Urbanization & Export-led Agriculture Now Main Causes of Deforestation

jakarta skyline photo

Indonesia was listed as a hot spot of this sort of deforestation. Jakarta skyline, photo: flydime via flickr.

Think everyone moving to cities and global trade increasing incomes will slow deforestation? Think again. A new study in Nature Geoscience, conducted by scientists at Columbia, Rutgers, and South Dakota State universities, shows that in the main causes of deforestation in developing nations are no longer small-scale rural agriculture but rather increasing urbanization and expansion of export-led agriculture:Study lead author Ruth DeFries of Columbia University's Earth Institute:

One line of thinking was that concentrating people in cities would leave a lot more room for nature. But those people in cities and the rest of the world need to be fed. That creates a demand for industrial-scale farming.

Rural Population Growth Not Connected to Deforestation
Using remote sensing images from 41 countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia from 2000-2005, DeFries and colleagues combined these with population and economic trends. This shows that the highest amounts of forest loss were caused by urban growth within countries, and growth of agricultural exports to other countries. Specifically, rural population growth was not related.

oil palm plantation photo

Forest converted to palm oil plantation in Indonesia. Photo: Achmad Rabin Taim via flickr.

DeFries went on to say that in tropical nations as rural to urban migration increases resource use from the countryside increases--with more processed foods and animal products being consumed due to increases in income. In addition to this increasing amounts of palm oil, sugar, meat, and processed products are being produced for international markets.

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