“Deforestation Fronts” is one of three articles featured in Volume 30 No. 2 of the Renewable Resources Journal. Originally published by World Wildlife Fund (WWF), this article is an adaptation of the Living Forests Report. Deforestation is driven, among other factors, by demand for food, fuel, and fiber; pollution; human-induced disturbances; and invasive species. This degradation leads to ecologically simplified, less resilient, and less productive forests. This article highlights three deforestation fronts to illustrate the state and drivers of deforestation. Deforestation fronts are the places where WWF projects the largest concentrations of forest loss or severe degradation between 2010 and 2030.
Shift cultivation in Colombia. Matt Zimmerman.
Since 2005, there has been an important reduction in the rate of deforestation across parts of the Amazon region. However, deforestation and forest degradation continue at an alarming rate, threatening to overturn gains. For example, though the deforestation rate in Brazil has decreased, changes to the Forest Code in 2012 have been associated with increased deforestation.
WWF estimates that 27% of the Amazon biome will be treeless by 2030 if the average deforestation rate for the last 10 years for each country continues. The primary causes of forest loss and/or severe degradation include pasture and cattle ranching. In addition, the expansion of mechanized agriculture, particular the use of soy, oil palm, and corn for animal feed and biofuels, is a key cause. Indirect land-use change can also be a significant driver of deforestation. Small-scale agriculture is expanding in several regions as well.
The Congo Basin contains 20% of the world’s tropical forests. Sporadic change, influenced by politics and economics, is coming to this region. Here, deforestation is less a “front” than many individual “incursions,” and has proceeded more slowly than in other fronts. Deforestation rates are historically low, but some estimates show that degradation is an increasing problem and is generally under-reported. WWF estimates that 12 million ha are likely to be lost by 2030. However, volatile politics and nervous investors make future projections difficult.
The leading cause of deforestation in the Congo Basin is small-scale agriculture, primarily shifting cultivation. In addition, fuelwood comprises an estimated 90% of timber harvest. Large agricultural plantation development is likely to become more important, including for palm oil. Rubber and soy are also gaining importance. Large-scale mining, mainly by Chinese and Australian companies, and artisanal mining are both important influences as well.
The economies in this region are booming, but this comes with the complex task of balancing legitimate needs for development while safeguarding forest ecosystems. Most of the region’s natural forests have been reduced, severely fragmented, or degraded, including from the impacts of wars. Only 13% of primary forests remain. WWF projects further losses of 15-30 million ha by 2030. Weak governance, anarchic development, and economic dependence on natural resources are amplifying deforestation.
Other pressures include conversion of forest for crop plantations and agriculture, primarily for sugar, rice, rubber, and biofuels. Additionally, rapid development of roads and infrastructure are leading to new settlements that encroach on forests. Illegal logging is also prevalent throughout the region.
WWF recognizes that combatting deforestation in an ecologically and socially equitable and sustainable way presents challenges, needs political will, and requires great care. Reversing deforestation fronts will require measures to remedy the fundamental market and governance failures that drive poor land-use choices and practices. Coherent and fair incentives to maintain the integrity of forest ecosystems will need to integrate diverse interests and actors and shape the myriad systems influencing land-use choices.
Volume 30 No. 2 of the Renewable Resources Journal is available for free download.