Bobby Bezinque
22 July 2013
Tropical Ecology

Reviewing Causes for Tropical Deforestation

Tropical rainforests cover 30 million square kilometers, over 10% of the Earth's land surface. They originally covered at least twice that area. Tropical rainforests are extremely important because of their interaction with the environment and climate. Tropical Rainforests also receive higher intensities of solar radiation than any other places on the Earth. Tropical rainforests are the Earth's oldest continuous ecosystem. Unfortunately tropical deforestation is the most significant current land coverage change on the Earth. Fifty-five percent of the Earth's 5.2 billion people live in the tropics. Humans have already destroyed 50% of the tropical rainforests. Approximately 100,000 square kilometers are eliminated every year. In some countries deforestation is more severe than in others. If deforestation continues at its present rate in the Amazon the tropical rainforests will be completely eliminated in 100 years. Even worse, the destruction of tropical rainforests is irreversible. The deforestation process alters the hydrologic cycle, creates soil erosion and soil infertility, and disrupts the complex interaction between plants and animals. Replanting tropical rainforests, the way we replant in tree farms for timber harvest, would not work. This paper will cover major reasons why there is current tropical deforestation infrastructure expansion, agricultural expansion, wood extraction, demographic factors, and cultural factors.

The extension of infrastructure, in combination with other proximate causes, explains 110 out of 152 cases of deforestation (72%). Overland transport infrastructure, especially roads, had the greatest impact. Market or settlement expansion as well as the extension of private enterprise infrastructure is reportedly less associated with deforestation. River transporting infrastructure, contributes to deforestation in 64% of all cases, is most pronounced in Latin American cases. Railroad construction, river transport and, in particular, road network extension are reported as prominent proximate causes of forest losses there. Road construction is reportedly associated with half of all cases in Asia (from altogether eight countries, but mainly Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia) and in Africa (from altogether five countries). Road extension is one of the main specific proximate causes of tropical deforestation. It is associated with deforestation especially in three quarters of the Latin American cases located in all countries there. The expansion of rural, semi-urban and urban settlements plus accompanying market infrastructure, such as public services and private or public food markets, reportedly contributes to deforestation in slightly more than one fourth of all cases (27%). Settlement expansion together with other, infrastructural improvements (that were not further specified in more detail) hold the largest single shares. They do not vary across regional cases to a considerable degree. The extension of private enterprise infrastructure appears as a minor proximate cause of deforestation only, since it is associated with deforestation in just 16% of all cases (with next to none reported from Africa). The impact of mining gold, coal or tin ore is equally spread among cases in Asia (southern Thailand, upland Philippines and, especially, several cases from China, i.e., coal mining in combination with pig iron production on the basis of charcoal inputs) and Latin America. In contrast, hydropower development associated with deforestation is more often found in Asian cases than elsewhere (inland Sarawak of Malaysian Borneo, southern Kalimantan of Indonesia, several cases from Vietnam and central Thailand). The impact of oil development upon deforestation, especially during the exploration phase, is only reported from Amazon lowland locations in the so-called Napo Region of Peru, Ecuador and Colombia.

Agricultural expansion is, by far, the leading land-use change associated with nearly all deforestation cases (96%). It includes, with more or less equal frequencies, forest conversion for permanent cropping, cattle ranching, shifting cultivation, and colonization agriculture. Only permanent agriculture and shifting cultivation display low geographical variation. Further subdivisions reveal striking regional differences, however. ln permanent cultivation, the expansion of food-crop cultivation for subsistence is three times more frequently reported than the expansion of commercial farming (less than 25% for all regions). In shifting cultivation, cases of deforestation driven by slash-and-burn agriculture are more widespread in upland and foothill zones of Asia than elsewhere, whereas when practiced by colonizing migrant settlers in Latin America, it is mainly limited to lowland areas. Pasture creation for cattle ranching is a striking cause of deforestation reported almost exclusively for humid lowland cases from mainland South America.

Video: Amazon Deforestation

The extraction of wood or timber, in combination with other proximate causes and factors, is reported to lead to deforestation in 102 out of 152 cases (67%). Commercial wood extraction, be it clear-cutting or selective timber logging, occurs in more than half of all cases (52%), while the impact of fuel wood extraction (28%), pole wood extraction (20%), and charcoal production (10%) tend to be lower. Variations across regional cases are considerable. The commercial extraction of timber mainly destined for export to foreign markets was found to occur both in the form of clear-cutting or selective logging. It was reportedly associated with more than three quarters of the Asian cases, and, thus, constitutes a significant proximate cause of deforestation there. The Asian cases are widespread among nine countries in both the insular and continental parts (Western Samoa Islands, northern Laos and India, upland Philippines, and various parts in Vietnam, China, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia). Wood extraction was always reported to occur together with agricultural expansion, mainly of shifting cultivation, and in three quarters of the cases together with the extension of roads. Given uncertainties due to the high share of extraction activities not specified in further detail, data indicate that state-run activities are more widespread than private company activities. It is also noteworthy that illegal (illicit, undeclared) logging plays a major role in 12% of all and especially in one fifth of the Asian cases. Cases of fuel wood harvesting, pole wood extraction and charcoal production for rural as well as urban (domestic and industrial) uses other than destined for trade or export are most frequently reported to be associated in Africa, though they also occur in Asia and, to a lesser degree, in Latin America. Domestic and industrial uses are fairly balanced in the African cases (from Guinea, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Congo-Zaire, Malawi, Kenya, and Madagascar). In all other regional cases, the use of poles and fuel wood for domestic uses tends to be the more prevalent proximate cause of deforestation as compared to industrial uses.

Human population dynamics, in combination with other drivers, is reported to underlie 93 out of 152 (or 61% of all) cases of deforestation. Demographics can be very complicated to quantify because of all the small factors that make up this area. Natural Increment (fertility, mortality), migration (in/out migration), population density, population distribution, and life cycle features. Natural Increment plays a key role in demographics for deforestation because the fertility rates have risen in the past years and will continue to rise. Also birth rates in countries near tropical forests are usually poor and have much higher birth rates. Death does not play a large role in deforestation. Population distribution and density also play key roles as society is advancing larger domiciles are more common. You need larger areas to accommodate these larger homes. People also want to raise their kids in safe environments and most poor countries do not have safe large cities so when families are able to move out of the densely populated cities they move into the country and become more dispersed and this causes more land to be needed and possibly tree to be cut to accommodate. Migration used to play a big role in the past when people moved to get away from colder climates or move to follow the herds for food. Today not many people migrate in mass to anywhere and don’t play a large part for forest removal.

Cultural factors, in combination with other drivers, are found to be involved in 101 out of 152 (or 66% of all) cases of deforestation. These forces could, thus, be considered as the fourth most important underlying driving force. If broadly grouped by public attitudes, values and beliefs (for example, about forests, forest protection and development) on the one hand, and individual and household behavior on the other hand, both groups of variables underlie deforestation in more than half of all cases (63% and 53% of the cases, respectively). More pronounced than in the African cases, cultural factors tend to impact Latin American and, especially, Asian cases. Public attitudes – such as unconcern for forests due to low morale and frontier mentalities – and other unconcern or lack of basic psychological values – such as disregard for “nature” –, and, to a lesser degree, beliefs or disregards about the environment are associated with nearly two thirds of all deforestation cases, especially those from Asia and Latin America. With regard to public attitudes, a specific frontier mentality shapes human agency, especially government action, at the national and local level in several cases from Asia (north and northeast Thailand, Sarawak/Malaysian Borneo, and various areas in Indonesia) and Latin America (Amazon lowlands of Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Brazil, northern Petén region of Guatemala, and various areas in Costa Rica). In all these regional cases, forest colonization is (or has been) viewed as important for national land consolidation, security, unity, integrity, and military defense. Not in the Asian, but in the Latin American cases only, two main public notions of deforestation prevail such as: the establishment of human frontiers will be achieved not through social development, but through road construction; forest frontiers are useful as escape velvets to remedy country-wide social conflicts. Besides frontier mentality, low morale or lacking public education are reported to be associated with deforestation in nearly 20% of all cases, but were not further specified. Among other public attitudes shaping government actions are those of modernization, development and post-colonial nation building. Mainly located at the state level, a strong desire is reported from mainly Asian and Latin American cases for market economy development and political stability, together with the view that forest conversion is the best way to promote national economic growth and also meet local demands. Across all regional cases, including those from Africa, attitudes associated with deforestation are reported such as: forest conversion is the best method for promoting agricultural modernization and raising living standards. There are two minor variants of it. At the local level, a dominant attitude prevails among farmers that it is desirable to take advantage of market opportunities.

In conclusion I found that infrastructure expansion had the greatest impact on tropical deforestation. This is because not only does this account just for space for buildings but also transport (roads, railroads, etc), markets (public and private, e.g. sawmills), settlements (rural and urban), public service (water lines, electrical grids, sanitation, etc), and private companies (hydropower, mining, and oil exploration). When building out a city or state we needs many materials to make this happen. Building material mainly wood is needed in large quantities. Poor countries need to make money to survive so they sell the trees and farm the land with governments following suite. This is a trend that must be stopped or tropical rainforests will not survive in the future at this rate. That brings us to the second largest problem which is agriculture. The more land a farmer has to grow the more he is going to make. Tropical rainforest but up to many farmlands. Farmers take it upon themselves and the governments also to tear down the forest to increase their wealth not realizing that the tropical rainforest have a wealth that cannot be measured by money but in life.

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