News

22.06.2017 |

World population projected to reach 11.2 billion in 2100

Idnia
India’s population is expected to surpass China’s (Photo: CC0)

The world population is expected to reach 9.8 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100, according to a new UN report released on June 21. The “World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision”, published by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, projects that India’s population will surpass China’s in 2024 while Nigeria’s population will overtake that of the United States and become the third largest country in the world shortly before 2050. The global population is continuing to grow, albeit more slowly than in recent years. The current number of nearly 7.6 billion will increase by more than one billion people to 8.6 billion by 2030. Ten years ago, it was growing by 1.24% per year. Today, it is growing by 1.10% per year, adding 83 million people annually.

Currently, 60% of the world’s people live in Asia (4.5 billion), 17% in Africa (1.3 billion), 10% in Europe (742 million), 9% in Latin America and the Caribbean (646 million), and the remaining 6% in Northern America (361 million) and Oceania (41 million). China (1.4 billion) and India (1.3 billion) remain the two most populous countries, comprising 19 and 18% of the global total, respectively. Much of the overall increase in population between now and 2050 is projected to occur either in countries with high fertility rates, mostly in Africa, or in countries with large populations. Among the ten largest countries worldwide, Nigeria is growing the most rapidly. The countries that will make the largest total contribution to population growth are India, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan, Ethiopia, the United Republic of Tanzania, the United States of America, Uganda and Indonesia.

Population growth remains especially high in the group of 47 countries designated by the UN as the least developed countries (LDCs), including 33 countries in Africa. Although the growth of LDCs is projected to slow, the population of this group will nearly double in size from 1 billion inhabitants in 2017 to 1.9 billion in 2050. Between 2017 and 2100, the populations of 33 countries, most of them LDCs, are very likely to at least triple in size. Among them, the populations of Angola, Burundi, Niger, Somalia, the United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia are projected to be at least five times as large in 2100 as they are today. The report warns that “the concentration of population growth in the poorest countries will make it harder for those governments to eradicate poverty, reduce inequality, combat hunger and malnutrition, expand and update education and health systems, improve the provision of basic services and ensure that no-one is left behind.” This presents a considerable challenge to governments in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

In sharp contrast to the projected increases in LDCs, the populations of 51 countries or areas in the world are expected to decrease. Several countries are expected to see their populations decline by more than 15% by 2050, including Bulgaria, Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Serbia and the Ukraine. Fertility rates in all European countries are now below the level required for the replacement of successive generations (roughly 2.1 births per woman). Fertility for Europe as a whole is projected to increase from 1.6 births per woman in 2010-2015 to nearly 1.8 in 2045-2050. However, this will not prevent a likely contraction in total population size. The report shows that lower fertility will result in ageing populations. Compared to 2017, the number of persons aged 60 or above is expected to more than double by 2050, rising from currently 962 million to 2.1 billion. The 2017 Revision also confirms a significant increase in life expectancy in recent years. Globally, life expectancy rose from 67.2 to 70.8 years between 2000-2005 and 2010-2015. The greatest gains were achieved in Africa, where life expectancy rose by 6.6 years between these two periods. In 2010-2015, average life expectancy in Africa was 60.2 years, compared to 71.8 in Asia, 74.6 in Latin America and the Caribbean, 77.2 in Europe, 77.9 in Oceania and 79.2 in Northern America. (ab)

19.06.2017 |

Restore degraded land to give rural people better chances, UN urges

Dürre
Increased frequency of droughts can lead to land degradation (Photo: CC0)

UN agencies have called for better management of land to combat desertification since land degradation is forcing people to flee their homes. On World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought on June 17, they promoted public awareness of land degradation under this year’s theme “Our Land. Our Home. Our Future.”, with a focus on making the land and life in rural communities viable for young people. Hundreds of millions of people worldwide are directly affected by desertification, the degradation of land ecosystems due to unsustainable farming or mining practices, or climate change. “Population growth means demand for food and water is set to double by 2050 but crop yields are projected to fall precipitously on drought affected, degraded land. More than 1.3 billion people, mostly in the rural areas of developing countries, are in this situation,” said Monique Barbut, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). Across the world, land degradation is forcing people to flee their homes and countries. According to estimates, nearly 500 million hectares of once fertile land – an area more than half the size of China – have been completely abandoned due to drought, desertification and land mismanagement. “Over the next few decades, worldwide, close to 135 million people are at risk of being permanently displaced by desertification and land degradation,” Barbut warned.

Erik Solheim, the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, echoed that land degradation affects where and how people live. “It drives human displacement by threatening lives over the short term and making people’s livelihoods untenable over the long term, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable.” If more land is getting lost to desertification, rural populations who rely on pastoral livelihoods, agriculture and natural resources will face additional threats such as increasing poverty and poor levels of education. This is why the subject of land also features prominently on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with a stand-alone Sustainable Development Goal (SDG). Goal 15, in particular, calls for combatting desertification, and undertaking efforts to halt and reverse land degradation. To address this growing threat, Irina Bokova, the head of UNESCO, called for a double approach: First, better land management to arrest desertification and preserve the productivity of farmland and second, strengthening resilience of vulnerable populations by supporting alternative livelihoods. Ms Barbut also believes that with the right type of investments in land, rural infrastructure and skills development, once degraded lands can build resilience to extreme weather-elements like drought and can provide not just enough to get by, but new opportunities for young, rural populations: “We need policies that enable young people to own and rehabilitate degraded land… Let us give young people the chance to bring that natural capital back to life and into production.” (ab)

15.06.2017 |

European Parliament bans pesticides from Ecological Focus Areas

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Pesticides will be banned in the EU at least on ecological focus areas (Photo: CC0)

The European Parliament has adopted a ban on the use of pesticides on land set aside for nature conservation. As a result of a plenary vote on June 14, EU Farmers who receive subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will no longer be allowed to spray pesticides on “ecological focus areas” (EFAs). In February, the European Commission had proposed a ban as part of a package of measures designed to simplify the so-called “greening” of the CAP. On May 30, Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development (COMAGRI) adopted a resolution to veto this Commission proposal. A group of lawmakers argued that a pesticide ban would undermine the production of crops that are allowed to be grown in those areas. However, in Wednesday’s plenary vote, opponents of the pesticide ban failed to secure the required majority. 267 MEPs voted for a ban while 363 MEPs voted for pesticides, missing the absolute majority by 13 votes. This means that Parliament automatically supported the Commission’s pesticide ban. “Saved by procedure manual!,” was the comment of environmental organisation BirdLife. “Even if the majority of MEPs present in the European Parliament voted in favour of pesticides, nature still won,” said Trees Robijns, Senior Policy Officer at BirdLife Europe and Central Asia. “This vote, a brazen display of vested interests over public good, shows that a big part of MEPs are not listening to the hundreds of thousands of people who have repeatedly expressed their support for nature in recent EU public consultations.”

Environmental groups and other non-governmental organisations still welcomed the outcome of vote. PAN Europe, a network of European NGOs promoting sustainable alternatives to pesticides, said the EP refusal to undermine EFAs by allowing pesticides use “is a small but welcome victory for common sense, biodiversity and the wider environment”. But Henriette Christensen, PAN Europe Senior Policy Advisor, added that “in truth, much more must be done on the road to sustainable agriculture.” The World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) also welcomed the decision: “Banning pesticide use on a small percentage of arable land will not impact overall agricultural production and is the right thing to do to bring back some of the farmland biodiversity we have been losing over the last decades,” said Jabier Ruiz, Senior Policy Officer, Agriculture and Sustainable Food Systems. He heavily critisied COMAGRI: “The EU Parliament's Committee on Agriculture tried to block this improvement over the last few months, showing clearly that they lack environmental awareness, and that they cannot be entrusted with full responsibility in future debates on the Common Agricultural Policy.”

Ecological Focus Areas were introduced as part of CAP’s greening measures. Farms with more than 15 hectares of arable land are required to dedicate at least 5% of this land to EFAs in order to receive payments. On these areas, they can implement measures such as creating buffer strips, maintaining hedges, leaving land lying fallow or planting nitrogen-fixing crops. In January, research by a group of scientists from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, the University of Göttingen and other institutions found that nitrogen-fixing crops like legumes do not benefit biodiversity much if farmers use pesticides on these areas. They had called for stricter management requirements. “It is of course essential to forbid the use of pesticides on EFAs,” said the lead author of the paper, Guy Pe’er. “It makes no sense to harm biodiversity in areas that are explicitly designated to protect it.” The ban on the use of pesticides in ecological focus areas will now apply from January 2018. (ab)

13.06.2017 |

Cities are powerful agents in addressing food system challenges, IPES report

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Urban farming in San Francisco (Photo: SPUR, Sergio Ruiz, bit.ly/4_CC_BY_2-0, bit.ly/SRuiz)

Cities around the world play an increasingly important role in addressing food system challenges by adopting policies that bring about change. This is the message of a new report from the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food), published on June 12th. The report presents an analysis of the innovative and diverse ways in which five cities – Belo Horizonte, Nairobi, Amsterdam, a Canadian city region and Detroit – developed urban food policies. “Cities are taking matters into their own hands to try to fix the food system,” said lead author Corinna Hawkes, Director of the Centre for Food Policy at City University London. “Hundreds of cities around the world are taking concerted policy action – whether it be to ensure access to decent, nutritious food for all, to support farm livelihoods or to mitigate climate change.”

According to the report, the city of Belo Horizonte is renowned worldwide as a pioneer in city-level policy to address food insecurity. In 1992, it established a dedicated food agency within city government, the Secretariat for Food and Nutrition Security (SMASAN) and put in place an integrated set of policies and programmes that amount to a state-led alternative food system to ensure access to quality, nutritious and safe food for everyone. Belo Horizonte’s approach has survived for 25 years. The case study of Nairobi stands for a U-turn of city authorities, from hostility to active promotion and regulation of urban farming. In the late 1970s, Kenya’s capital experienced a massive influx from the countryside. For those poor and food-insecure families, urban agriculture became a means of survival – whether for subsistence or to supplement meagre incomes. However, for decades they were doing so illegally. Nairobi City Council staunchly opposed farming in the city, considering it a threat to public health and land rights. In 2015, city authorities passed the Nairobi Urban Agriculture Promotion and Regulation Act, intended to boost food security by facilitating food production in the city, to promote job creation, value addition and value chain development, to protect food safety and environmental health, and to regulate access to land. Now, the city government is responsible for training farmers, for ensuring their access to organic waste, and for developing marketing infrastructure.

Although the urban food policies portrayed in the report were all developed in different contexts, the authors identified a number of factors that were seen to drive policy forward. “The cities we studied were tremendously innovative when it came to harnessing the factors that drive policy forward, and overcoming the barriers,” said Hawkes. “They found ways of extending budgets to enable full implementation of the policy, institutionalizing policies to help them transcend electoral cycles, and even obtaining new powers if they did not have the authority to develop and deliver the policy they wanted.” The objective of the report is to provide insights into the factors that enable the development and delivery of urban food policies so that others can learn from these lessons. “Sharing these experiences is crucial. Looking at what has been done elsewhere can help cities of all sizes that are working to improve their food systems – from small towns that are taking their first steps in designing food-related policy to big cities that are striving to maintain highly-developed, integrated policies”. (ab)

09.06.2017 |

Cambodia: communities protest against land grab by Chinese sugar companies

Prame
Fields and forests are converted into sugarcane plantations (Photo: Prame community)

Land grabs by Chinese sugarcane companies have violated fundamental rights of communities in Cambodia, with devastating impacts on people’s livelihoods and the environment. A new report reveals that tens of thousands of people have been affected by land grabs in the province of Preah Vihear, in which Chinese-owned companies were granted land concessions covering more than 40,000 hectares. The report, published by the non-governmental organisations Community Network in Action, Ponlok Khmer, GRAIN, Cambodia Indigenous Youth Association, and the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, exposes the dramatic consequences of these land grabs for local communities.

In 2011, five Chinese-owned companies were granted economic land concessions (ELCs) occupying more than 40,000 hectares. According to the report, the firms are all believed to be subsidiaries of a single Chinese state-owned company, Hengfu Group Sugar Industry, in partnership with another (Huada) and were clearly set up to circumvent Cambodian legislation that prohibits a single company from holding more than 10,000 hectares. ELC land concessions are part of the Cambodian government’s efforts to attract investment and to transform small-scale farmer landscapes into agro-industrial ones. The government hopes this will bring about development and increased profits from agriculture. However, the NGOs behind the report warn that this investment comes at a great human and environmental cost, with little recognisable benefit to communities in the concession areas. “Since they started, ELCs have facilitated the transfer of over 2.1 million hectares of land from small farmers and indigenous groups to large scale corporations and agribusiness,” said GRAIN’s Kartini Samon. “The arguments about the productivity and efficiency of large-scale plantations are false. The truth is that it is small farmers who feed countries like Cambodia”, she added.

In the province of Preah Vihear, in northern Cambodia, the sugarcane concessions have destroyed local livelihoods and food production while the companies produce sugar for export. Many families have lost the means to produce food and earn a living as the Chinese companies have converted rice fields, forests, pasture lands, and streams into sugarcane fields. The reports quotes Sophal, a woman from one of the affected villages in Chhep district, who said: “Our livelihoods have significantly been affected by the clearing of the forest, no more forest products can be collected. We lost our time by spending it monitoring the companies who are demolishing our young rice fields. Our rice yields are also reduced because of the lack of land for agriculture, and the cost for local rice has also reduced because the company can also grow rice and sell it at a cheaper price.” Communities also complained about harmful chemicals used on the sugarcane fields flowing into streams they rely on for water. “Instead of stimulating development, ELCs disrupt local and indigenous livelihoods. They destroy biodiversity and natural ecosystems,” said Ang Cheatlom, Executive Director of Ponlok Khmer. The affected communities in Preah Vihear have called for the concessions to be cancelled and the land returned to them. The publishers of the report support this demand, urging the Chinese government to intervene through ist embassy in Cambodia. They also called on the Cambodian government to return the land back to the indigenous communities. (ab)

06.06.2017 |

World needs to shift to more sustainable agriculture and food systems, FAO

Agriculture
Agriculture and food systems need to become sustainable (Photo: CC0)

To achieve sustainable development we must transform current agriculture and food systems, including by supporting smallholders and family farmers, reducing pesticide and chemical use, and improving land conservation practices. This was the message delivered by José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), to European lawmakers last week. Addressing members of the European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, da Silva highlighted the findings of FAO’s recent report “The future of food and agriculture”. “One of the main conclusions of the report is that the agricultural model that resulted from the Green Revolution of the Sixties and Seventies has reached its limits,” he said according to the statement released on FAO’s website. “In fact, high-input and resource-intensive farming systems have substantially increased food production at a high cost to the environment. Massive agriculture intensification is contributing to increase deforestation, water scarcity, soil depletion, and the level of greenhouse gas emissions,” da Silva added, warning that current farming practices would lead to a further degradation of natural resources.

The report, published in December 2016, argued that major transformations in agricultural systems, rural economies and natural resource management will be needed if current challenges for achieving food security, improving nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture worldwide are to be met. “To achieve sustainable development, we need to transform current agriculture and food systems,” da Silva said. “Business as usual is no longer an option,” he declared, echoing the message of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). “The future of agriculture is not input-intensive, but knowledge-intensive. This is a new paradigm,” the FAO chief explained. “We need to implement sustainable agricultural practices that offer nutritious and accessible food, ecosystem services and climate-change resilience at the same time. And this can be done by supporting smallholders and family farmers, reducing the use of pesticides and chemicals, and increasing crop diversification, just to name a few aspects.”

In his address to EU parliamentarians, da Silva focused on four issues: climate change, the spread of transboundary pests and diseases, food loss and waste and the importance of eradicating not only hunger, but all forms of malnutrition. Graziano da Silva cited estimates suggesting that nearly half of the EU’s adult population are overweight. “The way to combat this is to transform food systems, from production to consumption, and provide healthier diets to people,” he said, calling on EU lawmakers to ensure that adequate policies, programmes and operational frameworks are put in place. (ab)

02.06.2017 |

Trump’s climate deal pullout threatens agriculture and global food security

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Climate change will affect food security (Photo: CC0)

President Donald Trump announced on Thursday that the United States will withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement. In a speech he argued that the climate deal signed by 195 nations in December 2015 was a threat to the economy and American workers. Trump’s decision to pull of the climate agreement is a major setback for international efforts to tackle global warming since the U.S. is the world’s second-largest polluter after China. The decision puts the US alongside Syria and Nicaragua, the only two nations who declined to sign the deal. The move was condemned immediately by politicians and environmental campaigners across the globe. “The nations that remain in the Paris agreement will be the nations that reap the benefits in jobs and industries created,” said former US President Obama. “I believe the United States of America should be at the front of the pack.” He is confident that the “states, cities, and businesses will step up and do even more to lead the way, and help protect for future generations the one planet we’ve got.”

The Center for Food Safety, a US-based environmental organization, warned that the decision will threaten US agriculture and could result in increased hunger and malnutrition worldwide. “Agriculture is sensitive to fluctuations in temperature and precipitation and the U.S. is not immune to escalating global threats: in 2016 there were 91 weather, climate or geological disasters in the U.S. including severe storms, hurricanes, floods, wildfires, heat waves and droughts many of these damaging or wiping out crops,” the Center for Food Safety wrote in a press release. “The move is completely irresponsible. The President clearly has no understanding of science, and is willfully ignoring the advice of those who do,” said Diana Donlon, Director of Food and Climate at CFS. In East and Southern Africa, more than 38 million people in 17 countries are currently struggling with food insecurity resulting from consecutive drought. In the Arctic, temperature has increased at twice the rate as the rest of the globe which could weaken or shut down global ocean circulation which would obviously have catastrophic impacts on agriculture. “The Trump administration continues its dangerous pattern of placing short-term corporate dollars ahead of literally all else, including public interests as vital as addressing climate change,” said CFS Legal Director George Kimbrell. “We must continue to demand and force urgent action, to protect food security, farmers, and the planet.” (ab)

31.05.2017 |

Africa subsidises the rest of the world by $40 billion a year, new research

Africa
The world is extracting wealth from Africa (Photo: CC0)

Many people in Africa remain trapped in poverty, while the continent is subsidising the rest of the world by over $40 billion per year, new research shows. According to the Honest Accounts 2017 report, published by a coalition of British and African organisations, much more wealth is leaving Africa than is entering it. The report found that African countries received $161.6 billion in 2015 – mainly in loans, personal remittances and aid in the form of grants. Yet $203 billion was taken from Africa, either directly – mainly through corporations repatriating profits and by illegally moving money out of the continent – or by costs imposed through climate change. This is creating an annual net financial deficit of over $40 billion. “The African continent is rich, but the rest of the world profits from its wealth through unjust debt payments, multinational company profits and hiding proceeds from tax avoidance and corruption,” said Tim Jones from the Jubilee Debt Campaign.

The research, which covers the 47 countries classified as ‘sub-Saharan Africa’ by the World Bank, calculates the movement of financial resources into and out of Africa and some key costs imposed on Africa by the rest of the world. According to the most recent figures available in 2015, African countries received around $19 billion in aid but over three times that much ($68 billion) was taken out in capital flight, mainly by multinational companies deliberately misreporting the value of their imports or exports to reduce tax. An estimated $29 billion a year is being stolen from Africa in illegal logging, fishing and the trade in wildlife/plants. “Money is leaving Africa partly because Africa’s wealth of natural resources is simply owned and exploited by foreign, private corporations,” the authors write. African governments received $32.8 billion in loans in 2015 but paid $18 billion in debt interest and principal payments, with the overall level of debt rising rapidly. Other costs include the ‘brain drain’ effect, the cost to Africa as a result of the migration of health workers for example, and costs associated with climate change, a problem largely caused by Europe, America and other developed countries.

“Africa is not poor,” says the report in an effort to break with the powerful narrative in Western societies. “Whilst many people in African countries live in poverty, the continent has considerable wealth. A key problem is that the rest of the world, particularly Western countries, are extracting far more than they send back. Meanwhile, they are pushing economic models that fuel poverty and inequality, often in alliance with African elites.” According to Aisha Dodwell, a campaigner with Global Justice Now, the research shows that what African countries really need is for the rest of the world to stop systematically looting them. “While the form of colonial plunder may have changed over time, its basic nature remains unchanged.” The report contains a series of recommendations as to how the system extracting wealth from Africa could be dismantled. These measures include promoting economic policies that lead to equitable development, preventing companies with subsidiaries based in tax havens from operating in African countries, transforming aid into a process that genuinely benefits Africa, and compensating African countries for the impact of climate change that they did not cause. “The bleeding of Africa must stop!,” said Bernard Adaba, policy analyst with ISODEC in Ghana. (ab)

24.05.2017 |

Replace bee-killing neonic seed coatings with agroecological practices, report

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Monoculture makes corn more vulnerable to pests (Photo: CC0)

The use of environmentally harmful neonicotinoid insecticide seed coatings is unnecessary since there are many agroecological and other alternative farming methods that ensure productivity and resilience, while minimizing pollution. This is the finding of a new report released on May 22 by the Center for Food Safety, a US-based environmental organisation. The report compiles and analyses the peer-reviewed science on the efficacy of neonic seed coatings of corn and offers an overview of non-insecticidal alternatives to neonics. Neonicotinoid insecticides, mainly clothianidin and thiamethoxam, are applied to about 71 to near 100% of corn seed in the United States, affecting close to 90 million acres of farmland. They have been shown to harm pollinators, aquatic organisms, birds and other beneficial and non-target organisms. According to the report, this harm from neonic-coated corn seed is unnecessary since published studies reveal that the efficacy and yield benefit of neonic corn seed coatings might be lower than frequently claimed. “For years we have seen dramatically increasing use of these toxic pesticide, yet the peer-reviewed research shows that they rarely protect farmer profit or crop productivity,” said Dr. Doug Gurian-Sherman, the report’s author. “What we’ve also seen is that industry-sponsored analysis of the chemicals’ efficacy relies heavily on non-peer-reviewed research, and contains several biases that overestimate the value of neonic seed coatings for improving corn yield.” In fact, neonics may even reduce yields as they also harm organisms that normally help keep pest insects in check.

The report argues that US farmers can rarely find uncoated seed and are left with little choice. “One of the main reasons that neonic seed coatings are ubiquitous has nothing to do with yield or farmer profits, but rather monopoly control by seed and pesticide companies that make it extremely difficult for farmers to find and buy uncoated seed,” said Gurian-Sherman. However, there are many alternatives to neonics, which result in high productivity and are better for the environment. These agroecological farming methods rely on knowledge of the ecology of corn pests and the use of biological diversity to ensure productivity and resilience. Agroecological systems break pest cycles through crop rotations and cover crops, and provide high levels of natural pest enemies that usually keep pests under control. “Longer crop rotations have been noted for decades to reduce corn pest insects generally, including the pests that are the target of neonic seed coatings,” the author writes. For example, crop rotation is well understood to control corn rootworms. Where agroecological practices are used, infestation and yield loss from early-season pests is highly uncommon, the report says.

However, there is a trend in U.S. industrial agriculture toward increased monoculture corn rather than longer rotations. The report makes several recommendations for government action to counteract this trend. “Farmers will require substantial help through policies, incentives, and regulations to move away from destructive industrial farming practices like neonic seed coatings to environmentally and socially sustainable agroecology-based farming systems that are also profitable,” writes Gurian-Sherman. Resources are needed for farmers to learn about and adopt alternative pest control methods and affordable or subsidized insurance should be made available for the rare cases where target pests might be a problem. In addition, more research is required to fill in gaps in our knowledge of the pests, and ecological practices that can control them. The report concludes that the use of neonic seed coatings should be greatly restricted, eventually leading to prohibition. (ab)

15.05.2017 |

Commercial agriculture is dominant driver of tropical deforestation, study

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Deforestation caused by livestock agriculture in Paraguay (Photo: European Space Agency)

Large-scale commercial agriculture has been the main driver of deforestation in the tropics, new research shows. Clearings for large-scale agricultural expansion were responsible for an increasing proportion – in some places, more than half – of all observed forest loss across the tropics between 2000 and 2012, according to a study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters. The team of scientists at Duke University in North Carolina analysed deforestation trends by clearing size for this 12-year-period, using high-resolution, satellite-derived maps of forest cover produced by the University of Maryland. They found that Southeast Asia and South America saw the most severe losses. Over the study period, 79% of deforestation in the tropics occurred in these regions. “In South America, more than 60% of the increase in deforestation was due to a growing number of medium- and large-sized forest clearings typical of what you see with industrial-scale commercial agricultural activities,” said Jennifer J. Swenson, associate professor at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. In Southeast Asia, losses increased from 1400 kha in 2001 to more than 3700 kha in 2012.

Brazil, which had stricter policies limiting agricultural expansion until 2012, was the only country showing a reverse trend. Average annual deforestation decreased from approximately 3000 kha to 2150 kha between the first and second halves of the study period. “This unique trend may be short-lived, however, given Brazil’s relaxed forest policies of the last few years,” Swenson added. According to the researchers, the emerging prominence of large-scale drivers of forest loss in many regions and countries, in particular Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Paraguay and Bolivia, suggests the growing need for policy interventions which target industrial-scale agricultural commodity producers. Small-scale farmers also contribute to forest clearings but to a smaller extent. “A small family farm that produces sustenance crops or food for local consumption typically causes less than 10 hectares - or just under 25 acres - of land to be cleared per year,” said co-author Kemen G. Austin. “These small clearings can have relatively modest impacts on biodiversity, habitat connectivity, carbon storage, water quality, erosion control and other vital ecosystem services the forest provides.” By comparison, an industrial-scale plantation - such as one that grows and processes palm oil or soybeans for the global market - can cause nearly 2,500 acres of land to be cleared annually. As the size of the cleared land increases, so do the scale and scope of the potential ecological impacts, the study warns. (ab)

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