Africa's bushmeat problem

It's a catch-22: you eat protein or you die. If you're hungry, that often means eating animals, no matter what species they are or where you get it.

In central Africa, protein is so rare that 80% of locals depend on bushmeat -- wild game, basically -- as their sole source of fat and protein. But a new report from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) estimates that central Africa "harvests" one million metric tons of bushmeat every year, and that could wipe out many rare and endangered species within decades.

Some have called for a complete ban on the bushmeat trade as a way of eliminating the illegal trade in endangered species. But CIFOR has cautioned that a blanket ban would, in fact, doom the humans who rely upon bushmeat. Instead, CIFOR recommends protecting certain species -- such as gorillas and elephants -- while leaving other species like deer and rodents open for exploitation as food sources.

Why is bushmeat so important to these areas? Many residents of central Africa live in extremely remote villages. Roads aren't paved, vehicles are rare, and gasoline to power vehicles is even rarer. Inter-village trade is done by foot or bicycle, with travel taking days in each direction. This is hardly an ideal situation for commercial farming, so people do what they have to do to eat

I recently attended a lecture by Ingrid Schulze, a volunteer with a sister city partnership between Falls Church, Virginia, and Kokolopori, Democratic Republic of Congo. The partnership recently built a health clinic in remote Kokolopori, where one of the main challenges is protein-calorie deficiency, which itself causes an array of other health problems.

Back to bushmeat. In addition to putting species in risk of extinction, Robert Nasi of CIFOR says "If current levels of hunting persist... bushmeat protein supplies will fall dramatically." So in some ways, the people of Africa -- and its animals --- are damned no matter what.

CIFOR acknowledges that this is a "complex" problem with no easy solution. They recommend re-framing the discussion within the context of the global food crisis. Hopefully the world will sit up and take notice.

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