Rising commodity price of rubber triggers surge in forest loss

by Search Gate staff. Published Wed 02 Sep 2016 12:10
Report confirms loss of tree cover around the world
Report confirms loss of tree cover around the world

Tropical forests remain in trouble according to new satellite-based data released today that show the world lost more than 18 million hectares (45 million acres) of tree cover—an area twice the size of Portugal — in 2014.

Tropical countries lost 9.9 million hectares (24.5 million acres) of tree cover—more than half of the total. Tree cover loss measures the removal or death of trees, regardless of the cause and inclusive of all types of tree cover, from a tropical rainforest in Indonesia to a managed tree plantation in Europe. The data does not account for tree cover gain, which is another important dynamic affecting forest landscapes worldwide.

According to the World Resources Institute (WRI), the increasing pace of tree cover loss in the tropics is of great concern, and a deeper investigation can reveal insights for tackling the drivers of deforestation.

The Greater Mekong region (consisting of Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and China’s Yunnan Province) is home to some of the most biodiverse forests in the world. These forests are economically important for local people.

With the exception of China, the average rate of tree cover loss in Mekong countries from 2001 to 2014 increased by more than five times the rate of the rest of the tropics.

The situation is especially concerning in Cambodia, due in large part to the conversion of natural forests for rubber plantations. Since 2001, tree cover loss in Cambodia accelerated faster than in any other country in the world.

Although Cambodia’s tree cover loss peaked in 2010, it remains extremely high. Cambodia lost four times the area of tree cover in 2014 as it did in 2001. Researchers have established a strong correlation between forest loss in the Mekong and global rubber prices, indicating that as commodity prices increase, forest clearing will likely follow.

Elsewhere in the world, while tree cover loss rates have been slowly declining in the Brazilian Amazon, the research confirms troubling rates of tree cover loss in other forested areas of South America, especially in the dry tropical forests of the Gran Chaco region covering areas of Paraguay, Argentina and Bolivia. Paraguay in particular stands out as a notable hotspot for loss—both in the Chaco and other ecosystems such as the biodiverse Atlantic forests—due to expanding cattle ranching and soybean farming.

Some anticipate deforestation will continue to increase in the Gran Chaco and surrounding forests as cattle ranchers and soy farmers expand into previously isolated areas, but there is some reason to be hopeful. More and more companies—including beef and soy buyers—are committing to zero-deforestation policies.

Of the 10 countries with the fastest acceleration of tree cover loss, almost half can be found in West Africa. While West Africa isn’t often thought of as a deforestation hotspot, the expansion of palm oil development has taken its toll on the region’s forests as investors and others accelerate clearing.

The countries of the Congo Basin, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Central African Republic and Gabon have also seen tree cover loss climb rapidly due to palm oil expansion, timber extraction and small-scale agriculture.

Madagascar is another notable African hotspot. In 2014, Madagascar lost a significant 318,465 hectares (787,000 acres) of tree cover, almost 2 percent of its total forest area, due to agriculture, mining and the extraction of high-value timber. This is especially concerning given the high rates of biodiversity and endemism in Madagascar's forests, including many still-undiscovered species.



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