ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES AND FORESTRY
The Occurrence of Deforestation for Growing Agriculture
Natural forests cover a third of the world’s whole land area, representing a region that is more than four billion hectares. In essence, it is estimated that more ten thousand years ago, half of the forest cover has been ruined by human activities. The majority of deforestation is known to have occurred over the past five decades. This destruction is attributable to the massive increase in human population, and thus the need for increasing more land for agricultural activities. Although deforestation has helped in increasing economies in developing nations in short-term basis, the long-term impact has led to significant detrimental alterations throughout the world. These alterations include global warming and hydrologic progression to name but a few. Therefore, it is imperative to look at the connections amid deforestation and the increase in human populations and its impact while providing the solution to deforestation in both developed and developing countries.
The Occurrence of Deforestation for Growing Agriculture
In the recent past, deforestation has become a major concern for various countries throughout the globe. In fact, it has been one of the most persistent problems related to land use since it has been occurring at an alarming rate that has never been experienced before. It is believed that more than 30 percent of the damage has taken place during the past four decades. Owing to the fact that individuals studying the impact have used the term deforestation quite inconsistently, it is imperative to provide a precise definition for the sake of this study. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has provided two distinct parameters in defining this term. The first parameter is grounded on the land use, which defines deforestation as the alteration of natural land cover for other forms of land use (FAO, 2010). The second definition is derived from the forest crown cover, which defines deforestation as the gradual and long-term reduction of forest cover below a ten percent verge. For the sake of this study, the term deforestation is defined as the clearance of forests, which involves cutting down, burning, and damaging trees for other forms of land use, especially for agricultural activities.
In developing countries, particularly the nations that do not have natural gas and oil reserves, agricultural land is viewed as the most significant source of natural wealth. In these nations, the agricultural land is obtained through the conversion of wetlands, forests, and natural habitats to a land base. According to various studies, deforestation has been rated as one of the key tragedies experienced in developing countries. These nations are approximated to be losing more than 11 million hectares of tropical forests per annum. Indeed, this amounted to an average loss of 7.3 million hectares natural forests per year in the past one decade (FAO, 2010). Important to note is that although deforestation is increasing at an alarming rate in the developing nations, some studies have found that its indications are slowing down in the worldwide level. In addition, despite the fact that there are numerous and complex causes of deforestation in developing and developed nations, conversion of natural forests into agricultural land has been rated as the main cause of deforestation in developing nations. At a global level, South America and Africa recorded the highest rates of forest loss from the year 2000 to 2010. The incredible scale at which deforestation is occurring in our contemporary world has led to various significant changes that threaten to jeopardize the well-being of human beings as well as the ecosystem in general. The alterations that will be discussed in this paper include changes in the global climate and the hydrologic progression that are attributable to agricultural activities.
The State of Natural Forests
Due to the fact that forests play a significant role in enhancing sustainable agricultural development, there is a need to balance or promote positive interactions amid forestry and agricultural activities. Natural forests cover more than a third of the entire world land area, which represented over four billion hectares of land area in early 2010 (FAO. 2009). Therefore, it indicates that each person in the world would be entitled to 0.6 hectares of forestland if the forests were to be equally subdivided between the world populations. However, the distribution of the forest cover varies all through the globe, the regional, and the local environments, with some nations having more than half of the total forest area. The resources made available to individuals from this natural resource greatly contribute to the social and economic requisites of many people around the globe. Currently, more than 1.6 billion people rely on natural forests for their survival (FAO, 2010). The manners in which individuals depend on forests vary largely depending on various aspects including contiguity.
Moreover, the level at which individuals become dependent on forests becomes greater for those who are near or in the forests. More than 60 million people are entirely dependent natural forests and over 350 million individuals depend on the forestland for income and subsistence. Additionally, over 10 million individuals are employees under the forest management and conservation centers (FAO, 2010). Most importantly, the forestry sector is a major contributor to revenue and thus enables distinct nations to achieve their development objectives and goals. In fact, in most developing countries, forestry provides more than 8 percent of the gross domestic product (FAO, 2010). Therefore, it indicates that deforestation has numerous detrimental impacts on the livelihoods and well-being of individuals, specifically those who are profoundly dependent on natural forest resources. Despite the knowledge and understanding of the harmful impact of deforestation, the activity is still occurring at very high rates, especially in regions that are densely populated.
Connection Amid Deforestation and Population
Agricultural activities that are aimed at improving food security due to the increase in population density are the most momentous drivers of deforestation. Various demographic aspects such as distribution, population growth, urbanization and density as well as migration are key drivers of deforestation. According to a study carried out in the countries that have experienced the greatest loss of the forest cover, it was found that they had one thing in common, which is a large population (Palo & Uusivuori, 1999). In other words, the areas with high population density, especially those near or in forests, are characterized by high levels of forest loss over the years. Studies have shown that rapid growth in population in developing countries and a combination of other aspects play a significant role in bringing about deforestation. For instance, small-scale farmers who live in the forests contribute to the high rates of deforestation in developing nations through the cutting down of the forest cover for food production and settlement.
Indeed, a growing population means an increased need for food and shelter and thus, a corresponding necessity to convert the natural vegetation cover into land for agricultural activities. The shortage of the traditional land for farming has resulted from a wide range of factors, including the increase in the population, an augmented population density, and the buildup of previous growth in population. Huge areas of land conversion from their natural forestation conditions to create environments that suit human use has continued to occur in developing nations, especially in regions with increased growth in populations (Palo & Uusivuori, 1999). Generally, in developing countries, the highest fertility takes place in remote and densely settled areas. The forest border regions have delicate ecosystems, and the alarming increase in the population leads to the natural land conversion for agricultural purposes. In fact, agricultural productivity has increased along with the population growth all over the world.
Global Land use Trends
Due to the rapid increase in population density, more and more forests have been cut down to pave the way for agricultural activities aimed at providing food security. Between 1980 and 1990, more than 15 million hectares of land were cultivated annually, and the level of deforestation was at an average of 0.8 percent per annum (Brearley & Thomas, 2015). During the following decade, which was between 1990 and the millennium, the worldwide levels of deforestation fell back to 12 million hectares per annum, with an annual rate of about 0.6%, though there were extensive regional variations in deforestation (Barraclough & Ghimire, 2000). In a stratified unsystematic sampling of more than 10 percent of the forests revealed that the direct conversion of natural forests into a land base for agricultural use is the main factor that has led to the increased rates of deforestation in our contemporary world, which accounts for more than 32 percent of the entire forest alterations. Therefore, in most developing nations, the decline in forestation cover, as well as woodland, has principally resulted from land conversion for agricultural purposes, especially for expansion of the land base for crop production.
The Impact of Deforestation in Developing countries and the World at large
Over the past few decades, deforestation has been ongoing and has shaped the climatic conditions of various geographical regions. In essence, trees play a significant role in the control of global warming by eliminating the greenhouse gasses, which is a factor that enhances the restoration of equilibrium in the atmospheric milieu.
Climate Imbalances and Global Warming
As human populations continue to increase, more natural forests have been destroyed, which is a factor that has led to the high rates of deforestation and consequently increased temperatures in our modern world. With the increase in the rates of deforestation, the ratio of the greenhouse gasses in the air has increased. In fact, cutting down of the tree for agricultural land use among other reasons has been revealed as one of the causes of the greenhouse effect and global warming. Recent studies have suggested that carbon dioxide releases from deforestation as well as forest degradation cause more than 12 percent of the entire anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide (Kanninen & Center for International Forestry Research., 2007). In addition, cutting down of trees enhances the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the air. As it increases, it creates a stratum in the troposphere that sets up radiation from the sun. Specifically, the radiation is converted into heat through a process that is known as the greenhouse effect, which leads to global warming.
In addition, during the process of photosynthesis, the plants, including trees remove carbon from the air in the state of carbon dioxide. However, during normal respiration, plants release some percentages of carbon dioxide back into the air (Brearley & Thomas, 2015). When trees are cut down, either for agricultural purposes or other reasons, much of the stored carbon goes into the atmosphere during the decaying or burning processes. Areas that have experienced high rates of deforestation absorb the heat faster and reach extremely high temperatures as compared to those with forestation cover. Hence, the faster heating and the attainment of higher temperatures helps in the formation of clouds, which produces more precipitation. In this case, fewer amounts of carbon dioxide will be converted into oxygen.
Trees play a vital role in balancing the atmospheric moistures by the process of extracting water from the earth’s surface through their roots and later releasing the water into the atmosphere by evaporation. Deforestation has been shown to have an impact on the climatic conditions of the regions through the reduction of the rates of evaporation, which is the cooling effect that occurs from plant life and soil in which they grow. As the natural vegetation cover is cleared away, the moist covering of the forests reduces since the plants remove water from the earth’s surface and release it into the air (Brearley & Thomas, 2015). However, when deforestation takes place, plants and trees can no longer extract and transpire this water into the atmosphere, a situation that results into the drier climatic conditions of the region where deforestation has taken place. Cutting down of trees lowers the water content not only in the soils but also in the atmosphere and underground (Palo & Mery, 1996). The result of this reduction in water leads to various devastating effects, including lack of soil cohesion that initiates soil erosion, landslide, and flooding. The deforested areas lower the ground’s capacity to transpire, intercept, and retain rainfall; hence, rather than trapping rainfall, the deforested regions turn out to be enhancers of water runoff.
It is worth noting that trees play a major role in sending back most of the water that falls as rainfall into the atmosphere through transpiration. Conversely, when deforestation has taken place, much of the water, which would have been transpiring is lost as runoff. Therefore, in both developed and developing nations, deforestation leads to a decrease in evapotranspiration, a factor that lowers the level of moisture in the atmosphere (Brearley & Thomas, 2015). The reduced rate of evaporation is attributable to the deforestation indicating that a considerable amount of the energy from the sun will have the ability to heat the earth’s surface and subsequently the atmospheric air, which leads to an increase in temperatures.
Impact of Deforestation on Biodiversity and Soil
Not only has cutting down of natural forests led to the extinction of some species in both the modern and historical eras, but it has greatly increased the rates of soil erosion. Cutting down of trees for agricultural land use is known to cause a decline in biodiversity on a human scale. However, on a global level, deforestation has been attributable to the extinction of various species both animals and plants. Indeed, the destruction of forest cover has led to a degraded environment with lowered biodiversity. Natural forests support biodiversity in the sense that they provide a habitation for wildlife while at the same time fostering therapeutic conservation. Notably, it has been estimated that on a daily basis, 137 plants, insect and animal species are being lost due to deforestation translating to more than 50,000 extinctions of various species per annum (Green et al., 2005). Indeed, this loss has implications for the agriculture and medical fields. Many species that have potential medicinal values, as well as disease and pest resistant plants, have been lost due to the cutting down of trees.
In fact, in our contemporary society, agriculture is almost entirely reliable on very limited species of the crop that are also decreasing due to the lack of genetic diversity and hence increase their vulnerability to pests, climatic changes, and diseases. Understanding the processes of extinction of various species has been rated as insufficient for providing accurate predictions about the effect of deforestation on biodiversity (Palo & Mery, 1996). In addition, undamaged vegetation cover has minimal rates of soil erosion as compared to the depleted ones. When individuals cut down trees to use the land for agriculture, they create permeable that increase the range at which soil is eroded. The same aspect increases the rates of runoff and lowers the ability of the soil to be protected from forestation litter. Important to note is that cutting down of trees does not necessarily augment the rates of soil erosion as some trees become encroached on grasslands leading to reduced rates of soil erosion.
The Economic Impact of Deforestation in Developing Nations
In the short term basis, developing nations, as well as developed countries, experience economic gains through the cutting down of forests. However, the long-term implications are detrimental as they bring more harm to the economic conditions of distinct nations. It is estimated that the destruction of forests, as well as other facets of nature, could lower the current living standards of the developing countries as well as reduce their gross domestic product by almost 7 percent by the year 2050 (Ahlburg et al., 1996). Although the economic conditions of the developing nations seem to escalate with the increase of deforestation, it is apparent that adverse implications of the activity will be experienced in the near future.
Throughout the history of the world, the utilization of forestland for cultivation and acquirement of forest products has played a critical role in the economic condition of human societies. Both developed and developing nations have expanded their agricultural lands as they continue to utilize forest products in their daily activities, such as manufacturing of paper and for construction purposes. In fact, in developing nations, more than three billion people depend on forest products for cooking and heating, and forestry land for subsistence farming (Barbier and Burgess, 2001). The use of forestland for cultivation and obtaining forest products has greatly contributed to the economy of both developed and developing nations, but in the short term. In fact, there are immense economic gains that are made by individuals converting forestland into the agricultural land base in the short term.
However, the cutting down of trees for agriculture and other purposes jeopardizes the well-being and economies of areas where the activity is practiced in the long run. In fact, the aspects lead to loss of long-term biological productivity and enduring revenue. For example, West Africa has experienced a decrease in revenue every year due to the cutting down of trees to obtain land for cultivation and timber. The rapidly developing economies also have an impact on the rates of deforestation within the regions. Developing countries will experience more pressure due to the rapidly growing populations and the fast industrial development (FAO, 2002). For instance, in the year 1995, the fiscal development in the developing nations reached almost 6 percent as compared to that of developed nations that were only 2 percent (FAO, 2002). As the populations continue to increase in size, there will be a need to expand their livelihoods in all arenas, including food, housing, and transport, which are major drivers of deforestation.
How to Curb the Issues of Deforestation
Although there is dire need to increase food productivity along with the growing population, there is also need to strike a balance between the agricultural activities and the prevention of deforestation. As a matter of fact, if individuals are not careful, the incredible presence and all biodiversity that comes with natural forests will no longer exist. Not only will some animal species vanish but also medicinal values from trees, clean atmosphere, and stable environments. Nations with the intentions of maintaining a healthy ecosystem ought to look for ways to curb this common phenomenon. Taking care of forestlands such as trees and the natural vegetation is one way of preventing the detrimental effects of deforestation.
Every tree that is cut down for a legitimate reason should be replaced with another one. In addition, rather than cutting down trees to plant varieties of crops, farmers should use the available land to grow all the required crop varieties through rotating the crops. In fact, the process of crop rotation has been shown to have some advantageous impact to soil owing to the reason that it maintains the fertility of the soil (Choosing a Sustainable Future, 1993). Farmers can also make use of new farming technological advancements using hydroponics and hybrid crops that depend on growing plants with the use of mineral nutrients as opposed to the soil.
The clearing of the natural forests has been occurring at alarming rates throughout the world, especially in the developing nations. In various geographical locations, deforestation occurs for various reasons. Studies on the rates of deforestation have found that most of the cutting down of trees is done for growing agriculture. Although the economic conditions for individuals benefiting from deforestation may grow in the short term, the long-term effects are devastating, including global warming and increased soil erosion among other challenges. Developing nations with the intentions of decreasing the rates of deforestation ought to formulate an effective and efficient way that will work towards mitigating the potential impact of deforestation.