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Rainforest Loss and Slash and Burn

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) defines deforestation as “the conversion of forest to another land use or the long-term reduction of the tree canopy cover below the minimum 10 percent threshold.” Lesser depletion is considered to be forest degradation.

What causes deforestation?

The causes are different in different regions, as can be seen from this chart1. In Latin America, forest is mainly cleared for cattle ranching and also for soy and sugar cane. In Southeast Asia it is mostly for palm oil, timber and pulp for paper. In Africa slash and burn (shifting cultivation) is by far the dominant cause, and it is also a substantial cause in Latin America.

Chart showing tree cover loss by region, according to Curtis et al 2018.

The World Resources Institute (WRI) published data in 2019, which showed that 3.75 million hectares of primary forest were cleared during the year. That brings the total tropical primary forest loss since 2002 to 60 million hectares, an area larger than the combined states of California and Missouri. According to the U.N., in 2015 global forest cover fell below four billion hectares of forest for the first time in human history.1

However, tree cover increased globally over the past 35 years, according to satellite data from 1982 to 20161.  This would include monoculture plantations, which are not the same as forest. Not only do plantations lack nearly as much biodiversity as a proper forest, but a palm oil plantation, for example, holds far less carbon than a real forest.