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For the past 40 years Central America has lost 40% of forest cover mainly from conversion of forest to cattle-ranches (1), which provides the least amount of jobs in the agricultural sector (2) and leads to depleted ecosystem services including soil degradation, biodiversity loss and increased carbon emissions (3). The interrupted forest systems disrupt global hydrological/drought cycles, and are connected to the environmental devastation as currently seen in Australia and California (4). 

For many farmers in Central America, ranching is one of the few economic opportunities available. 

In response to the environmental impacts of forest loss, organizations are working with farmers to convert deforested ranches into timber plantations to address economic and ecological needs. Many of them are also providing additional skills-building and employment opportunities for community members, in timber processing and/or furniture-making for the domestic and international market.

Unfortunately, many of these plantations become ecologically low-performing monocultures, driven by market-demand of limited timber species. A strong constituent of the ‘market’ are designers, unaware of their impact from their limited ‘demand’: if we only employ species such as Teak and Mahogany in our designs, plantations will respond by cultivating only Teak and Mahogany.

Although these plantations begin to reinstate ecosystem services, overall health, resilience and efficiency of the forest is poor due to the single-species system. For example, carbon capturing capacities are low compared to a natural forest: A pine plantation can store around 53 tons of carbon per hectare above ground (5), compared 110 tones of carbon per hectare of an original Tropical Dry Forest, or 250 tones of carbon per hectare of a Tropical Moist Forest (6). Diverse forests also host a larger amount of wildlife including pollinators and other beneficial organisms, which supports agriculture and lessens the dependency on fossil-fuel based fertilizers and pesticides. 

Agricultural systems for food production have began to implement ‘agro-ecosystems’, which employ a high diversity of species to address monocultural activities, but we hear less about these systems in regards to (plant-based) materials.

In addition, artisans in many of these communities have limited access to skills-building opportunities such as professional exchanges or workshops due to economic or geographical constrains. Developing skills further can boost confidence, and potentially encourage locally driven, independent ventures - a shift as seen in the West: over the past decade there has been a surge of successful local ‘makers’ in the USA and Europe in reaction to the global system of massed produced products.

Reviving domestic production of designed goods also begins to address carbon emissions from global imports: According to IMO, Co2 emissions from shipping are expected to rise 50-250 percent by 2050 if no action is taken (7).

To address these issues, Modest's aim is to support the diversification of managed forest systems/plantations - particularly those systems implemented on deforested land - and further support the communities that implement these systems, using product design as a catalyst. 

1. (FAO)

2.  (Borjas,1995)

3. (FAO)


5. (Justine, 2015)

6. (Mongabay, 2009)

7. (IMO, 2014)

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