Tropical forest environments provide insurance against COVID-19

August 29, 2023 by Christian Abizaid

Research prior to the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that the rural poor often turn to wild resources to cope with adverse shocks. We report on the first study addressing natural insurance against health shocks during the COVID-19 pandemic, focusing on riverine communities without road access in the Peruvian Amazon. We consider the most devastating shock people may experience, the death of a close family member. Using data from an in-person survey of almost 4000 households in 235 randomly selected communities before the pandemic as baseline, we conducted telephone surveys with over 400 communities during the early phase of the pandemic. We found that before the pandemic, forest peoples relied on game and non-timber forest products to cope with mortality, whether in their own household or their community. Once COVID-19 arrived, people reduced their reliance on hunting and resorted instead to fishing. These patterns were differentiated by gender and indigeneity. Tropical forest environments, which include also aquatic habitat, provide vital insurance against mortality, but just how may be altered during a pandemic. These novel findings have important implications for research and policies on forest conservation and pandemics.

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