photo: Teacher Traveler via flickr
More than 80% of new farmland in the tropics cultivated over the last two decades of the 20th century was carved out of tropical forests, according to new research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Between 1980 and 2000, globally the amount of tropical forest cleared for agriculture was roughly the size of Alaska, more than 500,000 square miles. Which is the bad news, the good news is that agribusiness is now responsible for the majority of land clearing, potentially making it easier to stop.Study lead author, Holly Gibbs of Stanford University, says, "This has huge implications for global warming, if we continue to expand our farmland into tropical forests at that rate. Ever million million acres of forest that is cut releases the same amount of carbon into the atmosphere as 40 million cars do in a year."
Analyzing satellite data, Gibbs and colleagues determined that about 55% of the tropical forests cleared for agriculture came from previously intact forests, while 28% had already experienced some level of degradation from small-scale farming, logging, or gathering wood for cooking or heating fuel.
The reason Gibbs cites the transition from most of forest clearing being done by small-scale farmers (as was the case in the 80s) to agribusiness (from the 1990s onward), is that "Big agribusiness tends to be more responsive to global economic signals as well as pressure campaigns from advocacy organizations and consumer groups than individual small farmers."
Read the original: Tropical forests were the primary sources of new agriculture land in the 1980s and 1990s
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