Tropical deforestation: agriculture leaves many deforested areas unused

main causes of deforestation
Agriculture often leaves deforested areas unused

Deforestation is one of the main causes of the climate crisis. Behind many glades are farms. A new study shows that the impact is even greater than previously thought. Many deforested areas are then not used at all.

Agriculture contributes much more to rainforest deforestation than previously thought. According to an analysis by an international research team, between 90 and 99 percent of deforestation in these areas is directly or indirectly related to agriculture. Surprisingly, however, only 45 to 65 percent of the cleared area immediately thereafter is actively used for agriculture, a team led by Florence Pendrill from Chalmers University of Applied Sciences in Gothenburg has shown. in the journal “Science” reported.

The ongoing large-scale deforestation of tropical forests is considered one of the greatest environmental problems on the planet: it is accompanied by greenhouse gas emissions, destroying unique ecosystems and reducing biodiversity. It is undeniable that deforestation in the tropics is mainly related to agriculture. However, the extent of this involvement was unclear. So far, observers have assumed the figure to be around 80 percent, albeit without a reliable database.

This verified that Team Pendrill now by comparing different datasets from 2011 to 2015 for 87 tropical and subtropical countries. Sources included data from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Global Forest Change (GFC) information based on annual remote sensing data.

pastures and plantations

According to various estimates, so far it has been estimated that between 4.3 and 9.6 million hectares of tropical forests are irretrievably lost every year due to agriculture worldwide. The team is clearly narrowing this range down to 6.4 million to 8.8 million hectares, that is, from 64,000 to 88,000 square kilometers. By comparison, Austria has an area of ​​almost 84,000 square kilometers. Other uses of the cleared area, such as for settlements, mining, dams, or simply for logging, make up only a small part of this area.

The areas are mostly used as pastures or for agriculture: “The expansion of pastures for cattle is by far the most important factor, accounting for about half of the deforestation in the tropics cleared for agricultural purposes,” the study says. Palm oil and soybean plantations account for at least 20 percent. The remaining area is mainly used for growing six crops: rubber, cocoa, coffee, rice, corn and cassava.

Surprising is not only the extreme participation of agriculture in clearing. In addition, only 45-65% of these areas, i.e. 2.0-4.5 million hectares, are actively used in agriculture immediately after clearing. The remaining sections are initially idle, sometimes for years. This applies to varying degrees in Latin America, as well as in Africa and Asia.

Data and transparent supply chains

The researchers attribute this to the fact that areas are often cut down as a precautionary measure when there is a good opportunity – for example, to speculate on land, in anticipation of future infrastructure improvements, such as road construction, or before tightening environmental regulations. laws come into force. Ownership of cleared areas is often unclear or the land is simply unsuitable for agricultural use. In addition, deliberate fires designed to clear a certain area can spread uncontrollably to neighboring forest areas.

Based on the findings, the team comes up with recommendations to slow deforestation. “Our study shows that the ultimate goal of the policy response should be to increase regulation of forest and land use in producing countries,” says co-author Toby Gardner of the Stockholm Environment Institute.

While crops such as soybeans, palm oil, cocoa and coffee are mostly traded internationally, most of the products produced in the cleared areas end up in domestic markets. It is therefore important to promote sustainable development in rural areas, including for smallholders.

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