Why Rainforests Are Important and How to Help Us Save Them

Why rainforests are important is a question with a complex answer. Rainforests are Earth’s oldest and most complex ecosystem. Fifty percent of the world’s plants and animals are found in rainforests, and scientists estimate that there may be millions of plants, insects, and microorganisms still undiscovered.

One of Health In Harmony and ASRI’s reforestation sites | Photo: Stephanie Gee

It is estimated that more than half of all life in rainforests are indigenous to that ecosystem and are found nowhere else. If the rainforests disappear, so do these plants and animals. Rainforests help in ways you may not think about very often. About 121 medicines on the market are obtained from plants. About a third of those have been discovered in rainforests, and this includes such popular and useful drugs as quinine, used to treat malaria; and curare, a poison used on arrow tips that is used to treat heart conditions.

Among the world’s 25 best-selling pharmaceuticals, 12 are derived from natural products and half of these plant-based medicines come from the tropics. Seventy percent of the plants identified as having anti-cancer characteristics by the US National Cancer Institute are found only in the tropical rainforests. Many tropical plants and even some marine organisms are currently being examined for their efficiency in fighting different types of cancers.

Besides housing two thirds of the world’s flora, rainforests regulate the Earth’s climate. Rainforests also process around 20% of the world’s oxygen. The trees take in rainwater from the ground, and then release it back into the atmosphere. If we didn’t have rainforests, droughts would be more common. All trees release oxygen, but the large amount of trees in the rain forest makes them especially important for this task. Of course, we need oxygen to breathe, and keeping carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere helps reduce climate change.

Rainforests also prevent soil erosion and regulate water flow, which can help prevent flooding. Without plant cover, erosion and heavy rains sweep the soil into rivers. The trees have deep roots, and when they are torn out and replaced with crops that are planted anew each year, the roots can’t hold onto the soil. And as land loses its fertility, more forests are cleared and the problem continues.

Why Rainforests Are Important and How to Help Us Save Them

Indonesian forests are at risk. Logging and palm oil production is destroying Indonesian rainforests. With many of the forests being cut down, there’s been a dramatic loss in biodiversity. Many of the animals, especially orangutans, are being pushed elsewhere. They are forced out of their habitats or into small forest fragments where they can’t find adequate food. A hundred years ago, there were probably 230,000 orangutans. Now, according to the World Wildlife Fund, there are fewer than 60,000.

Indonesia’s rainforests are the second largest in the world. So far, 80% of the original forests have been destroyed. The Guinness Book of World Records named Indonesia as the country with the highest rate of deforestation in 2008 and 2009. The Indonesia-United Kingdom Tropical Forest Management Programme reported that 73% of the logging performed was illegal. Each year, Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry allows a certain amount of forest to be logged – 882 million cubic feet. Unfortunately, 2.6 billion cubic feet is being logged every year instead.

Palm oil plantations have also led to the destruction of rainforests. With the use of palm oil increasing around the world, the prices for the oil have risen, which has motivated many palm planters to use forestland to cultivate it.

Help Us Save Rainforests

According to Orangutan Foundation International, approximately 772 species of animals in Indonesia are threatened due to deforestation. We need to do something about it. As you can see, why rainforests are important to the world cannot be overstated. We need to protect our rainforests, so we don’t lose the benefits they provide. With your support, we can educate Indonesians about alternative livelihoods, so they no longer need to log. Making a tax-deductible donation or joining us as a conservation volunteer are some of the most direct ways you can help Health In Harmony.

Join us

Sign up for our newsletter to learn how you can protect forests, humans, and the planet — plus read stories about your impact today!