Guatemala, the largest and most populated Central American country, is home to one of the most extensive and diverse forest systems on the continent, covering more than a third of the entire land. One half of this area is classified as primary forest, the most biodiverse and significant form of forestry. Unfortunately, Guatemala experiences a high inequality of wealth distribution, resulting from, amongst other things, 36 years of civil war. It was only the peace treaty signings in 1996 which has again opened the door to foreign investment and both governmental and private international projects.
Why does illegal logging exist in general? Simply put, the profits for the perpetrators are very high compared with the low risk of detection. The World Bank and Interpol list timber as a commodity, a commodity which is no different from weapons, narcotics, vehicles or any other internationally traded goods which can generate profits. The fact that timber is easy to launder and readily appears as a ‘clean’ business compared with human or drug trafficking, implies the notion that it is not a serious activity, and is a ‘victimless crime’. The reality is that illegal logging has extremely serious and detrimental consequences.
Aside from the widespread environmental damage and primary forest loss, there are a number of further destructive secondary effects such as damaged water regulation, poor soil formation and destabilisation which can lead to compounding threats such as mudslides. From a societal point of view, it has been shown that illegal logging increases poverty rates and uneven power relations regarding access to food and land, especially for local communities and indigenous groups who rely on the natural land for subsistence needs. According to Interpol and the UN, global logging is worth between $30 – $100 Billion and in terms of national revenue, illegal timber directly costs worldwide governments $5 Billion in taxation loss per year.
The fact is – Illegal logging represents the starting point of a complex process of interconnected criminal activities on an international scale.
Given the size and density of the forests, the ecological and economic importance of forestry to the country cannot be understated. The process of transporting legal timber from rainforest to mill
is complex, involving many intermediate stages which often makes it easy for criminals to slip in and
out of the process undetected. This has the impact of making record keeping between legal and illegal timber an uphill battle. Even if it were possible to detect all of these individuals, there is also a lack of available law enforcement manpower to cover the vast areas of land being considered.
It is clear that a technological leap is required. A technological leap that allows sufficient intelligence and situational awareness to be collected in one place so that counter logging efforts can be coordinated from above and focused for maximum effect – This technological leap is FMAP. (Forest Management and Protection System).
Astrosat , a multi-award winning commercial space services company, specializes in the development and managed delivery of highly innovative, end-to-end solutions where space based or space powered technology can solve economic, ecological, humanitarian, infrastructure and business problems. From detection of thermally wasteful housing stock and equity protection to illegal logging and disaster risk management, Astrosat passionately believes that any Earth based challenge can be supported or solved with space based solutions.
With a strong focus on delivering end-to-end Earth observation services, Astrosat is leading a consortium of European, American and UK space service outfits; ‘Earth Observation Inc’, ‘Telespazio Vega’ and ‘Deimos Space’ to monitor the Guatemalan forests and detect illegal activity. The project is sponsored by the UK Space Agency as part of their International Partnership Programme, a five- year, £152 million programme supporting British satellite technology expertise for developing international project monitoring and addressing significant social and environmental issues around the world. FMAP will allow for all possible elements of situational intelligence to be collected, analysed and presented in one place enabling law enforcement agencies to take immediate action against offenders.
Steve Lee, Astrosat CEO and founder, said: “What we are working on here could be described as a CCTV system that operates from space. With the data and information we can garner, we can help countries and communities which are at the mercy of unscrupulous operators.”
The ability to monitor types of trees and specific, important areas such as the rich and diverse Reserva de Biosfera Maya in the North of the country and a series of important national parks along the border ensures that only permitted timber felling is allowed, creating a legal market for sustainably-managed forestry products.
“This effectively brings space – and space companies and organisations – into the Fair Trade arena by helping local farmers and villagers to manage sustainable timber reserves. Illegal logging not only undercuts markets, but has a devastating effect on vital ecosystems.”
Astrosat’s ‘eye in the sky’ refers to the ‘space perspective’; a wholly unique and unprecedented vantage point from which to overcome ground based challenges and Astrosat is very proud to be delivering this perspective to a country of such rich diversity and culture. Guatemala means ‘land of the trees’ in the Mayan-Toltec language, and Astrosat aims to keep it that way.
Quotes from BluePrint Media Press Release:
Author: Michael Crawford