Agriculture - The real antagonist of deforestation (part 2)
When someone thinks tropical deforestation, they think logging. "I should use less paper to save the trees!" is a common way people try to battle deforestation in their everyday lives. Though their intentions are good, most peoples understanding of tropical deforestation is minimal, and the misconception that wood products are to blame is a skewed one. While deforestation is an issue as mentioned in an earlier post, lumber companies have a responsibility to forest sustainably, and only cut a few trees at a time. Therefore, the real antagonists to deforestation is agriculture.
Despite what you may think looking at a rainforest, the soil in the amazon is extremely infertile. This is due in part to rain runoff, but mainly that there are so many organisms living in the rainforest that the nutrients are tied up in supporting the plant and animal matter. The nutrients are all incorporated into the plants and animals, and can only be released when the organism dies and decays.
Because of this poor soil, after only a few harvest years, farmers land is unable to support their crops. They ‘accidentally’ set fire to the rainforest in order to gain valuable land that they would have otherwise been unable to use. Forest fires are extremely easy to get out of hand, especially in rainforests, which are abundant in flammable peat ground material. Huge sections of forest can be burned due to this increased demand for crops and grazing land for cows.
The poor farmers are not to blame, as they need a way to obtain value from their land. With support of tropical lumber products, the incentive to convert tropical forest to agricultural land is minimized, therefore adding value to the standing forest. Generally, timber is a much better way to add value to the land than agriculture. Forests provides more economic value as well as environmental value. Forests can help prevent flooding, erosion, reintroduce nutrients into the topsoil via deep roots, prevent pests, provide wildlife habitat, and even provide recreational benefits to society.
In Indonesia and Malaysia, there has been a growing concern of deforestation due to the increased demand for Palm Oil plantations. Palm oil plantations are not run by foresters, but rather is part of the agricultural industry. Conflict Palm Oil production is now one of the world's leading causes of rainforest destruction. Palm oil is found in roughly half the packaged products sold in US grocery stores. Palm oil production can be attributed to many human rights violations, as corporations often displace Indigenous People and rural communities, as well as threaten endangered species such as orangutans, Sumatran Rhinos, and Sumatran elephants.
The increased demand for palm oil has caused a push for more land, clearing rainforests and carbon-rich peatlands. Burning this peatland is a massive contributor to green house gas emissions, and should be avoided.
Agricultural burning and land-use change is the main contributor to deforestation and carbon emissions worldwide. A good way to avoid this is to support tropical lumber building products, thereby adding value to the standing forest. It also provides more jobs and opportunities for rural communities to thrive, and is a long-term means of obtaining economic and environmental benefit from the land.
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Check back in with us on our next blog as we continue to break misconceptions of tropical logging and discuss the benefits of utilizing wood as a sustainable building product. See how wood can contribute to carbon sequestration, reduce your carbon footprint, and make your home a more comfortable one to live in.
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