For the good of nature
This is Ivan Rodrigo Ortiz:
Ivan is a good friend, the owner and operator of Ivan's Bed and Breakfast and the host to many of the groups that I bring to Panama. His generosity is unparalleled and he and his wife Gladys do a fantastic job of ensuring that all of my guests are well cared for and well fed. Ivan has had his business for years and is an avid birder himself. He not only takes pride in his establishment but he cares about the health of the ecosystem in his country and he realizes the importance of conservation. Ivan caters to birders, photographers, researchers and general nature lovers and he understands that all of them come to Panama for its teeming wildlife and amazing natural settings. His livelihood depends on the rainforest ecosystem remaining in-tact.
This is Gilberto Batista (aka "Mani"):
Mani is the driver for my groups in Panama. He ferries us to all of the amazing birding destinations and knows exactly how to get us to the right spot at the right time. In addition to transporting us, Mani serves as the taxi within his small town and brings researchers and tourists to/from the airport and brings kids to school in the city every morning. Mani is as kind-hearted as they come and he is always willing to help out in any fashion. He is funny, attentive and a fantastic driver.
Why am I introducing these two wonderful human beings to you? Well, it has everything to do with my philosophy regarding my role in conserving the tropics. Throughout the new-world tropics, rainforest is being cut at an alarming rate. The most recent studies suggest that approximately 32 million acres are lost annually in the amazon basin alone. A large part of the reason why this is taking place has to do with local economies. As members of developed nations, we are familiar with the concept of fair wages. Not only are we protected by laws that ensure our basic costs of living will be met, but more importantly, businesses themselves want us to make a certain amount of money...but no more. Let me explain: a business seeks to turn as much of a profit as possible. One of the ways to achieve this is to pay your workers as little as possible. But, as citizens of a developed nation, most manufacturers don't want to pay their workers so little that they can't even purchase the items they are producing...that would be counter-productive and simply bad for business. So, most companies pay a wage that allows for at least a modest lifestyle whereby their workers have at least some purchasing power.
This doesn't happen in the new world tropics. Businesses that pop-up in these countries are often run by foreign countries and it is easy for them to pay their workers so little that they can't purchase these same goods...why? Because the goods don't stay in the country anyway. They are produced in the tropics at minimal costs and they are shipped to foreign markets. So, the average worker in these countries makes very little indeed and the companies know that work is difficult to come by and vacancies are quickly filled so there is no hesitation to let an entire workforce go should there be a downturn in the economy. When this happens, the vast majority of these individuals that have lost their jobs and have very little money settle on new land by clearing patches of the rainforest...they don't have many other choices. Collectively, this amounts to large swaths of deforestation. The cycle continues rapidly as economies and populations grow.
As a consumer, there are a few things you can do to combat this. First, you can become knowledgeable about how products are produced and how the labor market treats its workers. This requires homework on your part, but it is well worth it. Secondly, when traveling to new countries, you can be sure to invest your money in sustainable and environmentally-minded businesses and people. Help generate an economy that is based on fair pay and preservation of habitat. I use as many locals as I can for all of the services my groups consume in Panama. I think of my money as part of an "information highway"...as it exchanges hands and the message gets out that it is coming from a group interested in the preservation of an ecosystem, only good things can happen.
My goal is to do everything in my power to make sure Ivan and Mani stay in business as long as possible. We should all do what we can to make it known that an in-tact rainforest is worth far more than the alternative.