Deforestation in the tropical rainforest
62 countries have tropical rainforest within their borders. The graph below shows the top 19 countries. There are no early records of the extent of tropical rainforest, however, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that around half of the world’s tropical rainforest has been cleared. The scale and rate of acceleration are of great concern.
A bar graph to show rainforest area by country
The graph below shows that rates of deforestation increased in all three continents containing tropical rainforest. These were Asia (Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia), Africa (Mali and Madagascar) and South America (Bolivia, Guatemala and Peru). The rate of deforestation in Indonesia and Peru is alarming. The rate of deforestation in Indonesia was twice as great between 2005 and 2010 compared to 2000 and 2005. In Peru, it nearly doubled.
Change in annual deforestation rate
The rate of deforestation declined in seven countries. Deforestation in Brazil has fallen to a record low. Over half of the remaining rainforest in Brazil is in some way protected. However, an area three times the size of the UK has been cleared since 1970. This accounts for 20% of the original forest.
The rate of reductions in other countries reflects that other countries have already put measures in place to protect their rainforests. In some cases, for example in Mexico, considerable efforts are being made to save what little rainforest is left. But it is only the rate that has decreased. Deforestation continues in all the countries shown in the graph above. Indeed, it is still happening in all 62 countries.
Today, global Rates of deforestation are:
- 2.47 acres (1 hectare) per second: equivalent to two U.S. football fields
- 150 acres (60 hectares) per minute
- 214,000 acres (86,000 hectares) per day: an area larger than New York City
- 78 million acres (31 million hectares) per year: an area larger than Poland
Causes and Effects of Deforestation in the Rainforest
The image below shows some of the causes and effects of deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest.
How do humans affect the rainforest
Slash and burn
Most clearances are still by the local people and tribes needing land on which to grow crops. They clear the forest by ‘slash and burn’. Vegetation is cut down and then burned. The ash acts as a fertiliser adder nutrients to the soil. When the soil begins to turn infertile (usually after 3-5 years) the people move on. This is called shifting cultivation. It is a sustainable method of farming in the rainforest. It ensures the forest will recover.
The Transamazon Highway has allowed increased access to the Amazon Rainforest.
Commercial logging is the major cause of primary rainforest destruction in South East Asia and Africa. Worldwide, it is responsible for the destruction of 5 million ha. per year. Logging roads enable landless people to enter the forest. In Africa, 75% of land being cleared by peasant farmers has been previously logged.
Ranching is a major cause of deforestation, particularly in Central and South America. In Central America, two-thirds of lowland tropical forests have been turned into pasture since 1950.
An unlimited supply of water and ideal river conditions have led to the development of hydroelectric power stations (HEP Stations).
There are nearly 3 million landless people in Brazil alone. The government has cleared large areas of the Amazon Rainforest and encouraged people to move there. The scheme has not been successful. Farmers stay on the same land and attempt to farm it year after year. Nutrients in the soil are quickly exhausted as there is no longer a humus layer to provide nutrients. The soil becomes infertile and nothing will grow.
The mining of iron ore, bauxite, gold, oil and other minerals have benefited many LEDCs. However, it has also devastated large areas of rainforest e.g. The Amazon.
Deforestation is causing many problems at a range of scales:
- About 80% of the rainforests nutrients comes from trees and plants. That leaves 20% of the nutrients in the soil. The nutrients from the leaves that fall are instantly recycled back up into the plants and trees. When a rainforest is clear-cut, conditions change very quickly. The soil dries up in the sun. When it rains, it washes the soil away. The rainforest never fully recovers. Wildlife and plant life is reduced.
- Elimination of Indian groups and their way of life
- Estimates suggest that 80% of forest Indians have died since the arrival of Europeans in the sixteenth century. Most have died from western diseases such as malaria to which they have no immunity. Those remaining have been forced away by the construction of roads, ranches, mines and reservoirs
- When vegetation is removed soil is left exposed to the heavy equatorial rainfall. It is rapidly eroded. The removal of topsoil means little vegetation will grow. Also, soil erosion leads to flooding as the soil is deposited on river beds.
Deforestation can consume a country’s only natural resource. If deforestation is not managed in a sustainable manner a country’s only natural resource could be lost forever.
Rainforest canopies absorb carbon dioxide which is a gas in the atmosphere. When the rainforests are burned and cleared, the carbon is released. Also, when trees are cut down they can no longer absorb carbon dioxide. This means more carbon dioxide is in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide allows heat through the atmosphere (suns rays). However, it will not allow reflected energy to escape from the atmosphere. This is called the greenhouse effect and causes global warming.