Tropical forests illegally destroyed for commercial agriculture

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Guardian| 11 September 2014

Tropical forests illegally destroyed for commercial agriculture
Receding forest cover in Kapuas Hulu, West Kalimantan province, on Borneo island, July 2010. Photograph: Romeo Gacad/AFP/Getty Images

Forest Trends warns that demand for palm oil, beef, soy and wood has fuelled rapid deforestation, especially in Indonesia.

Increasing international demand for palm oil, beef, soy and wood is fuelling the illegal destruction of tropical forests at an alarming rate, according to new analysis that suggests nearly half of all recent tropical deforestation is the result of unlawful clearing for commercial agriculture.

The report, by the Washington-based NGO Forest Trends, concludes that 71% of tropical deforestation between 2000 and 2012 was due to commercial cultivation. Of that deforestation, 49% was caused by illegal clearing to make way for agricultural products whose largest buyers include the EU, China, India, Russia and the US.

The global market for beef, leather, soy, palm oil, tropical timbers, pulp and paper – worth an estimated $61bn (£38bn) a year – resulted in the clearance of more than 200,000 square kilometres of tropical forest in the first decade of the 21st century, the report says. Put another way, an average of five football fields of tropical forest were lost every minute over that period.
As well as having “devastating impacts” on both forest-dependent people and biodiversity, the destruction of tropical forests for commercial exploitation has, according to the study, released an estimated 1.47 gigatonnes of carbon each year – equivalent to a quarter of the EU’s annual fossil fuel-based emissions.

The study, Consumer Goods and Deforestation, says two countries – Brazil and Indonesia – account for 75% of the total area illegally cleared over the period. The countries are leading producers of agricultural commodities such as palm oil, which is used in cosmetics and household goods; soy, used in animal feed; and wood products destined for packaging.
It suggests that at least 90% of deforestation for agriculture in the Brazilian Amazon is illegal, mainly because the legal obligation to preserve a percentage of natural forest in large-scale cattle and soy plantations was ignored. The report does, however, concede that much of the damage was done before 2004, when the Brazilian government embarked on a successful drive to reduce deforestation.

The NGO estimates that 80% of the deforestation in Indonesia was illegal, with most of it cleared for palm oil and timber plantations.

Similar patterns were seen in other parts of Latin America and Asia, as well as in Africa.
According to the study, 90% of the licences granted to clear millions of hectares of forest in Papua New Guinea were issued through corrupt or fraudulent means, while in Bolivia the production of soy – 75% of which is exported – has been the chief driver of illegal deforestation in its Amazon region.
It suggests that almost 40% of palm oil, 20% of soy, nearly 33% of tropical timber, and 14% of beef traded internationally comes from land that had been illegally razed.

“We’ve known that the production of agricultural commodities is a principal driving force behind deforestation, but this is the first report to show the outsize role that illegal activities play in the production of hundreds of food and household products consumed worldwide,” said Michael Jenkins, the president and CEO of Forest Trends.

He said that although increased agricultural production would be needed to meet the demands of the emerging global middle class, the world needed to wake up to the effect it was already having on tropical forests.

Jenkins added: “Urgent action is needed to help countries where these agricultural products are being grown, both for governments to enforce their own laws and regulations, and for businesses aiming to produce commodities legally and sustainably.”

Download the full report from Forest Trends here
Original source: Guardian
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