In the past 13 years alone, deforestation has devastated 43 million hectares worldwide, destroying forests and jungles on a huge scale and causing enormous damage to soil quality. Forests still cover about 30 percent of the world’s regions, but swaths the size of Panama are inevitably lost every year. These are figures from the latest report, ” Deforestation Fronts; Causes and Responses in a Changing World,” from WWF, which looks at 24 places with significant concentrations of deforestation hotspots and where large areas of remaining forest are threatened.
According to this organization, 32,900 hectares of forest are cut down each year in Spain, and the European Union accounts for 16 percent of imported rainforest deforestation, the kind that causes trees outside our borders to be cut down. At this rate, rainforests and rainforests could disappear entirely within a hundred years if the current rate of deforestation continues.
Agriculture and Livestock
The reasons for clear-cutting are many, but most of them have to do with money or farmers’ need to support their families. Agriculture is the main driver of deforestation. Farmers cut down forests to make room for crops or livestock grazing. Huge numbers of small farmers often clear acres of forested land to feed their families by cutting and burning the land in a process called slash-and-burn farming.
WWF research identifies commercial agriculture as one of the main causes of deforestation and is behind this loss of forests worldwide, with forested areas being cleared to make way for livestock and crops. Depending on the region, Latin America highlights cattle ranching and large-scale farming, mainly soybeans to support livestock for food production; in Asia, pulp and palm plantations; and in Africa, subsistence agriculture is the main cause of deforestation.
Another study published in 2020 reported that deforestation in the Amazon has reached historic levels because of meat consumption . The main reason for this increase in forest exploitation is the increase in meat consumption worldwide, which entails an expansion of extensive livestock farming, followed by an increase in soybean and cattle grazing.
Causes of deforestation
Natural factors include:
- Forest fires , which not only destroy forests and biodiversity, but also release huge amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere;
- Diseases that affect trees;
- Pests .
However, it is not surprising that human activities (agriculture, infrastructure construction, mining, urbanization…) are the main cause of deforestation worldwide with tree felling uncontrolled . Agricultural land development is the main cause of deforestation. The world’s population continues to grow and people need more and more space to provide food resources.
Forests play a dual role for the planet: they are both the “lungs of the Earth” and reserves of biodiversity. As natural carbon sinks, they mitigate the negative effects of global warming by trapping and storing CO2 in the atmosphere, and they are the natural habitat of thousands of animal and plant species.
Three main consequences of deforestation:
- Loss of biodiversity : because forests are the natural habitat of many species, their destruction directly affects the survival of global biodiversity;
- Soil degradation: forests make soils richer in organic matter and therefore more resistant to weathering and erosion.
- Global warming: trees absorb CO2 throughout their lives and thus mitigate the greenhouse effect.
Reforestation and combating deforestation
Fighting deforestation is a global problem, largely due to unsustainable agricultural practices that damage natural ecosystems. Practicing agroforestry or implementing forest carbon projects are two solutions to fix this.
Agroforestry is a cultivation method in which trees are integrated into agricultural systems. The practice preserves soils, restores degraded ecosystems and improves agricultural production conditions.
Forest carbon projects aim to restore and conserve forests, and to support the social and economic development of disadvantaged communities through the planting of trees.
Coronavirus and deforestation: what is the connection?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 70% of reported pandemics, such as coronavirus, Ebola or HIV, are linked to the loss of forest mass and the consequent reduction in the biodiversity of these ecosystems. This is primarily due to the fact that animal species that previously lived almost isolated in jungles, jungles or forests, not living with human populations, are forced to move from their former habitats, moving closer to populated areas. This entails a closer contact with humans and, consequently, a higher probability of transmitting new types of viruses to them.