Dossiers & Clipping


Especial – Carajás

Entenda por que esta região brindada com a sociobiodiversidade da Floresta Amazônica, monumentais reservas minerais e coberta de assentamentos apresenta níveis de pobreza e índices de desmatamento tão avançados

Por Maurício Hashizume

Muito minério e pouco desenvolvimento ativam manifestações
Desafios para a sustentabilidade cobram maior atuação do Estado
Anúncios

Amazônia está sufocada, diz Ban
O Estado de São Paulo – 8 horas atrás
O secretário-geral da Organização das Nações Unidas, Ban Ki-moon, enfatizou ontem, em Valência, a tendência de alterações permanentes na Amazônia ainda

Mudanças na Amazônia são aterrorizantes, diz ONU
Globo – 16 horas atrás
Declaração foi feita por secretário-geral da ONU, Ban Ki-moon, em evento na Espanha. Ki-moon defende busca de novas formas de consumo e indústrias

Solução de ‘meio-termo’ põe Amazônia em relatório do IPCC
O Globo Online – 16 horas atrás
Uma solução “de meio-termo” aceita apenas no final de uma longa negociação foi necessária para colocar no relatório final do Painel Intergovernamental sobre

Principais pontos da síntese do IPCC em Valência
AFP – 18 horas atrás
VALÊNCIA, Espanha (AFP) — Estas são as principais conclusões do quarto informe do Painel Intergovernamental sobre a Mudança Climática (IPCC) destinado aos

ONU: mudanças climáticas podem levar países à pobreza
JC OnLine – 16 horas atrás
O secretário-geral da ONU (Organização das Nações Unidas), Ban Ki-moon, afirmou neste sábado, na Espanha, que as mudanças no clima podem empurrar os países

Painel da ONU acorda guião para combate ao aquecimento global
Público.pt – 17 Nov 2007
A conferência do ONU sobre clima a decorrer em Valência acordou num guião para o combate ao aquecimento global e disse que os governos têm poucos anos para

CLIMA EXIGE ACÇÃO URGENTE
Diário de Notícias – Lisboa – 10 horas atrás
Parece ficção científica. Mas não é. O que torna tudo mais aterrador. Ban Ki–moon descreveu ontem o que viu nas suas recentes viagens ao Chile,

Cerca de 250 africanos poderão passar sede em 2020
Pernambuco.com – 14 horas atrás
O relatório do Painel Intergovernamental de Mudanças Climáticas (IPCC, em inglês) divulgado hoje (17) na Espanha prevê que de 75 a 250 milhões de africanos

Até 250 milhões de africanos sofrerão escassez de água em 2020
Folha Online – 11 horas atrás
Um relatório aprovado neste sábado em Valência pelos especialistas do IPCC (Painel Intergovernamental sobre Mudança Climática) prevê que o aquecimento

ONU relembra riscos das alterações climáticas
Acabra.net – 20 horas atrás
Reunidos no âmbito do Painel Intergovernamental sobre Mudanças Climáticas (IPCC), em Valência, delegados governamentais e cientistas de 130 países acordaram

Novo documento da ONU servirá de base a acordo mundial
Em Tempo Real – 18 horas atrás
As mudanças climáticas atualmente em curso poderão trazer impactos “abruptos e irreversíveis”, de acordo com um novo documento do Painel Intergovernamental

Painel da ONU sobre o clima: Aquecimento global é irreversível
Euronews – 16 horas atrás
Os efeitos do aquecimento global são inequívocos e irreversíveis, esta é uma das principais conclusões do Painel Intergovernamental da ONU sobre o clima,

Desmatamento na Amazônia preocupa cientistas do mundo todo
JC OnLine – 19 horas atrás
O desmatamento na Amazônia continua sendo a maior preocupação de cientistas em relação ao Brasil. Esta foi a principal conclusão da 27ª edição do IPCC

Faltam pesquisas sobre impactos da mudança climática no Brasil
Folha Online – 18 horas atrás
Relatório do clima divulgado pela ONU projeta futuro sombrio para a Terra. Em entrevista à DW-WORLD.DE, Carlos Nobre, pesquisador do Inpe e membro do IPCC,

Ban Ki-moon chama comunidade internacional à responsabilidade e
AFP – 20 horas atrás
VALENCIA, Espanha (AFP) — A seriedade das conclusões científicas sobre a mudança climática leva a comunidade internacional a assumir suas responsabilidades

‘Amazônia está sufocando’, afirma Ban Ki-moon
O Globo Online – 23 horas atrás
O secretário-geral da ONU, Ban Ki-moon, disse neste sábado que a Amazônia esta “sufocando”, ao encerrar a reunião do Painel Intergovernamental sobre

Aquecimento global “sufoca” Amazônia,diz secretário-geral da ONU
O Globo Online – 22 horas atrás
VALENÇA, Espanha (Reuters) – Os governos precisam fazer mais para combater o aquecimento global, afirma um novo relatório da Organização das Nações Unidas

‘Alguns países terão de pôr a mão no bolso’
O Estado de São Paulo – 8 horas atrás
O maior esforço científico da história da humanidade para delimitar a amplitude da destruição ambiental causada pelo homem chegou ao fim, ontem,

Relatório do IPCC elogia Protocolo de Kyoto
O Globo Online – 16 Nov 2007
O relatório político do Painel Intergovernamental sobre Mudanças Climáticas (IPCC), concluído nesta sexta-feira em Valência (Espanha), faz uma menção

Painel da ONU elogia Kyoto e alerta para mudança ‘irreversível’
O Globo Online – 16 Nov 2007
O Painel Intergovernamental sobre Mudanças Climáticas (IPCC) concluiu nesta sexta-feira seu relatório político sobre o estado do clima no planeta,

ONU pede ações concretas de governos contra mudanças climáticas
Agência Brasil – 19 horas atrás
Brasília – O secretário-geral da Organização das Nações Unidas (ONU), Ban Ki-moon, eo presidente do Painel Intergovernamental de Mudanças Climáticas (IPCC,

IPCC alerta para impactos irreversíveis das mudanças climáticas
AFP – 16 Nov 2007
VALÊNCIA, Espanha (AFP) — As conseqüências das mudanças climáticas poderão ser irreversíveis, advertiram os especialistas do IPCC, que divulgaram nesta

Especialistas da ONU chegam a acordo sobre quarto relatório
Folha Online – 16 Nov 2007
O Grupo Intergovernamental sobre Mudança Climática (IPCC, na sigla em inglês) chegou a um acordo sobre as políticas para combater o fenômeno, informam nesta

IPCC de acordo sobre impactos “irreversíveis” das alterações
Público.pt – 16 Nov 2007
As consequências das alterações climáticas arriscam-se a ser “irreversíveis”, alertam os delegados do IPCC (Painel Intergovernamental para as Alterações

Negociações climáticas da ONU avançam a passos lentos
O Globo Online – 15 Nov 2007
VALÊNCIA, Espanha (Reuters) – Os delegados que discutem causas e efeitos das mudanças climáticas globais em evento da ONU ainda parecem distantes de um

Amazônia fica fora de relatório político do IPCC
O Globo Online – 15 Nov 2007
A Amazônia ficará fora da síntese política sobre o clima, que cerca de 130 delegações estrangeiras discutem no âmbito do Painel Intergovernamental sobre

Impacto de mudança climática é irreversível
Correio da Bahia – 16 Nov 2007
VALÊNCIA, Espanha – Em uma negociação política menos acalorada e maniqueísta do que as três reuniões realizadas no primeiro semestre, cientistas do Painel

Amazônia é destaque brasileiro no relatório do IPCC
Estadão – 14 Nov 2007
De Londres – Um dos temas brasileiros mais discutidos no exterior – a Amazônia – ganhou ainda mais destaque com a divulgação de relatórios do Painel

Ban Ki-moon afirma que há meios reais para combater as mudanças
O Globo Online – 23 horas atrás
VALENÇA – O secretário-geral da Organização das Nações Unidas (ONU), Ban Ki-moon, afirmou neste sábado que há possibilidades “reais e acessíveis” para

Ban Ki-moon pede medidas dos políticos contra mudança climática
Último Segundo – 19 horas atrás
Valência (Espanha), 17 nov (EFE).- O secretário-geral da ONU, Ban Ki-moon, disse hoje que, já que os cientistas “fizeram seu trabalho”, os políticos devem

“Gurus do clima” são criticados por excessiva lentidão
Folha Online – 16 Nov 2007
Reunidos na Espanha, peritos da ONU fazem resumo de relatórios sobre o clima baseados em dados em parte ultrapassados. Síntese do IPCC será uma espécie de

Meio Ambiente
Estadão – 14 Nov 2007
BBC Brasil explica o que é o órgão da ONU e por que ele gerou tanta notícia em 2007. – Ao longo de 2007, o Painel Intergovernamental sobre Mudanças

Emergentes usam IPCC para ganhar em acordo pós-Kyoto
O Globo Online – 16 Nov 2007
Nações emergentes têm nesta sexta-feira uma última oportunidade de aumentar a pressão para que países desenvolvidos adotem políticas globais de combate ao

Reunião da ONU sobre clima se aproxima de declaração final
Reuters Brasil – 16 Nov 2007
VALÊNCIA (Reuters) – Delegados de uma conferência da ONU sobre mudança climática chegaram na sexta-feira a um acordo provisório que pode moldar as políticas

Pressões politícas se intensificam em reunião sobre clima
O Globo Online – 14 Nov 2007
Representantes de 130 países estão trabalhando duro nesta semana para ter sua visão sobre aquecimento global expressa na versão final do relatório do Painel

Relatório da ONU estimula aproveitamento da água e uso de energia
Agência Brasil – 18 horas atrás
Brasília – O relatório do Painel Intergovernamental de Mudanças Climáticas (IPCC) da Organização das Nações Unidas (ONU), divulgado hoje (17) na Espanha,

Painel da ONU prepara documento enfático sobre mudanças no clima
Reuters Brasil – 16 Nov 2007
VALÊNCIA (Reuters) – Delegados na reunião das Nações Unidas sobre mudança climática estão perto de concordar sobre um documento que pode influenciar as

Relatório político do painel da ONU sobre clima não citará Amazônia
O Estado de São Paulo – 15 Nov 2007
O impacto do aquecimento global sobre a Amazônia não constará do relatório-síntese que o Painel Intergovernamental de Mudanças Climáticas (IPCC) vai

Relatório de Valencia é um ‘avanço’ para negociações sobre
AFP – 20 horas atrás
VALENCIA, Espanha (AFP) — O relatório que o IPCC adotará oficialmente neste sábado na cidade espanhola de Valencia é um “grande avanço” para as negociações

O IPCC alerta para impactos irreversíveis
veja on-line (Assinatura) – 16 Nov 2007
A conclusão final do relatório do Painel Intergovernamental sobre Mudanças Climáticas (IPCC) da ONU alertou nesta sexta-feira para impactos “irreversíveis”

Desde ontem, o Brasil deixou de ser um dos grandes agentes
Diário do Amazonas – 10 horas atrás
agentes poluidores do mundo para se tornar vítima. Ao encerrar a reunião do Painel Intergovernamental sobre Mudanças Climáticas (IPCC), em Valência,

Projeto pós-Kyoto
Protefer – 14 Nov 2007
O sul-coreano Ban Ki-moon quer entrar para a história como o primeiro secretário-geral das Nações Unidas a conseguir pôr a questão ambiental no topo da

Mundo conhece relatório sobre clima neste sábado
Gazeta de Ribeirão – 16 Nov 2007
um novo relatório sobre o clima no mundo deve ser divulgado neste sábado, dia 17/11 pelo IPCC (Painel Intergovernamental sobre Mudanças Climáticas).

Manaus, Brasil — Relatório do Greenpeace denuncia esquema envolvendo criação de assentamentos-fantasmas do Incra para a exploração de madeira por empresas.

Liminar concedida pelo juiz federal Francisco de Assis Garcês Castro Júnior, da Subseção de Santarém, determinou a interdição de 99 projetos de assentamento criados desde 2005 pelo Instituto Nacional de Colonização e Reforma Agrária (Incra) na região oeste do Pará. As famílias já assentadas não serão obrigadas a sair de onde estão, mas ficarão impedidas de receber os créditos da Reforma Agrária e qualquer documento que ateste legalmente a posse plena dos lotes.

O pedido para interdição desses assentamentos até o julgamento da ação que pede o cancelamento das suas portarias de criação foi encaminhado à Justiça pelo Ministério Público Federal no início de agosto. Na semana passada, o Greenpeace lançou relatório denunciando esquema envolvendo criação de assentamentos do Incra para exploração de madeira, com ampla repercussão na imprensa nacional e internacional.

O juiz Castro Junior também proibiu a Secretaria de Estado de Meio Ambiente (Sectam) de emitir novos licenciamentos em projetos do Incra, como vinha fazendo, sob pena de ser multada em R$ 10 mil por dia. A interdição, segundo o juiz federal, vai perdurar até que o Incra obedeça às exigências legais que atribuem ao Instituto Brasileiro do Meio Ambiente e dos Recursos Naturais Renováveis (Ibama), e não a um órgão estadual, a competência de fazer estudos de viabilidade e de emitir licença prévia de projetos de assentamento para os quais são repassados recursos federais.

“É uma decisão importante”, afirmou André Muggiati, da Campanha Amazônia do Greenpeace. “Esperamos que o Incra não comece uma batalha judicial recorrendo da decisão e inicie uma investigação séria sobre o caso. Além disso, os madeireiros envolvidos em atividades dentro das áreas de assentamentos devem ser retirados do local para barrar a destruição da floresta”.

O relatório do Greenpeace revela que o órgão estimulou parcerias entre madeireiras e supostas associações de assentados, em um esquema que prejudica a floresta amazônica e famílias de trabalhadores rurais sem-terra. A investigação, realizada nos últimos oito meses, mostra que o Incra acelerou a criação de dezenas de assentamentos nas áreas ricas em recursos florestais para atender aos interesses das empresas madeireiras. Alguns deles são assentamentos-fantasma – que existem no papel, mas não contam com nenhum morador.

Pelo esquema, as empresas madeireiras assumem parte das obrigações na implementação dos assentamentos – como a construção de estradas e escolas, que seriam tarefas do Incra. Em troca, ficam com o direito de explorar a madeira da área. Os acordos também ajudariam o Incra a superestimar o número total de famílias supostamente assentadas em 2006. Das 136 mil famílias assentadas no ano passado, 34 mil estão na região de Santarém.

Historicamente, a exploração predatória de madeira abre as portas da devastação da floresta. A Amazônia brasileira perdeu mais de 700 mil quilômetros quadrados de sua cobertura florestal nas últimas quatro décadas. O desmatamento e as queimadas são a principal contribuição brasileira ao aquecimento global, colocando o País na incômoda posição de quarto maior emissor mundial de gases que provocam o efeito estufa.

 

Mais informações:

Assentamentos de Papel, Madeira de Lei – Parceria entre Incra e madeireiros ameaça a Amazônia

Manaus, Brasil — Fotografias georreferenciadas comprovam irregularidades e atividade madeireira predatória dentro e no entorno de assentamentos na região de Santarém, no Pará

O Ministério do Desenvolvimento Agrário informou hoje, por meio de sua assessoria, que não vai instaurar qualquer procedimento investigativo sobre as denúncias contidas no relatório do Greenpeace “Assentamentos de Papel, Madeira de Lei” , antes de receber um pedido formal de investigação. A denúncia foi apresentada no programa Fantástico, da TV Globo (19/08), e no jornal inglês The Independent (21/08), que publicou hoje nova reportagem sobre o assunto, dizendo que o governo brasileiro vai iniciar investigação.

O Greenpeace protocolou no MDA um pedido oficial de audiência com o ministro Guilherme Cassel, para entregar o relatório e discutir pessoalmente os crimes denunciados. “O ministério não pode deixar casos dessa gravidade passarem em branco. É necessário investigar minuciosamente e pedir a retirada de madeireiras e grileiros dessas áreas o mais rápido possível”, afirmou André Muggiati, da Campanha Amazônia do Greenpeace. O relatório “Assentamentos de Papel, Madeira de Lei” já foi encaminhado para o Ministério Público Federal, em Santarém.

O Sindicato de Trabalhadores e Trabalhadoras Rurais de Santarém e a Associação dos Servidores da Reforma Agrária do Oeste do Pará (formada por funcionários do Incra) publicaram notas confirmando as denúncias e também solicitando apuração.

Em vez de iniciar investigações imediatamente, o MDA publicou em seu site uma nota  refutando dados apresentados pelo Greenpeace e buscando desqualificar a denúncia. A resposta do Greenpeace às incorreções da nota do MDA segue abaixo.

Clique aqui para ver fotos georreferenciadas dos sobrevôos e das missões de campo que a equipe do Greenpeace realizou durante a investigação sobre os assentamentos-fantasma criados pelo Incra no oeste do Pará. Para visualizar as fotos e imagens de satélite da área é preciso ter instalado o aplicativo Google Earth. Se você não possui, clique aqui para fazer o download.

RESPOSTAS À NOTA PUBLICADA PELO MDA SOBRE REPORTAGEM DO FANTÁSTICO E RELATÓRIO DO GREENPEACE

Algumas incorreções na nota de resposta do MDA referente à reportagem sobre “assentamentos-fantasma”, veiculada no programa Fantástico no último domingo, com base em dados do relatório do Greenpeace “Assentamentos de Papel: Madeira de Lei”:

– O relatório do Greenpeace, o programa do Fantástico e a investigação do Ministério Público Federal denunciam um esquema de exploração predatória de madeira;

– O MDA afirma que o desmatamento mostrado pelo Fantástico no assentamento Santa Clara foi realizado pelo grileiro Donizeti Pires de Oliveira. O desmatamento de Donizeti Pires foi denunciado pelo Greenpeace em 2006, com um banner de 160 metros quadrados, exposto pela organização e destruído, no local, pelo grileiro. Esse desmatamento está localizado *FORA* do assentamento Santa Clara e *NÃO* foi exibido pelo Fantástico;

– O MDA afirma que em apenas dois assentamentos há acordos entre assentados e madeireiras. O Greenpeace reuniu documentação, referenciada no relatório “Assentamentos de Papel: Madeira de Lei”, demonstrando que esses acordos existem em pelo menos cinco assentamentos. Na reportagem do Fantástico, o presidente do Sindicato das Indústrias Madeireiras do Oeste do Pará, Luiz Carlos Tremonte, admitiu a existência desses acordos. Na CPI da biopirataria, na Câmara dos Deputados, em 2006, o próprio Tremonte afirmou que os madeireiros estariam indicando ao Incra o local onde gostariam que os assentamentos fossem criados. Diversos casos de acordos entre associações de assentados e madeireiros foram relatados à equipe de pesquisa do Greenpeace e precisam ser investigados pelo governo;

– O MDA afirma que nenhum dos assentamentos envolveu deslocamento de populações de região. O Greenpeace reuniu dezenas de “Espelhos da Unidade Familiar”, documento do próprio Incra, que demonstram que alguns dos assentados encontram-se a mais de mil quilômetros de distância do assentamento para os quais foram designados e, às vezes, até mesmo em outro estado. Ofícios encaminhados por assentados ao Incra também apontam erros de colocação em assentamentos;

– O MDA diz que não existem “assentamentos-fantasma” e menciona um Termo de Ajustamento de Conduta (TAC) entre o Ministério Público Federal e o Incra, pelo qual os assentados devem aguardar o licenciamento ambiental antes de irem para os assentamentos. O que o MDA não diz é que continua descumprindo esse Termo e o próprio Ministério Público Federal pediu, na semana passada o cancelamento da portaria de criação de 99 assentamentos na região de Santarém, por não estarem licenciados. Essas pessoas não deveriam sequer ter sido “assentadas” ou seja, serem contabilizadas em RBs (Registros de Beneficiários) do Incra. Não deveriam, também, ser contabilizadas como “assentadas”, na prestação de contas do cumprimento de metas da reforma agrária do governo.

Aguardamos a providências do Ministério no sentido de investigar as denúncias, conforme menciona a nota.

Mais informações:

Assentamentos de Papel, Madeira de Lei – Parceria entre Incra e madeireiros ameaça a Amazônia

Escândalo: Incra cria assentamentos-fantasma para madeireiras no Pará

in Greenpeace

Programa de Pós-Graduação em Antropologia Social
Museu Nacional / Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro
http://www.ppgasmuseu.etc.br

Programa de Pós-Graduação em Antropologia Social
Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina
http://www.cfh.ufsc.br/~antropos

Programa de Pós-Graduação em Antropologia
Universidade Federal Fluminense
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Museu do Índio
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Instituto Socioambiental – ISA
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Centro de Trabalho Indigenista – CTI
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Society for the Anthropology of Lowland South America – SALSA
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52º Congresso Internacional de Americanistas
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Página do Melatti
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Making Things Public
Bruno Latour & Peter Weibel
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Según Cuerpos
Grupo de Estudios de Etnología Americana
http://www.etnologiamericana.org/view/libro-online.php

Página da RAM
VI Reunião de Antropologia do Mercosul
http://www.fhuce.edu.uy/antrop/congreso/portada.html

Centre de Documentation A.G. Haudricourt
Catálogo da Biblioteca da EREA/CNRS
http://www.vjf.cnrs.fr/clt/html/Service/m2.htm

Creative Commons
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AmaZone
NuTI / PPGAS-MN
http://amazone.wikicities.com/wiki/Projeto_AmaZone

Núcleo de História Indígena e do Indigenismo
Universidade de São Paulo
http://www.usp.br/nhii

MUSA (Núcleo de Estudos “Arte, Cultura e Sociedade na América Latina e Caribe”)
Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina
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Seminário de Estudos de Antropologia e História Ameríndia
Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul
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Abaeté
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rainforest, rainforests, rain, forest, destruction, conservations, problems, solutions, pictures, indians, amazon

The Disappearing Rainforests

  • We are losing Earth’s greatest biological treasures just as we are beginning to appreciate their true value. Rainforests once covered 14% of the earth’s land surface; now they cover a mere 6% and experts estimate that the last remaining rainforests could be consumed in less than 40 years.
  • One and one-half acres of rainforest are lost every second with tragic consequences for both developing and industrial countries.
  • Rainforests are being destroyed because the value of rainforest land is perceived as only the value of its timber by short-sighted governments, multi-national logging companies, and land owners.
  • Nearly half of the world’s species of plants, animals and microorganisms will be destroyed or severely threatened over the next quarter century due to rainforest deforestation.
  • Experts estimates that we are losing 137 plant, animal and insect species every single day due to rainforest deforestation. That equates to 50,000 species a year. As the rainforest species disappear, so do many possible cures for life-threatening diseases. Currently, 121 prescription drugs sold worldwide come from plant-derived sources. While 25% of Western pharmaceuticals are derived from rainforest ingredients, less that 1% of these tropical trees and plants have been tested by scientists.
  • Most rainforests are cleared by chainsaws, bulldozers and fires for its timber value and then are followed by farming and ranching operations, even by world giants like Mitsubishi Corporation, Georgia Pacific, Texaco and Unocal.
  • There were an estimated ten million Indians living in the Amazonian Rainforest five centuries ago. Today there are less than 200,000.
  • In Brazil alone, European colonists have destroyed more than 90 indigenous tribes since the 1900’s. With them have gone centuries of accumulated knowledge of the medicinal value of rainforest species. As their homelands continue to be destroyed by deforestation, rainforest peoples are also disappearing.
  • Most medicine men and shamans remaining in the Rainforests today are 70 years old or more. Each time a rainforest medicine man dies, it is as if a library has burned down.
  • When a medicine man dies without passing his arts on to the next generation, the tribe and the world loses thousands of years of irreplaceable knowledge about medicinal plants.

The Wealth of the Rainforests

  • The Amazon Rainforest covers over a billion acres, encompassing areas in Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia and the Eastern Andean region of Ecuador and Peru. If Amazonia were a country, it would be the ninth largest in the world.
  • The Amazon Rainforest has been described as the “Lungs of our Planet” because it provides the essential environmental world service of continuously recycling carbon dioxide into oxygen. More than 20 percent of the world oxygen is produced in the Amazon Rainforest.
  • More than half of the world’s estimated 10 million species of plants, animals and insects live in the tropical rainforests. One-fifth of the world’s fresh water is in the Amazon Basin.
  • One hectare (2.47 acres) may contain over 750 types of trees and 1500 species of higher plants.
  • At least 80% of the developed world’s diet originated in the tropical rainforest. Its bountiful gifts to the world include fruits like avocados, coconuts, figs, oranges, lemons, grapefruit, bananas, guavas, pineapples, mangos and tomatoes; vegetables including corn, potatoes, rice, winter squash and yams; spices like black pepper, cayenne, chocolate, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, sugar cane, tumeric, coffee and vanilla and nuts including Brazil nuts and cashews.

  • At least 3000 fruits are found in the rainforests; of these only 200 are now in use in the Western World. The Indians of the rainforest use over 2,000.
  • Rainforest plants are rich in secondary metabolites, particularly alkaloids. Biochemists believe alkaloids protect plants from disease and insect attacks. Many alkaloids from higher plants have proven to be of medicinal value and benefit.
  • Currently, 121 prescription drugs currently sold worldwide come from plant-derived sources. And while 25% of Western pharmaceuticals are derived from rainforest ingredients, less than 1% of these tropical trees and plants have been tested by scientists.
  • The U.S. National Cancer Institute has identified 3000 plants that are active against cancer cells. 70% of these plants are found in the rainforest. Twenty-five percent of the active ingredients in today’s cancer-fighting drugs come from organisms found only in the rainforest.
  • Vincristine, extracted from the rainforest plant, periwinkle, is one of the world’s most powerful anticancer drugs. It has dramatically increased the survival rate for acute childhood leukemia since its discovery.
  • In 1983, there were no U.S. pharmaceutical manufacturers involved in research programs to discover new drugs or cures from plants. Today, over 100 pharmaceutical companies and several branches of the US government, including giants like Merck and The National Cancer Institute, are engaged in plant research projects for possible drugs and cures for viruses, infections, cancer, and even AIDS.

Rainforest Action

  • Experts agree that by leaving the rainforests intact and harvesting it’s many nuts, fruits, oil-producing plants, and medicinal plants, the rainforest has more economic value than if they were cut down to make grazing land for cattle or for timber.
  • The latest statistics show that rainforest land converted to cattle operations yields the land owner $60 per acre and if timber is harvested, the land is worth $400 per acre. However, if these renewable and sustainable resources are harvested, the land will yield the land owner $2,400 per acre.
  • If managed properly, the rainforest can provide the world’s need for these natural resources on a perpetual basis.
  • Promoting the use of these sustainable and renewable sources could stop the destruction of the rainforests. By creating a new source of income harvesting the medicinal plants, fruits nuts, oil and other sustainable resources, the rainforests is be more valuable alive than cut and burned.
  • Sufficient demand of sustainable and ecologically harvested rainforest products is necessary for preservation efforts to succeed. Purchasing sustainable rainforest products can effect positive change by creating a market for these products while supporting the native people’s economy and provides the economic solution and alternative to cutting the forest just for the value of its timber.

The following has been excerpted from the book, The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs (Square One Publishers, Inc. Garden City, NY 11040, © Copyrighted 2004) By Leslie Taylor

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE RAINFOREST

The beauty, majesty, and timelessness of a primary rainforest are indescribable. It is impossible to capture on film, to describe in words, or to explain to those who have never had the awe-inspiring experience of standing in the heart of a primary rainforest.

Rainforests have evolved over millions of years to turn into the incredibly complex environments they are today. Rainforests represent a store of living and breathing renewable natural resources that for eons, by virtue of their richness in both animal and plant species, have contributed a wealth of resources for the survival and well-being of humankind. These resources have included basic food supplies, clothing, shelter, fuel, spices, industrial raw materials, and medicine for all those who have lived in the majesty of the forest. However, the inner dynamics of a tropical rainforest is an intricate and fragile system. Everything is so interdependent that upsetting one part can lead to unknown damage or even destruction of the whole. Sadly, it has taken only a century of human intervention to destroy what nature designed to last forever.

The scale of human pressures on ecosystems everywhere has increased enormously in the last few decades. Since 1980 the global economy has tripled in size and the world population has increased by 30 percent. Consumption of everything on the planet has risen- at a cost to our ecosystems. In 2001, The World Resources Institute estimated that the demand for rice, wheat, and corn is expected to grow by 40% by 2020, increasing irrigation water demands by 50% or more. They further reported that the demand for wood could double by the year 2050; unfortunately, it is still the tropical forests of the world that supply the bulk of the world’s demand for wood.

In 1950, about 15 percent of the Earth’s land surface was covered by rainforest. Today, more than half has already gone up in smoke. In fewer than fifty years, more than half of the world’s tropical rainforests have fallen victim to fire and the chain saw, and the rate of destruction is still accelerating. Unbelievably, more than 200,000 acres of rainforest are burned every day. That is more than 150 acres lost every minute of every day, and 78 million acres lost every year! More than 20 percent of the Amazon rainforest is already gone, and much more is severely threatened as the destruction continues. It is estimated that the Amazon alone is vanishing at a rate of 20,000 square miles a year. If nothing is done to curb this trend, the entire Amazon could well be gone within fifty years.

Massive deforestation brings with it many ugly consequences-air and water pollution, soil erosion, malaria epidemics, the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the eviction and decimation of indigenous Indian tribes, and the loss of biodiversity through extinction of plants and animals. Fewer rainforests mean less rain, less oxygen for us to breathe, and an increased threat from global warming.

But who is really to blame? Consider what we industrialized Americans have done to our own homeland. We converted 90 percent of North America’s virgin forests into firewood, shingles, furniture, railroad ties, and paper. Other industrialized countries have done no better. Malaysia, Indonesia, Brazil, and other tropical countries with rainforests are often branded as “environmental villains” of the world, mainly because of their reported levels of destruction of their rainforests. But despite the levels of deforestation, up to 60 percent of their territory is still covered by natural tropical forests. In fact, today, much of the pressures on their remaining rainforests comes from servicing the needs and markets for wood products in industrialized countries that have already depleted their own natural resources. Industrial countries would not be buying rainforest hardwoods and timber had we not cut down our own trees long ago, nor would poachers in the Amazon jungle be slaughtering jaguar, ocelot, caiman, and otter if we did not provide lucrative markets for their skins in Berlin, Paris, and Tokyo.

THE BIODIVERSITY OF THE RAINFOREST

Why should the loss of tropical forests be of any concern to us in light of our own poor management of natural resources? The loss of tropical rainforests has a profound and devastating impact on the world because rainforests are so biologically diverse, more so than other ecosystems (e.g., temperate forests) on Earth.

Consider these facts:

  • A single pond in Brazil can sustain a greater variety of fish than is found in all of Europe’s rivers.
  • A 25-acre plot of rainforest in Borneo may contain more than 700 species of trees – a number equal to the total tree diversity of North America.
  • A single rainforest reserve in Peru is home to more species of birds than are found in the entire United States.
  • One single tree in Peru was found to harbor forty-three different species of ants – a total that approximates the entire number of ant species in the British Isles.
  • The number of species of fish in the Amazon exceeds the number found in the entire Atlantic Ocean.

The biodiversity of the tropical rainforest is so immense that less than 1 percent of its millions of species have been studied by scientists for their active constituents and their possible uses. When an acre of topical rainforest is lost, the impact on the number of plant and animal species lost and their possible uses is staggering. Scientists estimate that we are losing more than 137 species of plants and animals every single day because of rainforest deforestation.

Surprisingly, scientists have a better understanding of how many stars there are in the galaxy than they have of how many species there are on Earth. Estimates vary from 2 million to 100 million species, with a best estimate of somewhere near 10 million; only 1.4 million of these species have actually been named. Today, rainforests occupy only 2 percent of the entire Earth’s surface and 6 percent of the world’s land surface, yet these remaining lush rainforests support over half of our planet’s wild plants and trees and one-half of the world’s wildlife. Hundreds and thousands of these rainforest species are being extinguished before they have even been identified, much less catalogued and studied. The magnitude of this loss to the world was most poignantly described by Harvard’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biologist Edward O. Wilson over a decade ago:

“The worst thing that can happen during the 1980s is not energy depletion, economic collapses, limited nuclear war, or conquest by a totalitarian government. As terrible as these catastrophes would be for us, they can be repaired within a few generations. The one process ongoing in the 1980s that will take millions of years to correct is the loss of genetic and species diversity by the destruction of natural habitats. This is the folly that our descendants are least likely to forgive us for.”

Yet still the destruction continues. If deforestation continues at current rates, scientists estimate nearly 80 to 90 percent of tropical rainforest ecosystems will be destroyed by the year 2020. This destruction is the main force driving a species extinction rate unmatched in 65 million years.

THE AMAZON RAINFOREST . . . THE LAST FRONTIER ON EARTH

If Amazonia were a country, it would be the ninth largest in the world. The Amazon rainforest, the world’s greatest remaining natural resource, is the most powerful and bioactively diverse natural phenomenon on the planet. It has been described as the “lungs of our planet” because it provides the essential service of continuously recycling carbon dioxide into oxygen. It is estimated that more than 20 percent of Earth’s oxygen is produced in this area.

The Amazon covers more than 1.2 billion acres, representing two-fifths of the enormous South American continent, and is found in nine South American countries: Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, French Guiana, and Suriname. With 2.5 million square miles of rainforest, the Amazon rainforest represents 54 percent of the total rainforests left on Earth.

The Amazon River

The life force of the Amazon rainforest is the mighty Amazon River. It starts as a trickle high in the snow-capped Andes Mountains and flows more than 4,000 miles across the South American continent until it enters the Atlantic Ocean at Belem, Brazil, where it is 200 to 300 miles across, depending on the season. Even 1,000 miles inland it is still 7 miles wide. The river is so deep that ocean liners can travel up its length to 2,300 miles inland. The Amazon River flows through the center of the rainforest and is fed by 1,100 tributaries, 17 of which are more than 1,000 miles long. The Amazon is by far the largest watershed and largest river system in the world occupying over 6 million square kilometers. Over two-thirds of all the fresh water found on Earth is in the Amazon Basin’s rivers, streams, and tributaries.

With so much water it’s not unusual that the main mode of transportation throughout the area is by boat. The smallest and most common boats used today are still made out of hollowed tree trunks, whether they are powered by outboard motors or more often by human-powered paddles. Almost 14,000 miles of Amazon waterway are navigable, and several million miles through swamps and forests are penetrable by canoe. The enormous Amazon River carries massive amounts of silt from runoff from the rainforest floor. Massive amounts of silt deposited at the mouth of the Amazon River has created the largest river island in the world-Marajo Island, which is roughly the size of Switzerland. With this massive freshwater system, it is not unusual that life beneath the water is as abundant and diverse as the surrounding rainforest’s plant and animal species. More than 2,000 species of fish have been identified in the Amazon Basin – more species than in the entire Atlantic Ocean.

Largest Collection of Plant and Animal Species

The Amazon Basin was formed in the Paleozoic period, somewhere between 500 million and 200 million years ago. The extreme age of the region in geologic terms has much to do with the relative infertility of the rainforest soil and the richness and unique diversity of the plant and animal life. There are more fertile areas in the Amazon River’s flood plain, where the river deposits richer soil brought from the Andes, which only formed 20 million years ago.

The Amazon rainforest contains the largest collection of living plant and animal species in the world. The diversity of plant species in the Amazon rainforest is the highest on Earth. It is estimated that a single hectare (2.47 acres) of Amazon rainforest contains about 900 tons of living plants, including more than 750 types of trees and 1500 other plants. The Andean mountain range and the Amazon jungle are home to more than half of the world’s species of flora and fauna; in fact, one in five of all the birds in the world live in the rainforests of the Amazon. To date, some 438,000 species of plants of economic and social interest have been registered in the region, and many more have yet to be catalogued or even discovered.

Scarring and Loss of Diversity

Once a vast sea of tropical forest, the Amazon rainforest today is scarred by roads, farms, ranches, and dams. Brazil is gifted with a full third of the world’s remaining rainforests; unfortunately, it is also one of the world’s great rainforest destroyers, burning or felling more than 2.7 million acres each year. More than 20 percent of rainforest in the Amazon has been razed and is gone forever. This ocean of green, nearly as large as Australia, is the last great rainforest in the known universe and it is being decimated like the others before it. Why? Like other rainforests already lost forever, the land is being cleared for logging timber, large-scale cattle ranching, mining operations, government road building and hydroelectric schemes, military operations, and the subsistence agriculture of peasants and landless settlers. Sadder still, in many places the rainforests are burnt simply to provide charcoal to power industrial plants in the area.

THE DRIVING FORCES OF DESTRUCTION

Commercial logging is the single largest cause of rainforest destruction, both directly and indirectly. Other activities destroying the rainforest, including clearing land for grazing animals and subsistence farming. The simple fact is that people are destroying the Amazon rainforest and the rest of the rainforests of the world because “they can’t see the forest for the trees.”

Logging for Tropical Hardwoods

Logging tropical hardwoods like teak, mahogany, rosewood, and other timber for furniture, building materials, charcoal, and other wood products is big business and big profits. Several species of tropical hardwoods are imported by developed counties, including the United States, just to build coffins that are then buried or burned. The demand, extraction, and consumption of tropical hardwoods has been so massive that some countries that have been traditional exporters of tropical hardwoods are now importing them because they have already exhausted their supply by destroying their native rainforests in slash-and-burn operations. It is anticipated that the Philippines, Malaysia, the Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and Thailand will soon follow, as all these countries will run out of rainforest hardwood timber for export within five years. Japan is the largest importer of tropical woods. Despite recent reductions, Japan’s average tropical timber import of 11 million cubic meters annually is still gluttonous. The demand for tropical hardwood timber is damaging to the ecological, biological, and social fabric of tropical lands and is clearly unsustainable for any length of time.

Behind the hardwood logger come others down the same roads built to transport the timber. The cardboard packing and the wood chipboard industries use 15-ton machines that gobble up the rainforest with 8-foot cutting discs that have eight blades revolving 320 times a minute. These machines that cut entire trees into chips half the size of a matchbox can gobble up more than 200 species of trees in mere minutes.

Logging rainforest timber is a large economic source, and in many cases, the main source of revenue for servicing the national debt of these developing countries. Logging profits are real to these countries that must service their debts, but they are fleeting. Governments are selling their assets too cheaply, and once the rainforest is gone, their source of income will also be gone. Sadly, most of the real profits of the timber trade are made not by the developing countries, but by multinational companies and industrialists of the Northern Hemisphere. These huge, profit-driven logging companies pay governments a fraction of the timber’s worth for large logging concessions on immense tracts of rainforest land and reap huge profits by harvesting the timber in the most economical manner feasible with little regard to the destruction left in their wake.

Logging concessions in the Amazon are sold for as little as $2 per acre, with logging companies felling timber worth thousands of dollars per acre. Governments are selling their natural resources, hawking for pennies resources that soon will be worth billions of dollars. Some of these government concessions and land deals made with industrialists make the sale of Manhattan for $24 worth of trinkets look shrewd. In 1986 a huge industrial timber corporation bought thousands of acres in the Borneo rainforest by giving 2,000 Malaysian dollars to twelve longhouses of local tribes. This sum amounted to the price of two bottles of beer for each member of the community. Since then, this company and others have managed to extract and destroy about a third of the Borneo rainforest – about 6.9 million acres – and the local tribes have been evicted from the area or forced to work for the logging companies at slave wages.

Fuel Wood and the Paper Industry

In addition to being logged for exportation, rainforest wood stays in developing countries for fuel wood and charcoal. One single steel plant in Brazil making steel for Japanese cars needs millions of tons of wood each year to produce charcoal that can be used in the manufacture of steel. Then, there is the paper industry.

One pulpwood project in the Brazilian Amazon consists of a Japanese power plant and pulp mill. To set up this single plant operation, 5,600 square miles of Amazon rainforest were burned to the ground and replanted with pulpwood trees. This single manufacturing plant consumes 2,000 tons of surrounding rainforest wood every day to produce 55 megawatts of electricity to run the plant. The plant, which has been in operation since 1978, produces more than 750 tons of pulp for paper every 24 hours, worth approximately $500,000, and has built 2,800 miles of roads through the Amazon rainforest to be used by its 700 vehicles. In addition to this pulp mill, the world’s biggest pulp mill is the Aracruz mill in Brazil. Its two units produce 1 million tons of pulp a year, harvesting the rainforest to keep the plant in business and displacing thousands of indigenous tribes. Where does all this pulp go? Aracruz’s biggest customers are the United States, Belgium, Great Britain, and Japan. More and more rainforest is destroyed to meet the demands of the developed world’s paper industry, which requires a staggering 200 million tons of wood each year simply to make paper. If the present rate continues, it is estimated that the paper industry alone will consume 4 billion tons of wood annually by the year 2020.

Once an area of rainforest has been logged, even if it is given the rare chance to regrow, it can never become what it once was. The intricate ecosystem nature devised is lost forever. Only 1 to 2 percent of light at the top of a rainforest canopy manages to reach the forest floor below. Most times when timber is harvested, trees and other plants that have evolved over centuries to grow in the dark, humid environment below the canopy simply cannot live out in the open, and as a result, the plants and animals (that depend on the plants) of the original forest become extinct Even if only sections of land throughout an area are destroyed, these remnants change drastically. Birds and other animals cannot cross from one remnant of land to another in the canopy, so plants are not pollinated, seeds are not dispersed by the animals, and the plants around the edges are not surrounded by the high jungle humidity they need to grow properly. As a result, the remnants slowly become degraded and die. Rains come and wash away the thin topsoil that was previously protected by the canopy, and this barren, infertile land is vulnerable to erosion. Sometimes the land is replanted in African grasses for cattle operations; other times more virgin rainforest is destroyed for cattle operations because grass planted on recently burned land has a better chance to grow.

Grazing Land

As the demand in the Western world for cheap meat increases, more and more rainforests are destroyed to provide grazing land for animals. In Brazil alone, there are an estimated 220 million head of cattle, 20 million goats, 60 million pigs, and 700 million chickens. Most of Central and Latin America’s tropical and temperate rainforests have been lost to cattle operations to meet the world demand, and still the cattle operations continue to move southward into the heart of the South American rainforests. To graze one steer in Amazonia takes two full acres. Most of the ranchers in the Amazon operate at a loss, yielding only paper profits purely as tax shelters. Ranchers’ fortunes are made only when ranching is supported by government giveaways. A banker or rich landowner in Brazil can slash and burn a huge tract of land in the Amazon rainforest, seed it with grass for cattle, and realize millions of dollars worth of government-subsidized loans, tax credits, and write-offs in return for developing the land. These government development schemes rarely make a profit, as they are actually selling cheap beef to industrialized nations. One single cattle operation in Brazil that was co-owned by British Barclays Bank and one of Brazil’s wealthiest families was responsible for the destruction of almost 500,000 acres of virgin rainforest. The cattle operation never made a profit, but government write-offs sheltered huge logging profits earned off of logging other land in the Brazilian rainforest owned by the same investors. These generous tax and credit incentives have created more than 29 million acres of large cattle ranches in the Brazilian Amazon, even though the typical ranch could cover less than half its costs without these subsidies. Even these grazing lands don’t last forever. Soon the lack of nutrients in the soil and overgrazing degrade them, and they are abandoned for newly cleared land. In Brazil alone, more than 63,000 square miles of land has reportedly been abandoned in this way.

Subsistence Farming

This type of government-driven destruction of rainforest land is promoted by a common attitude among governments in rainforest regions, an attitude that the forest is an economic resource to be harnessed to aid in the development of their countries. The same attitudes that accompanied the colonization of our own frontier are found today in Brazil and other countries with wild and unharnessed rainforest wilderness. These beliefs are exemplified by one Brazilian official’s public statement that “not until all Amazonas is colonized by real Brazilians, not Indians, can we truly say we own it.” Were we Americans any different with our own colonization, decimating the North American Indian tribes? Like Brazil, we sent out a call to all the world that America had land for the landless in an effort to increase colonization of our country at the expense of our indigenous Indian tribes. And like the first American colonists, colonization in the rainforest really means subsistence farming.

Subsistence farming has for centuries been a driving force in the loss of rainforest land. And as populations explode in Third-World countries in South America and the Far East, the impact has been profound. By tradition, wildlands and unsettled lands in the rainforest are free to those who clear the forest and till the soil. “Squatter’s rights” still prevail, and poor, hungry people show little enthusiasm for arguments about the value of biodiversity or the plight of endangered species when they struggle daily to feed their families. These landless peasants and settlers follow the logging companies down the roads they’ve built to extract timber into untouched rainforest lands, burning off whatever the logging companies left behind.

The present approach to rainforest cultivation produces wealth for a few, but only for a short time, because farming burned-off tracts of Amazon rainforest seldom works for long. Less than 10 percent of Amazonian soils are suitable for sustained conventional agriculture. However lush they look, rainforests often flourish on such nutrient-poor soils that they are essentially “wet deserts,” easier to damage and harder to cultivate than any other soil. Most are exhausted by the time they have produced three or four crops. Many of the thousands of homesteaders who migrated from Brazil’s cities to the wilds of the rainforest, responding to the government’s call of “land without men for men without land,” have already had to abandon their depleted farms and move on, leaving behind fields of baked clay dotted with stagnant pools of polluted water. Experts agree that the path to conservation begins with helping these local residents meet their own daily needs. Because of the infertility of the soil, and the lack of knowledge of sustainable cultivation practices, this type of agriculture strips the soil of nutrients within a few harvests, and the farmers continue to move farther into the rainforest in search of new land. They must be helped and educated to break free of the need to continually clear rainforest in search of fresh, fertile land if the rainforest is to be saved.

Leading the Threat: Governments

Directly and indirectly, the leading threats to rainforest ecosystems are governments and their unbridled, unplanned, and uncoordinated development of natural resources. The 2000-2001 World Resources Report put out by the United Nations reported that governments worldwide spend $700 billion dollars a year supporting and subsidizing environmentally unsound practices in the use of water, agriculture, energy, and transportation. In the Amazon, rainforest timber exports and large-scale development projects go a long way in servicing national debt in many developing countries, which is why governments and international aid-lending institutions like the World Bank subsidize them. In the tropics, governments own or control nearly 80 percent of tropical forests, so these forests stand or fall according to government policy; and in many countries, government policies lie behind the wastage of forest resources. Besides the tax incentives and credit subsidies that guarantee large profits to private investors who convert forests to pastures and farms, governments allow private concessionaires to log the national forests on terms that induce uneconomic or wasteful uses of the public domain. Massive public expenditures on highways, dams, plantations, and agricultural settlements, too often supported by multilateral development lending, convert or destroy large areas of forest for projects of questionable economic worth.

Tropical countries are among the poorest countries on Earth. Brazil alone spends 40 percent of its annual income simply servicing its loans, and the per capita income of Brazil’s people is less than $2,000 annually. Sadly, these numbers don’t even represent an accurate picture in the Amazon because Brazil is one of the richer countries in South America. These struggling Amazonian countries must also manage the most complex, delicate, and valuable forests remaining on the planet, and the economic and technological resources available to them are limited. They must also endure a dramatic social and economic situation, as well as deeply adverse terms of trade and financial relationships with industrial countries. Under such conditions, the possibility of their reaching sustainable models of development alone is virtually nil.

There is a clear need for industrial countries to sincerely and effectively assist the tropics in a quest for sustainable forest management and development if the remaining rainforests are to be saved. The governments of these developing countries need help in learning how to manage and protect their natural resources for long-term profits, while still managing to service their debts, and they must be given the incentives and tools to do so. Programs to redefine the timber concessions so concessionaires have greater incentives to guard the long-term health of the forest and programs to revive and expand community-based forestry schemes, which ensure more rational use of forests and a better life for the people who live near them, must be developed.

First-World capital must seek out opportunities to partner with organizations that have the technical expertise to guide these programs of sustainable economic development. In addition, programs teaching techniques for sustainable harvesting practices and identifying profitable, yet sustainable, forest products can enable developing countries to improve the standard of living for their people, service national debt, and contribute meaningfully to land use planning and conservation of natural resources.

RAINFORESTS, PHARMACY TO THE WORLD

It is estimated that nearly half of the world’s estimated 10 million species of plants, animals, and microorganisms will be destroyed or severely threatened over the next quarter-century due to rainforest deforestation. Edward O. Wilson estimates that we are losing 137 plant and animal species every single day. That’s 50,000 species a year! Again, why should we in the United States be concerned about the destruction of distant tropical rainforests? Because rainforest plants are complex chemical storehouses that contain many undiscovered biodynamic compounds with unrealized potential for use in modern medicine. We can gain access to these materials only if we study and conserve the species that contain them.

Key to Tomorrow’s Cures?

Rainforests currently provide sources for one-fourth of today’s medicines, and 70 percent of the plants found to have anticancer properties are found only in the rainforest. The rainforest and its immense undiscovered biodiversity hold the key to unlocking tomorrow’s cures for devastating diseases. How many cures for devastating disease have we already lost?

Two drugs obtained from a rainforest plant known as the Madagascar periwinkle, now extinct in the wild due to deforestation of the Madagascar rainforest, have increased the chances of survival for children with leukemia from 20 percent to 80 percent. Think about it: eight out of ten children are now saved, rather than eight of ten children dying from leukemia. How many children have been spared and how many more will continue to be spared because of this single rainforest plant? What if we had failed to discover this one important plant among millions before human activities had led to its extinction? When our remaining rainforests are gone, the rare plants and animals will be lost forever-and so will the possible cures for diseases like cancer they can provide.

No one can challenge the fact that we are still largely dependent on plants for treating our ailments. Almost 90 percent of people in developing countries still rely on traditional medicine, based largely on different species of plants and animals, for their primary health care. In the United States, some 25 percent of prescriptions are filled with drugs whose active ingredients are extracted or derived from plants. By 1980 sales of these plant-based drugs in the United States amounted to some $4.5 billion annually. Worldwide sales of these plant-based drugs were estimated at $40 billion in 1990. Currently 121 prescription drugs sold worldwide come from plant-derived sources from only 90 species of plants. Still more drugs are derived from animals and microorganisms.

More than 25 percent of the active ingredients in today’s cancer-fighting drugs come from organisms found only in the rainforest. The U.S. National Cancer Institute has identified more than 3,000 plants that are active against cancer cells, and 70 percent of these plants are found only in the rainforest. In the thousands of species of rainforest plants that have not been analyzed are many more thousands of unknown plant chemicals, many of which have evolved to protect the plants from diseases. These plant chemicals may well help us in our own ongoing struggle with constantly evolving pathogens, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi that are mutating against our mainstream drugs and becoming resistant to them. These pathogens cause serious diseases, including hepatitis, pneumonia, tuberculosis, and HIV, all of which are becoming more difficult to treat. Experts now believe that if there is a cure for cancer and even AIDS, it will probably be found in the rainforest.

Bioprospecting

In 1983, there were no U.S. pharmaceutical manufacturers involved in research programs to discover new drugs or cures from plants. Today, more than 100 pharmaceutical companies, including giants like Merck, Abbott, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, Monsanto, Smith-Kline Beecham, as well as several branches of the U.S. government, including the National Cancer Institute, are engaged in plant-based research projects trying to find possible drugs to treat infections, cancer, and AIDS. Most of this research is currently taking place in the rainforest in an industry that is now called “bioprospecting.” This new pharmacological industry draws together an unlikely confederacy: plant collectors and anthropologists; ecologists and conservationists; natural product companies and nutritional supplement manufacturers; AIDS and cancer researchers; executives in the world’s largest drug companies; and native indigenous shamans. They are part of a radical experiment: to preserve the world’s rainforests by showing how much more valuable they are standing than cut down. And it is a race against a clock whose every tick means another acre of charred forest. Yet, it is also a race that pits one explorer against another, for those who score the first big hit in chemical bioprospecting will secure wealth and a piece of scientific immortality.

In November 1991, Merck Pharmaceutical Company announced a landmark agreement to obtain samples of wild plants and animals for drug-screening purposes from Costa Rica’s National Biodiversity Institute (INBio); the program is still ongoing today. Spurred by this and other biodiversity prospecting ventures, interest in the commercial value of plant genetic and biochemical resources is burgeoning today. While the Merck-INBio agreement provides a fascinating example of a private partnership that contributes to rural economic development, rainforest conservation, and technology transfer, virtually no precedent exists for national policies and legislation to govern and regulate what amounts to a brand new industry.

Since wealth and technology are as concentrated in most of the North as biodiversity and poverty are in much of the South, the question of equity is particularly hard to answer in ways that satisfy everyone with a stake in the outcome. The interests of bioprospecting corporations are not the same as those of people who live in a biodiversity “hot spot,” many of them barely eking out a living. As the search for wild species whose genes can yield new medicines and better crops gathers momentum, these rich habitats also sport more and more bioprospectors. Like the nineteenth-century California gold rush or its present-day counterpart in Brazil, this “gene rush” could wreak havoc on ecosystems and the people living in or near them. Done properly, however, bioprospecting can bolster both economic and conservation goals while underpinning the medical and agricultural advances needed to combat disease and sustain growing populations.

The majority of our current plant-derived drugs were discovered by examining the traditional use of plants by the indigenous people who lived where the plants grew and flourished. History has shown that the situation with the rainforest is no different, and bioprospectors now are working side by side with rainforest tribal shamans and herbal healers to learn the wealth of their plant knowledge and about the many uses of indigenous plants.

UNLOCKING THE SECRETS OF THE RAINFOREST

After the Amerindians discovered America, about twenty millennia before Columbus, all their clothing, food, medicine, and shelter were derived from the forests. Those millennia gave the Indians time to discover and learn empirically the virtues and vices of the thousands of edible and medicinal species in the rainforest. More than 80 percent of the developed world’s diet originated in the rainforest and from this empirical indigenous knowledge of the wealth of edible fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Of the estimated 3,000 edible fruits found in the rainforest, only 200 are cultivated for use today, despite the fact that the Indians used more than 1,500. Many secrets and untold treasures about the medicinal plants used by shamans, healers, and the indigenous people of the rainforest tribes await discovery. Long regarded as hocus-pocus by science, the empirical plant knowledge of the indigenous peoples is now thought by many to be the Amazon’s new gold. Their use of the plants provides the bioprospector with the clues necessary to target specific species to research in the race for time before the species are lost to deforestation. More often, the race is defined as being the first pharmaceutical company to patent a new drug utilizing a newly discovered rainforest phytochemical-and, of course, to garner the profits.

Indigenous People, A Valuable Resource

Laboratory synthesis of new medicines is increasingly costly and not as fruitful as companies would like. In the words of one major drug company executive, “Scientists may be able to make any molecule they can imagine on a computer, but Mother Nature . . . is an infinitely more ingenious and exciting chemist.” Scientists have developed new technologies to assess the chemical makeup of plants, and they realize that using medicinal plants identified by Indians makes research more efficient and less expensive. With these new trends, drug development has actually returned to its roots: traditional medicine. It is now understood by bioprospectors that the tribal peoples of the rainforest represent the key to finding new and useful tropical forest plants. The degree to which these indigenous people understand and are able to use this diversity sustainably is astounding. A single Amazonian tribe of Indians may use more than 200 species of plants for medicinal purposes alone.

Of the 121 pharmaceutical drugs that are plant-derived today, 74 percent were discovered through follow-up research to verify the authenticity of information concerning the medical uses of the plant by indigenous peoples. Nevertheless, to this day, very few rainforest tribes have been subjected to a complete ethnobotanical analysis. Robert Goodland of the World Bank wrote, “Indigenous knowledge is essential for the use, identification and cataloguing of the [tropical] biota. As tribal groups disappear, their knowledge vanishes with them. The preservation of these groups is a significant economic opportunity for the [developing] nation, not a luxury.”

Since Amazonian Indians are often the only ones who know both the properties of these plants and how they can best be used, their knowledge is now considered an essential component of all efforts to conserve and develop the rainforest. Since failure to document this lore would represent a tremendous economic and scientific loss to the industrialized world, the bioprospectors are now working side by side with the rainforest tribal shamans and herbal healers to learn the wealth of their plant knowledge. But bioprospecting has a dark side. Indian knowledge that has resisted the pressure of “modernization” is being used by bioprospectors who, like oil companies and loggers destroying the forests, threaten to leave no benefits behind them.

But Few Benefits for the Indigenous People

It’s a noble idea-the ethnobotanist working with the Indians seeking a cure for cancer or even AIDS, like Sean Connery in the movie Medicine Man. Yet behind this lurks a system that, at its worst, steals the Indian knowledge to benefit CEOs, stockholders, and academic careers and reputations. The real goal of these powerful bioprospectors is to target novel and active phytochemicals for medical applications, synthesize them in a laboratory, and have them patented for subsequent drug manufacture and resulting profits. In this process, many active and beneficial plants have been found in the shaman’s medicine chest, only to be discarded when it was found that the active ingredients of the plant numbered too many to be cost effectively synthesized into a patentable drug. It doesn’t matter how active or beneficial the plant is or how long the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) process might take to approve the new drug; if the bioprospector can’t capitalize on it, the public will rarely hear about a plant’s newly discovered benefits. The fact is there is a lot of money at stake. In an article published in Economic Botany, Dr. Robert Mendelsohn, an economist at Yale University, and Dr. Michael J. Balick, director of the Institute of Economic Botany at the New York Botanical Gardens, estimate the minimum number of pharmaceutical drugs potentially remaining to be extracted from the rainforests. It is staggering! They estimate that there are at least 328 new drugs that still await discovery in the rainforest, with a potential value of $3 billion to $4 billion to a private pharmaceutical company and as much as $147 billion to society as a whole.

While the indigenous Indian shamans go about their daily lives caring for the well-being of their tribe, the shaman’s rainforest medicines are being tested, synthesized, patented, and submitted for FDA approval in U.S. laboratories thousands of miles away. Soon children with viral infections, adults with herpes, cancer patients, and many others may benefit from new medicines from the Amazon rainforest. But what will the indigenous tribes see of these wonderful new medicines? As corporations rush to patent indigenous medicinal knowledge, the originating indigenous communities receive few, if any, benefits.

LOSING THE KNOWLEDGE

The destruction of the rainforest has followed the pattern of seeing natural land and natural world peoples as resources to be used, and seeing wilderness as idle, empty, and unproductive. Destruction of our rainforests is not only causing the extinction of plant and animal species, it is also wiping out indigenous peoples who live in the rainforest. Obviously, rainforests are not idle land, nor are they uninhabited. Indigenous peoples have developed technologies and resource use systems that have allowed them to live on the land, farming, hunting, and gathering in a complex sustainable relationship with the forest. But when rainforests die, so do the indigenous peoples.

In 1500 there were an estimated 6 million to 9 million indigenous people inhabiting the rainforests in Brazil. When Western and European cultures were drawn to Brazil’s Amazon in the hopes of finding riches beyond comprehension and artifacts from civilizations that have long since expired with the passage of time, they left behind decimated cultures in their ravenous wake. By 1900 there were only 1 million indigenous people left in Brazil’s Amazon. Although the fabled Fountain of Youth was never discovered, many treasures in gold and gems were spirited away by the more successful invaders of the day, and the indigenous inhabitants of the rainforest bore the brunt of these marauding explorers and conquistadors.

Today there are fewer than 250,000 indigenous people of Brazil surviving this catastrophe, and still the destruction continues. These surviving indigenous people still demonstrate the remarkable diversity of the rainforest because they comprise 215 ethnic groups with 170 different languages. Nationwide, they live in 526 territories, which together compose an area of 190 million acres . . . twice the size of California. About 188 million acres of this land is inside the Brazilian Amazon, in the states of Acre, Amapa, Amazonas, Maranhao, Mato Grosso, Para, Rondonia, Roraima, and Tocantins. There may also be 50 or more indigenous groups still living in the depths of the rainforest that have never had contact with the outside world.

Throughout the rainforest, forest-dwelling peoples whose age-old traditions allow them to live in and off the forest without destroying it are losing out to cattle ranching, logging, hydroelectric projects, large-scale farms, mining, and colonization schemes. About half of the original Amazonian tribes have already been completely destroyed. The greatest threat to Brazil’s remaining tribal people, most of whom live in the Amazon rainforest, is the invasion of their territory by ranchers, miners, and land speculators and the conflicts that follow. Thousands of peasants, rubber tappers, and indigenous tribes have been killed in Amazonia in the past decade in violent conflicts over forest resources and land.

As their homelands continue to be invaded and destroyed, rainforest people and their cultures are disappearing. When these indigenous peoples are lost forever, gone too will be their empirical knowledge representing centuries of accumulated knowledge of the medicinal value of plant and animal species in the rainforest. Very few tribes have been subjected to a complete ethnobotanical analysis of their plant knowledge, and most medicine men and shamans remaining in the rainforests today are seventy years old or more. When a medicine man dies without passing his arts on to the next generation, the tribe and the world lose thousands of years of irreplaceable knowledge about medicinal plants. Each time a rainforest medicine man dies, it is as if a library has burned down.

THE SOLUTION: PROFITS WITHOUT PLUNDER

The problem and the solution of the destruction of the rainforest are both economic. Governments need money to service their debts, squatters and settlers need money to feed their families, and companies need to make profits. The simple fact is that the rainforest is being destroyed for the income and profits it yields, however fleeting. Money still makes the world go around . . . even in South America and even in the rainforest. But this also means that if landowners, governments, and those living in the rainforest today were given a viable economic reason not to destroy the rainforest, it could and would be saved. And this viable economic alternative does exist, and it is working today. Many organizations have demonstrated that if the medicinal plants, fruits, nuts, oils, and other resources like rubber, chocolate, and chicle (used to make chewing gums) are harvested sustainably, rainforest land has much more economic value today and more long-term income and profits for the future than if just timber is harvested or burned down for cattle or farming operations. In fact, the latest statistics prove that rainforest land converted to cattle operations yields the landowner $60 per acre; if timber is harvested, the land is worth $400 per acre. However, if medicinal plants, fruits, nuts, rubber, chocolate, and other renewable and sustainable resources are harvested, the land will yield the landowner $2,400 per acre. This value provides an income not only today, but year after year – for generations. These sustainable resources – not the trees – are the true wealth of the rainforest.

This is no longer a theory. It is a fact, and it is being implemented today. Just as important, to wild-harvest the wealth of sustainable rainforest resources effectively, local people and indigenous tribes must be employed. Today entire communities and tribes earn five to ten times more money in wild-harvesting medicinal plants, fruits, nuts, and oils than they can earn by chopping down the forest for subsistence crops. This much-needed income source creates the awareness and economic incentive for this population in the rainforest to protect and preserve the forests for long-term profits for themselves and their children and is an important solution in saving the rainforest from destruction.

When the timber is harvested for short-term gain and profits, the medicinal plants, nuts, oils, and other important sustainable resources that thrive in this delicate ecosystem are destroyed. The real solution to saving the rainforest is to make its inhabitants see the forest and the trees by creating a consumer demand and consumer markets for these sustainable rainforest products . . . markets that are larger and louder than today’s tropical timber market . . . markets that will put as much money in their pockets and government coffers as the timber companies do . . . markets that will give them the economic incentive to protect their sustainable resources for long-term profits, rather than short-term gain.

This is the only solution that makes a real impact, and it can make a real difference. Each and every person in the United States can take a part in this solution by helping to create this consumer market and demand for sustainable rainforest products. By purchasing renewable and sustainable rainforest products and resources and demanding sustainable harvesting of these resources using local communities and indigenous tribes of the rainforests, we all can be part of the solution, and the rainforests of the world and their people can be saved.

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Today, there are at least 120 distinct chemical substances derived from plants that are considered important drugs and are currently in use in one or more countries in the world. Some of these drugs are simply a chemical or chemicals extracted from plant materials and put into a capsule, tablet, or liquid. One such example is the plant chemical called cynarin, which occurs naturally in the common artichoke plant. In Germany, a cynarin drug is manufactured and sold to treat hypertension, liver disorders, and high cholesterol levels. The drug is simply this single chemical, or an artichoke liquid extract, that has been concentrated and chemically manipulated to contain a specific amount of this one chemical; such a preparation is called a standardized extract. This drug is manufactured by pharmaceutical companies and sold in pharmacies in Germany with a doctor’s prescription.

However, in the United States, artichoke extracts are available as natural products and sold in health food stores as “dietary supplements.” Some U.S. artichoke products are even standardized to contain a specific amount of cynarin, yet they can still be purchased here as a natural product without a prescription (and for a lot less money than in Germany). There may be little to no difference between the cynarin drug produced in Germany and the artichoke standardized herbal supplement made in the United States considering that the same amount of cynarin is being delivered, dose for dose.

NEED FOR CONSUMER EDUCATION ABOUT HERBAL SUPPLEMENTS AND DRUGS

While American consumers do have more access to less-expensive natural products, such as cynarin-standardized artichoke products, regulations here prohibit the manufacturers to make any claims as to what the products might treat or even be good for, since they must be sold as “foods,” not “medicines.” Unfortunately, someone looking through the shelves in a health food store for something to help them manage their high blood pressure or high cholesterol might pass by an artichoke extract totally unaware of its status, the research about it, and its uses in Germany and other European countries. Therefore, even though American consumers may have freer access to these less-expensive natural products, they must make an effort to educate themselves about the properties and uses of these herbal substances in order to find the most appropriate natural remedy to meet their needs.

Many American consumers find it very frustrating to sort through a lot of ambiguous information put out by natural product manufacturers who cannot legally label their goods with condition-specific information (and stop them in their tracks in the aisles at the health food store saying, ‘Hey, look at me, if you have high cholesterol!’). But, there is another way to look at it. Would you rather pay the much higher price to go to the doctor for the convenience of being told what to take and then spend more money on a prescription, as in Germany? Or would you rather do a little research yourself, skip the doctor’s visit (and cost), and purchase a less-expensive natural product at the health food store that the German physician writes a prescription for anyway? Unfortunately, you can not have it both ways—not unless you find a highly knowledgeable naturopath, herbalist, or natural health practitioner who will just tell you (for free) what to buy at the health food store (and finding such a practitioner might take some research effort too!). So get prepared to do some research, take responsibility for your own health and wellness, and educate yourself about which natural remedies and products might be helpful for you.

Another well-known example of how similar a plant and drug can be (but a bit different) is quinine. For well over 100 years, the quinine chemical (an alkaloid) was extracted from the natural bark of Cinchona trees and sold as a prescription drug to treat malaria. American scientists were motivated to try to copy this chemical in the laboratory during World War II when the world’s main tropical tree farms fell into the hands of the Japanese and the natural bark was in short supply—during which time American troops in the tropics were dropping like flies to malaria. Scientists were able to make an exact copy of the chemical in the laboratory without using any natural bark to start with, and a synthesized drug was created. Because it was a chemical occurring in nature and not a new one, it could not be patented by any one drug company. Several pharmaceutical companies worldwide began producing and selling synthesized quinine drugs, as they still do today.

While natural quinine-containing bark can be sold in the United States as a natural product, quinine drugs still require a prescription here. In many European countries, even the natural bark is regulated as a drug since it contains naturally occurring and very active quinine alkaloids that are regulated as drugs. This also means that Americans using the bark as a natural remedy should treat it with knowledge and respect due to its very powerful and active ingredient—quinine, which is not without welldocumented acute toxicity and side effects. This is yet another reason American consumers need to educate themselves on the properties and actions of plants and their naturally occurring chemicals prior to using them. (Or find a qualified professional to guide them.)

More is Not Always Better: Be Careful About Dosage Amounts

Too many Americans today buy into the idea that herbal products and medicinal plants are like food and are more or less benign and/or safe at any dosage. This is partly a result of legal restrictions stating that these products must be sold as “food supplements” in the United States. Also at play is that old American philosophy of excess: “if some is good, more is better.” This idea is also somewhat prevalent in the food and dietary supplements market. While this may be true for some foods and dietary supplements, it is certainly not true for many of the biologically active medicinal plants that are sold here as herbal supplements. It is also not true for many of the rainforest plants discussed in this book. Traditional dosage amounts for herbal remedies have been included in the plant information provided in Part Three of this book for a reason. These dosage amounts are based on the long history of the plant’s use and should be followed within reason. They have been calculated for an average-weight adult person of 120 to 150 pounds and should be generally adjusted up or down based on body weight. Take less if you weigh under 120 pounds, and more if you weigh more than 150 pounds (up to double the recommended dosage if you weigh 300 pounds or more). If you plan on taking more than one and one-half times the dosage that is indicated for your weight, it is best to check with a qualified herbalist, naturopath, or physician who has experience with the particular plant you are choosing to take at higher dosages.

Possible Contraindications and Interactions

Another good reason to learn more about an herbal product or medicinal plant before taking it is possible contraindications and drug interactions. An excellent example of this possible problem is a very active chemical—coumarin—found in many plants and herbal supplements. Unfortunately, there is not enough consumer awareness of this potential interaction yet. Coumarin is a natural plant chemical found in many species of plants in varying amounts—from trace amounts to highly significant amounts. One coumarin-containing plant is the rainforest plant called guaco. It can contain up to 10 percent coumarin.

In the 1940s, scientists discovered that coumarin was a highly effective blood thinner and went into the laboratory to synthesize or copy the plant chemical and turn it into a prescription drug. They changed the chemical just enough to patent it (basically by adding a type of salt molecule to the natural plant chemical) and renamed it coumadin. Today, coumadin is the eleventh most-prescribed medication in the United States, with annual sales of approximately $500 million in the United States alone. Even though the patent on this blood-thinning drug ran out years ago, it is still produced by just one company (a bit of a controversy) and sold in the United States under the brand name, Warfarin®. (It is manufactured by other companies in other countries and sold at a much cheaper price as coumadin or “generic warfarin.”)

The coumadin and coumarin chemicals are very similar in structure, so much so that they are often tested in the laboratory as being the same chemical. When Americans began taking many types of herbal supplements over the last decade, conventional practitioners and surgeons began telling their patients to discontinue any and all herbal supplements prior to and following surgical procedures because of the prevalence of natural coumarin in plants. Since so many plants contained natural coumarin (and it was such an effective blood thinner), the solution was to just tell patients to discontinue everything. No one was really sure which plants contained enough coumarin to increase the risk of bleeding problems during or after a surgical procedure.

This example illustrates yet another reason consumers should be knowledgeable about what type of medicinal plants and herbal products they choose to take and should obtain information and facts from practitioners before launching any self-treatment program with medicinal plants, especially if they routinely take prescription drugs. Someone already taking the prescription drug Warfarin® should be informed that the blood-thinning effects of the drug must be carefully monitored (using blood tests), as excessive thinning of the blood is sometimes associated with fatal bleeding complications, including strokes and hemorrhages in the gastrointestinal tract. More importantly, they should be informed that taking plants high in natural coumarin may increase the blood-thinning effects of the drug and complications could be much more likely. As there are not enough research dollars available to document herb and drug interactions, many common plants that contain natural coumarin have never been officially studied as “blood thinners” in human studies or documented “to potentiate Warfarin® drugs.” No warnings are officially published for many of these plants.

So when an interaction between Warfarin® and some herbal product happens, who’s at fault? Is it the herbal supplement manufacturer who can not legally make a statement on the label of guaco (or other coumarin-containing plants) that the plant can thin the blood or label the product that it is contraindicated in someone taking Warfarin® in the absence of proven clinical research for that particular plant? Or is it the fault of the drug company that produces Warfarin® since it didn’t do research on all the possible interactions between the drug and natural plants (not a legal requirement today)? The doctor who prescribed the Warfarin® drug and didn’t ask the patient what herbal supplements he or she was taking or tell the patient which ones to avoid (because the doctor didn’t know either)? Or, does the fault lie with the consumer who begins taking herbal supplements without knowing what natural chemicals the supplement contains and fails to check with his or her doctor first? This will probably be a question fought over by trial lawyers for years to come, but it will ultimately be the consumer who always pays the price.

Consumers are the ones experiencing the side effects and health problems, and they ultimately pay the price for litigation through higher insurance and product liability rates. This is also the reason why so many conventional doctors refuse to advise their patients about herbal supplements and many just discourage their use altogether. They simply don’t know enough about them, don’t have the time to educate themselves properly, and don’t want to be in the legal-liability loop for any negative side effect or drug interaction with the drugs they do prescribe and the many herbal supplements available to patients today. For these reasons, in Part Three, information about contraindications and drug interaction is provided for each plant; this information may, or may not, be officially substantiated by human clinical research. The guaco plant is still a great example. No one has funded any human clinical research to prove that the plant can thin the blood, or that it will potentiate Warfarin® or coumadin drugs, but it has regularly been tested and found to contain highly significant amounts of coumarin. Programs in Brazil are even underway to extract the natural coumarin from this particular plant for the manufacture of Brazilian-made coumadin drugs.

Therefore, warnings about contraindications and possible drug interactions with Warfarin® and other coumadin drugs have been provided in the guaco plant data (and for other rainforest plants that contain natural coumarin) in Part Three, based solely on the chemical contents of the plant. While many nonprofessionals may just skim over the chemical information that has been provided for each plant, the information has been recorded and provided to help explain not only why a plant might have a specific biological activity, but also to help you—and your healthcare provider—determine if there may be possible contraindications or drug interactions.

In fact, much of the data provided in this book on contraindications and drug interactions are based on the plants’ chemistry or traditional uses in herbal medicine, rather than on funded human clinical studies proving a drug interaction or a medical contraindication. Human studies of this nature are very expensive and just aren’t performed on most medicinal plants anywhere. There are too many plants, too many drugs, and not enough money to study all the possible interactions. This also means that the data that is provided in this book should not be considered all-inclusive or complete. It’s important to note that much of the history of the medicinal uses of the plants discussed in this book is mainly recorded in tropical Third World countries where the plants grow. The populations of people using plant-based herbal remedies don’t regularly take the amount or types of prescription drugs Americans do, and the history of side effects or contraindications when combining the plants with the drugs we use is virtually nonexistent. If you are taking prescription drugs, please always check with your doctor before taking any herbal supplements or medicinal plants, including those you learn about in this book.

NEED FOR CARE IN SELF-MEDICATING WITH HERBAL PRODUCTS

This brings us to yet another common and growing problem in what has been termed the “self-medicating herbal product industry” in the United States. What about the person who is tired of paying the high price for Warfarin® at the pharmacy and wants to try a plant like guaco to replace it? The majority of patients making up the $500 million-a-year market for this particular drug is over 60 years old and lives on a fixed income, so ideas such as this are not so uncommon. Unfortunately, this practice is also fraught with problems, especially in this particular instance. Warfarin® should be taken in very specific dosages, which have been tested to be effective and safe for each patient (dosages can vary from patient to patient) and an individual patient’s needs can change over time as his or her medical condition improves or deteriorates. Taking too much or too little can have drastic results. Regular blood tests are administered to ensure the dosage is correct and continues to be correct for each patient.

The coumarin content in guaco (and any plant) can change and fluctuate due to where it was grown, how and when it was harvested, climate changes in the growing environment/season, and other natural phenomena. The coumarin content can be 10 percent in one harvest of guaco plants, and as low as 5 percent the following year, even when the same plants are harvested again only a year later. So, in this case, it just would not be a good idea to try to replace the drug with an herbal supplement. Even if one found a “standardized” herbal guaco supplement with a guaranteed potency or content of coumarin, it should only be used under a doctor’s supervision, in order to establish the correct dosage for the particular patient (with an obvious medical need) and would require the doctor’s ongoing supervision and periodic testing. In most instances, ideally, conventional medicine and traditional medicine should play complementary roles in health care, and one should not replace the other.

PROBLEM OF ONE VS SEVERAL CHEMICALS

While many drugs have originated from biologically active plant chemicals, and many plants’ medicinal uses can be attributed to various active chemicals found in them, there is a distinct difference between using a medicinal plant and a chemical drug. The difference is one that scares most conventionally trained doctors with no training in plants. Drugs usually consist of a single chemical, whereas medicinal plants can contain 400 or more chemicals. It’s relatively easy to figure out the activity and side effects of a single chemical, but there is just no way scientists can map all the complex interactions and synergies that might be taking place between all the various chemicals found in a plant, or a traditionally prepared crude plant extract, containing all these chemicals. It is not unusual for a plant to contain a single documented cancer-causing chemical and also maybe five other chemicals that are anticancerous and which may counteract the one “bad” chemical. Overall, the plant extract may even provide some type of anticancerous effect.

In some instances, a particular plant chemical’s activity is enhanced or increased when it is combined with another chemical or chemicals that occur naturally in the plant. An example of this is the rainforest plant cat’s claw. First, the crude extract of cat’s claw was shown to boost immune function. Then, specific alkaloid chemicals in the plant were scientifically documented (and patented) to be the “active constituents” that provided this effect. However, scientists discovered much later that if they extracted just the alkaloids, these alkaloids were less potent at stimulating immune cells than they were when combined with other chemicals (called catechin tannins) that the plant contains. Adding the tannin chemicals to the alkaloids increased the immune-stimulating effect of the alkaloids by almost 40 percent. In this instance, a drug made using only the alkaloids would probably be less effective than a crude extract of the plant that contained both alkaloids and tannins.

The drug industry often misses the boat in this regard. However, their motivations are different. Crude plant extracts cannot be patented or approved as drugs. The drug researcher’s goal is to come up with a single chemical with good biological activity—one that can be changed in some way (without losing activity) so that it can be patented as a novel chemical and then be synthetically manufactured into a new patented drug (like adding a salt molecule to the plant chemical coumarin and patenting it as coumadin). Sometimes the isolated chemical might not be quite as effective as the crude extract in which it was found, but the researchers have the ability to deliver more of the chemical therapeutically by increasing the dosage of the single chemical. Sometimes, they can even improve on the activity of the plant chemical by modifying it in some way, which also makes it patentable. Even if patents were not an issue, the drug company still would not be able to provide enough scientific data on how so many naturally occurring plant chemicals work individually, much less in combination with one another, to get a crude plant extract approved as a drug under our current drug regulations.

The quinine tree and its quinine alkaloid are again a wonderful example of some of the limitations in this regard. Scientists selected just one single alkaloid from the crude bark extract, the chemical that evidenced the highest antimalarial effect, to turn into a drug. But the crude extract actually had at least fifteen unique chemicals which were individually found to be antimalarial. The crude extract also contained other chemicals that had a different activity: they reduced fever (one of the main symptoms of malaria). Yet even other chemicals were found to be effective regulators of the heart and could be used to treat arrhythmia. (Sometimes very high fevers cause irregular heartbeat or increase the heart rate.) No wonder the crude bark extract was used for hundreds, if not thousands, of years by the indigenous people to treat malaria. It killed the bug that caused the disease, and in the meantime, it treated the symptoms the disease was causing! But similar to the guaco vine, the content of the active chemicals in the quinine tree can fluctuate. Some species of quinine trees can have 1 percent of the main antimalarial alkaloids, while others have up to 7 percent. How would a doctor know if a crude extract contained enough of these main chemicals to be therapeutic or how to prescribe proper dosages if these chemicals varied from extract to extract? For years, this alone has justified the use of the synthesized drug over the natural crude bark extract.

POSSIBLE ANSWER TO DRUG RESISTANCE

Something really interesting has happened with the quinine tree, the quinine drug, and malaria, however. Since we’ve used this single synthesized drug against malaria for so many years, the malaria-causing organism (a Plasmodium protozoa) has mutated to create a defense mechanism against it. Today, we have several different strains of malaria that are completely resistant to our time-honored synthetic quinine drug. Back to the drawing board? Nope. . . back to the crude extract! Even the World Health Organization (WHO) is now revisiting the idea of going back to treating malaria in Third World countries with quinine bark extracts. Preliminary test-tube and animal studies (funded by WHO) indicate that natural bark extracts can effectively treat the new drug-resistant strains of malaria. Remember those other fourteen antimalarial chemicals in the crude bark extract? Do we know which one is doing the trick — or does it matter?

Another very interesting concept is that many disease-causing organisms can easily adapt and mutate to become resistant to a single chemical, but it would be much harder and take much more time for the organisms to create a defense mechanism against fifteen different chemicals simultaneously. Even more interesting: will throwing fifteen different active chemicals against the disease simultaneously speed up the treatment process? Only time will tell, and only if we somehow come up with the money to fund expensive large-scale human studies on unpatentable crude extracts. The pharmaceutical companies can’t justify spending these research dollars on a crude plant-based medicine they cannot patent or sell. In this particular case, the WHO and/or large government public health agencies are more likely candidates to come up with the needed research dollars. Worldwide, more than one million people still die every year from malaria, and, unfortunately, this trend is likely to increase as more resistance to our main synthetic quinine drug develops.

The organism causing malaria is not the only evolving disease-causing bug we need to worry about. Bacteria can readily develop defense mechanisms against antibacterial drugs and become drug resistant. Many already have. The common staph bacteria (Staphylococcus) has gone through so many mutations over the last thirty years that many different strains have evolved that are now completely resistant to the eight major antibiotic drugs that were once effective against it. Could plants again hold the answer? Very possibly!

SHOTGUN APPROACH, NOT SINGLE BULLET?

A few years back, scientists evaluated a jungle shaman’s “dysentery remedy.” It was a crude plant extract that contained seven plants. Now, one must remember, dysentery in the Amazon can be attributed to any number of different bacteria, amebas, and parasites common in the area (and commonly shared in the close communal living environments of indigenous groups). The Indian shaman doesn’t have the ability to send blood or stool samples to a laboratory to find out which specific organism is causing the dysentery in his village, but he must still select the appropriate plants to treat his patients. Maybe this is why a shaman usually selects a handful of plants (about four to seven) to brew into a remedy, instead of just one.

When the seven different plants in the dysentery remedy were analyzed, at least twelve different known antibiotic chemicals, five anti-amebic chemicals, and seven antiparasitic chemicals were found between all the plants in the shaman’s formula. The twelve different antibiotic chemicals in the extract were found to kill bacteria in at least five different ways; these ways are called biological pathways of action. The shaman didn’t really need to know which “bad bug” was the culprit, in what mainstream medicine would call his “shotgun” approach. But does this really matter either? This particular remedy, containing a total of several thousand individual plant chemicals, had at least thirty-one active chemicals that hit the top ten or so main bugs that might cause dysentery. (And, yes, you’d think your doctor was completely nuts if he sent you home with thirty-one prescriptions, so maybe “shotgun” is an appropriate analogy within your doctor’s limitations.)

But let’s go back to the interesting concept mentioned earlier. If the dysentery bug was an easily-mutating bacteria like staph, how likely would it be that this one organism could survive long enough to create a defense against twelve different antibacterial chemicals coming at it in at least five different ways simultaneously? These drug-resistant strains of bacteria are certainly more prevalent in First World nations in which single-chemical antibiotics are regularly employed than in poor tropical countries in which mainly plant-based remedies are used. Maybe it will take a broadly scattering shotgun to fight these tricky and quickly mutating organisms, instead of a single chemical bullet. Food for thought, for sure!

As more of our gold-standard single-bullet drugs become less effective against newly developing strains of drug-resistant bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites, we will probably see more interest and research on medicinal plants, herb-based drugs, and traditional remedies. The rainforests of the world are, and will continue to be, of great importance and one of the main areas where this research will likely take place. Rainforests hold the highest biodiversity and sheer number of novel chemicals on the planet. Acre for acre, they contain more species of plants and animals, and yes, even bacteria, mold, fungi, and virus species than anywhere else on earth.

PLANT’S SURVIVAL INSTINCTS HELPING HUMANKIND

It’s also very important to note that all living things have inbred survival instincts. It is literally part of the cellular makeup of all species on earth. In highly mobile species like humans and other animals, the main survival instinct and mechanism is “flee, fight, or hide.” Even bacteria and virus species have learned to flee or hide from immune cells and chemical agents attacking them, as well as to fight them by mutating or changing their own physical structure to defend against them. With stationary plants rooted to the ground and incapable of physically fleeing from danger, their survival instinct is controlled by wonderfully complex and rich chemical defense mechanisms that have evolved over eons. Plants have either created a defense mechanism against what might harm them, or they have succumbed and become extinct.

In the species-rich rainforest, there are many species of fungi, mold, bacteria, viruses, parasites, and insects that attack and kill plants. It is of little wonder that rainforest plants contain so many potent and active chemicals: the plants are in a constant battle for survival in an environment literally teeming with life that is constantly evolving. From soil-borne root rot (a virus) that attacks tender herbaceous plants, to the fungi and mold smothering the life out of huge canopy trees, or to the incredible number of insects devouring any defenseless leaf in the forest, rainforest plants have learned to adapt, create chemical defenses against attack, and survive. Within this rich arsenal of defensive chemicals are antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, antiparasitic, anti-mold, and insecticidal chemicals with tested potent actions. This is the mechanism the plants use to survive, grow, and flourish as well as to fight the many disease-causing organisms that attack them. It is likely that within these diverse chemicals created to protect the plants from disease, at least a handful or more will be harvested and put to use protecting humans and animals from the same types of disease-causing organisms.

This is yet another reason to respect and value rainforest plants as very active potent herbal remedies and to protect them against humankind’s destruction (against which the plants have no defense mechanism). Please respect them—and please help to protect them.


The above text has been quoted from The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs by Leslie Taylor, copyrighted © 2005 All rights reserved.


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