife, it would be easy to think of this as a wilderness area, but in fact most places, even far into the forest, have long dynamic histories of habitation and ownership. You can find trees that were planted around an ancient village, tracks to good fishing holes passed from mother to daughter, a fire place in a cave used to shelter from some sudden rain, some broken pots or grinding stones the remnants of an old home... You can also see where people have just collected forest foods like bush mangoes, in the mountains where they have collected bush medicines like the bark from Prunus trees and where someone has placed a trap ready to capture an unwary animal. It's a people's forest.

Balancing the needs of people and nature is a challenge faced in almost every country but in rural central Africa the lives of people are interwoven with the forest, often daily. Many people depend on wildlife or other things from the forest for food, to build houses or for medicine.

But harvesting too much could cause an animal or plant to decline or even disappear and handling animals carelessly could lead to a new disease. The dramatic changes in our populations in the past 100 years have meant that the state has had to regulate and police which animals are hunted, where they are hunted and how many are hunted.

There is also a need to make sure that people are aware of the role they can play in preventing the next potential disease. Through our collaborations, travels and day-to-day adventures, that's what we're trying to do.

Not having a paid job makes life difficult. If you don't have some savings or a trust account you have to constantly think about how you are going to put food on the table, how to buy medicine when you are sick and when you hear that the in-laws are coming for the weekend how you are going to feed them!

In villages in rural Cameroon many people keep a couple of goats or pigs for a bit of cash in an emergency. Unfortunately though, there are never many animals in each village and they wouldn’t last long if you ate them every day! Because of this, hunting of wild animals remains a very important supplement, either to feed the family or to sell to have a little cash to buy supplies like rice or oil. When you grow up eating it, wild animal meat is tasty and even a favorite for many people. Normally this shouldn’t be a problem and in many villages it isn’t, some hunted animals are even considered pests. Unfortunately, in other villages the number of people relying on wild animals is too great and some people continue to hunt protected species.

If we want to make sure that populations of our favorite animals are conserved and that hunting doesn’t lead to more disease outbreaks, everyone needs to play a role, we all have to make an investment. This investment isn’t just a campaign to stop hunting, but it should address some of the fundamental issues that many people face every day in areas where these animals occur.

Improvements to the kinds of jobs available to hunters, better roads to help transport food from other towns and cities, electricity for fridges to keep fish, meat and vegetables, more support from veterinary doctors to help people improve their pig and goat production and at the same time more policing of the laws to protect animals. These are not easy tasks, but they are going to be easier than stopping people from hunting animals!

Organizations like the Wildlife Conservation Society have worked to assist populations to move away from reliance on bushmeat by improving services like freezers for fish and meat, and organizations like the Food and Agriculture Organization provide financial and technical support to governments to help them address food production problems.

These organizations need more support from us as individuals and also from our countries. While we are going through a financial crisis we might have forgotten that we were talking about a global food crisis just a few months ago. We need to continue to invest wisely in practical solutions to food supplies, improving food production and efficiency and making sure that the improvements benefit of the people living in areas with the wonderful animals we want to protect.

soundoff (16 Responses)

    Global warming, lack of food, polution of land and waters are all being caused by over population and the need for "some" to use way too much of the limited resuorces of the earth at the expense of the others.

    It is time that we decided who gets to continue populating the earth and who must be taken out of the gene pool. Humanity can not advance and become more evolved if we allow people of the lower intelligence levels to out breed the smart ones.

    Far as eating animals, who will we eat when we run out of those, may be we will be hunting each other down for a meal.We have already fished the seas dry. We must make smart and logical choices NOW.

    Paying females for not having kids willbe a good start.

    December 11, 2008 at 1:14 pm |
  2. Frank Star

    How about the United Nations giving $1000.00 to every potential child producing human that has their tubes tied.

    December 11, 2008 at 1:11 pm |
  3. Justin

    to jacqueline, i am a vegan, do not eat any animal products, because of health reasons and allergies. these people need to eat. we are very lucky we get to eat every day. you would have to go there and see what it is like. if you had to, to survive, between living and dying, you would eat what is necessary. also, it is ok if you do not believe, but god made the animals so we could eat them. says so in the bible. though to torture them and hunt them just for fun is not right, period. amercians expect all others to do as they do and that americans are always right. not so. there is no perfection here. we need to feed those that cannot find food to eat. i feed the homeless twice per month, it is a shame what goes on here on this soil. i also fast for 24 hours a few times a month. try to not eat for a period of time, see how you feel. we cannot judge others. the human race needs to start thinking about helping others and not about one self. i leave the judging to a higher power. he will take care of things when the time comes.

    December 11, 2008 at 1:02 pm |
  4. Jonny

    Simply put, earth has more than enough people. I know that many think each of us has a right to produce as many healthy offspring as we desire, but the planet can only support so many of any life form. Too many flies, we all die, to many turtles, we all die. Too many people, it's happening. We're the alpha predator on the planet and can now reproduce at will. If we are not smart enough to control ourselves, we will perish like lemmings.

    December 11, 2008 at 12:43 pm |
  5. justin

    I was reading the response givin by Jacquelin. Are you serious? "humans are the lowest on the animal chain." You have got it a little twisted. I love animals and would never hurt one. However, when it comes to something with a 'face on it' I have no doubt in my mind thats what they were put on this planet for, food. So call me disgusting, at least I eat well!

    December 11, 2008 at 12:24 pm |
  6. horance Mann

    Hey Jacqueline,
    So you cannot eat anything with a face on it, well good for you.
    I belong to “Veggies are People Too" and our battle cry is .Lettuce Alone!!


    December 11, 2008 at 12:21 pm |
  7. sabrina

    More than food must be given to these people. They need birth control and education. No amount of food, wild or dometiscated, will help if people continue to have more than they (or the world) can provide for. Is it better to starve to death or die from an animal that had major illness/disease?

    December 11, 2008 at 12:21 pm |
  8. Daren

    Jacqueline – It seems you think God is a coward also.

    “All the wild animals, large and small, and the birds and fish will be afraid of you…I have given them to you as food, just as I have given you grain and vegetables.” – Genesis

    December 11, 2008 at 12:16 pm |
  9. Mrs Rob

    In America we simply cannot imagine the life of these people no matter what we go through. Not only do these people need our prayers (those that pray) but they need our help. But as another writer has spoken: our future is soon to be like theirs. Now can you imagine America going without clean water or no water and food. This is possible. And as for the writer who said " let them eat fruits and vegetables " then get up and give all of them this. Inwhich I am sure they would be grateful. As long as it's clean and not rotten. It's easy to point a finger and say this or that. But live it, is way the opposite... Africa is where all humans orginated. Believe it or not, do your history correctly and you will see. But Africa is the last place humans want to give a helping hand. Humans are far more precious than animals. Even though you have some humans who prey like animals. Our future generations of all races have a right to live!!!

    December 11, 2008 at 11:58 am |
  10. Al Robinson

    For a hundred thousand years, the people of Africa lived in balance with nature. No more people lived in a place than it cold support. Malnutrition, disease and warfare saw to that. Infant mortality was 80%. Then the Europeans came, with their (relatively) advanced medicine, agriculture and weapons. Infant mortality dropped, populations skyrocketed, the environment was devastated, slavery (which already existed in Africa) became widespread as Africans sold each other to slavers. Some of them sold their own families. Better than watching them starve ? War became mechanized and chonic as the survivors fought over the scraps. The Europeans divided the continent up to suit themselves and then exploited it, taking the best of what they found, splitting the tribal areas between seperate countries. They then introduced Christianity and gave the locals something else to fight about. Ancient history, you say ?
    No, for two reasons:
    We must be very wary of people who think they have the right answer for Africa.
    If we cannot balance our population, worldwide, our future looks like their present !

    December 11, 2008 at 10:14 am |
  11. Jacqueline

    I consider hunters as cowards. Put a weapon in that animals hands and the coward would run. I would not give an animal to a starving child. Let them eat fruits, vegetables. I would eat nothing with a face on it, and I am disgusted by anyone who would. Humans are the lowest on the animal chain

    December 11, 2008 at 10:11 am |
  12. TOAD

    How about some birth control education and about 20 million condoms? Most of these places are WAY overpopulated, and the animals always get burned because of it.

    December 11, 2008 at 9:58 am |
  13. Joanne, Solvay, NY

    Great story, but no where is there a link to how we can help. Please give us the information needed to support development in this area of animal preservation and survival of the rural people of Africa.

    December 11, 2008 at 9:54 am |
  14. Dana

    We forget too often that it's about survival, food, water the essence's of life.
    We may consider ourselves civilized,educated, intelligent but too many time's ignorant of these simple but essential life facts.

    December 11, 2008 at 9:51 am |
  15. Peggy

    I am so tired of all this animal "rights" stuff. These people are hungry and this form of food has always been a part of their culture. Let them take care of themselves and their families and quit putting animals above humans.

    December 11, 2008 at 9:48 am |
  16. Corinne Laughlin

    Little attention is given to the major problem in the world which is over population. To give aid responsibly we must include birth control devices and provide education, Giving food alone is merely a bandaid and solves nothing.

    December 11, 2008 at 9:48 am |