July 14, 2008
Report Sees Big Losses In Forest Land

Add billions more people to the planet. Plus, let economic growth increase the buying power of those already here. What you get? Massive forest destruction.

LONDON (14 July 2008) -- Escalating global demand for fuel, food and wood fibre will destroy the world's forests, if efforts to address climate change and poverty fail to empower the billion-plus forest-dependent poor, according to two reports released today by the U.S.-based Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), an international coalition comprising the world's foremost organisations on forest governance and conservation.

The studies were delivered today at an event in the House of Commons hosted by Martin Horwood, MP for Cheltenham. Sponsored by RRI and the UK-based Forest Peoples Programme, speakers included Gareth Thomas, the UK Minister for Trade and Development; authors of the two reports; as well as advocates for forest communities in Africa and Asia.

According to the findings released today in RRI's comprehensive study, Seeing People through the Trees: Scaling Up Efforts to Advance Rights and Address Poverty, Conflict and Climate Change, the world will need a minimum of 515 million more hectares by 2030, in order to grow food, bioenergy, and wood products. This is almost twice the amount of land that will be available, equal to a land mass 12 times the size of Germany.

At the same time, a second RRI study, From Exclusion to Ownership? Challenges and Opportunities in Advancing Forest Tenure Reform, finds that developing country governments still claim an overwhelming majority of forests and have made limited progress in recognizing local land rights, leaving open the potential for great violence, as some of the world's poorest peoples struggle to hold on to their only assetómillions of hectares of the world's most valuable and vulnerable forestlands.

The studies also report a sharp increase in government allocations of forests to industrial plantations, and suggest that the booming growth in demand for food and fuel is rapidly eating up vast forestlands in the Amazon and Southeast Asia.

They foresee big increases in the amount of land under cultivation. More land for humans means less land for wild critters. How about humans make fewer babies and leave more room for the critters?

  • In Brazil, 28 Mha are currently under cultivation for soy and sugarcane. By 2020, soy and sugarcane plantations are expected to cover 88 to 128 Mha of Brazilian land.
  • In Indonesia, 6.5 Mha of land are dedicated to oil palm plantations. By 2025, oil palm plantations are projected to require 16.5 to 26 Mha of land.
  • In China, biofuel cultivation alone is expected to require an additional 13.3 Mha of land by 2020.

Peak Oil is going to make this problem worse as the demand for biomass energy soars. Also, high fertilizer costs will limit yield per area of land and therefore lead to more land getting put under cultivation.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 July 14 10:33 PM  Trends Habitat Loss

Mthson said at July 15, 2008 2:48 AM:

We seem to be entering phase two of GM food advances (actual nutritional benefits), and GM foods seem to hold enough promise to double nutritional yield per acre. (The article says demand in 2030 will be for twice the amount of land than will be available.)

But to what degree will the advantages of an overall increase in the human GDP (more wealth, more research) offset the costs of a larger global population?

Kralizec said at July 15, 2008 1:52 PM:
How about humans make fewer babies and leave more room for the critters?
Which human beings should have fewer babies? Your Western readers are members of peoples who are already at or even far below the replacement rate, while much of the rest of the world continues well above replacement. Moreover, from what I understand of the patterns in the United States, your American readers may belong largely to classes that are reproducing below the replacement rate, even though the U.S.'s populace, over all, is very close to replacement. Do you really mean to hector your scientifically and technologically literate readers into having even fewer children than they do already?

Moreover, if I'm not mistaken, you consider those policies immoral that encourage conversion of farmland from production of food to production of biofuels. I promise you that Asia and Africa will go on swelling, no matter how much you cajol them. As a practical matter, the one thing other than war that seems likely to hold the growth of their populaces in check is a limited supply of food. Must you preach against the one, relatively peaceful means of bringing about the end, in favor of which you also preach?

Nick G said at July 15, 2008 3:59 PM:

"let economic growth increase the buying power of those already here. What you get? Massive forest destruction."

Well, the US is arguably the most affluent country in the world, and here forests are expanding, especially in the most affluent areas of the Northeast. Further, it's not the affluent urbanites in developing countries that are destroying the forests, it's the farmers, many of them subsistence.

I'd argue that it's not economic growth but poverty that's destroying forests.

Randall Parker said at July 15, 2008 5:41 PM:


Genetic engineering to boost crop yields has to fight against the effects of Peak Oil, Peak Phosphorus, population growth, and rising affluence. Genetic engineering can supply the nitrogen. But it can't supply the phosphorus.


Definitely the countries with rapidly growing populations need to have fewer babies. I want to persuade Western readers that we should use foreign aid in ways that cuts population growth in poor countries.

Nick G,

The governor of Maine wants to shift 10% of Mainers to using wood for heating. Me thinks the number of trees in Maine will go down. What fraction of the country's trees will get shifted into use for heating?

Also, how much of the forest destruction in PNG, Brazil, and Africa is getting done to provide wood for furniture in Europe, the US, Japan, China? China's demand growth is in a country with a lot fewer trees per person than the US.

Mthson said at July 16, 2008 12:48 AM:

If farming becomes expensive enough, perhaps it will become economic to grow veggies in bioreactors, like our lab grown meats (which seem to make a lot of sense).

Larry said at July 16, 2008 1:50 PM:

In 2000, Maine's population was ~1.25 million. 10% of that doesn't seem like enough to demolish its forests, especially if they use efficient wood burners that don't burn/exhaust inside air.

Foreign aid is miniscule; far too small to significantly affect population growth. The only way to cut that rate is to liberate women!

As we switch from fossil energy to solar (all forms) and nuclear, we'll find ways to bring the whole world into the middle class.

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