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To fight deforestation, one country changed the equation

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It was the mid-2000s, and Ecuador had some tough choices to make.

The country’s economy — fueled by oil and agricultural exports — was growing, but poverty persisted. Meanwhile, its mega-diverse rainforests were rapidly being lost, endangering rural livelihoods and biodiversity while contributing to climate change.

What to do?

Ecuador could go “all in” on oil and agriculture expansion to fund social programs for reducing poverty — and hope to buy a technical solution to its deforestation problem later. Or it could try a top-down effort to halt deforestation — a fiendishly difficult task in the best of circumstances — but risk neglecting the cultural and economic importance of forests in the daily lives of Ecuador’s poorest.

At the risk of oversimplification, policymakers in this South American country faced an age-old conflict: Fight poverty or protect the environment. But a novel initiative there is beginning to show that you can do both — and even take a bite out of climate change as well.

It pays to save

Since 2008, Socio Bosque, a program developed by the…

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