A new study in the A collaboration between many of the world’s leading deforestation experts finds that between 90 and 99 percent of all deforestation in the tropics is driven directly or indirectly by agriculture. Yet only half to two-thirds of this results in the expansion of active agricultural production on the deforested land.
The study provides a new synthesis of the complex connections between deforestation and agriculture, and what this means for current efforts to drive down forest loss.
This new result of 90-99% tropical deforestation from agriculture is higher than the old studies showing 80 percent.
The fact that agriculture is the main driver of tropical deforestation is not new. However, previous estimates of how much forest has been converted to agricultural land across the tropics varied widely – from 4.3 to 9.6 million hectares per year between 2011 and 2015. The study’s findings narrow down this range to 6.4 to 8.8 million hectares per year and helps explain the uncertainty in the numbers.
Several critical evidence gaps
The study highlights three critical gaps where a stronger evidence base is needed to better target efforts to reduce deforestation;
1. A globally and temporally consistent data product on deforestation is needed.
2. Except for oil palm and soy, we lack data on the coverage and expansion of specific commodities to know which are more important, with our understanding of global pasture and grazing lands being especially dire.
3. We know comparatively very little indeed about tropical dry forests, and forests in Africa.
Climate Change and Trees
There were once six trillion trees on the planet, now there are only three trillion and we’re still losing about ten billion trees per year. That leads to a changing climate, a shrinking habitat for wildlife, and harder lives for billions of people. The scale of the problem calls for radical action.
Restoration and reforestation needs a long-term commitment of resources and many years of monitoring.
The work needs to be done in areas where the surrounding people will not just cut down the new trees for firewood.
Nextbigfuture proposes converting more farming to greenhouse farming. Greenhouses can be 10 to 20 times more productive then open-air farming. China is creating 2-4 million hectares of greenhouses which will provide 50% of their agricultural needs. This would then allow 20-30% of farmland to be converted to tree growing. If farmers were incentivized densify existing farming to grow more food on less land then there would be large scale productive land available for tree growing. Economic incentives could be aligned to divert farmland to forestation and the farmers would have a background in growing crops. They could be trained to successfully grow trees at scale.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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