Outline the causes of rainforest deforestation in different regions around the world. (10 marks)
7% of the Earth’s land is covered in tropical rainforest. In some developing countries and NICs, tropical rainforests, such as those in the Amazon basin in South America, and in Indonesia and Malaysia are being destroyed at an increasing rate. Already, around half of the world’s original rainforests have been cleared, with an area the size of the UK being cleared every year. Climatic climax vegetation has been destroyed and this has resulted in both secondary succession and plagioclimax. The vegetation that eventually grows to replace the original rainforest tends to be smaller in height and less diverse, with a reduction in the overall biomass.
One of the major reasons for deforestation is due to high demand for hardwood such as teak, from all around the world. Hardwoods are in demand for building and furniture, and many developing countries rely on export earnings from timber to help pay their debts and finance major development projects. The five countries with the largest rainforest areas are also among the world's most heavily indebted countries. As most tropical rainforests are located in developing countries that have large debts to pay off, the level of deforestation is often high as the increased demand for hardwoods has also increased the price of the timber, and so many countries take a short term view and allow unregulated use of their forest resources in order to finance those debts. Deforestation also occurs to provide land for rubber plantations, cattle ranches for beef farming, soya plantations and roads and railways. With increased demand for beef products from MEDCs, much of the rainforest has been cleared for cattle ranches as countries can often earn more from exporting beef products than timber. Again, the increased demand has increased the price at which beef products are sold at, and this can help with the debt burdens facing many LEDC countries with tropical rainforest. The need for roads and other transport links can cause deforestation, as paths are often cleared through the tropical rainforest in order to shorten journeys and thus reduce the costs of production for many companies who are transporting goods.
Another cause of deforestation is to make space for hydroelectric power stations which provide an alternative renewable source of energy as opposed to using oil or coal. In the Brazilian rainforest, rivers have been dammed and large areas around the river have been flooded to provide water for the hydroelectric power stations. An example of such a reservoir lies behind the Tucuruí dam on the Tocantins River in Amazonia. Flooding the land requires the need for deforestation to create flat land and space, and higher concerns for usage of more renewable energy types has led to this cause of deforestation increasing around the world. Also in Brazil, much of the forest is being cleared for mining. There are vast resources of aluminium and iron ores in the ground beneath the rainforest and the Carajás mining project in Amazonia has resulted in the destruction of large areas of climax vegetation in the tropical rainforests.
Most countries with large areas of rainforest are still developing economically. During the 60s and 70s, the population of southeast Asia and South America increased rapidly because birth rates exceeded death rates, and so population pressure led to increasing clearance of rainforest. Countries experiencing rapid population growth tend to put pressure on the land covered by the forests, which are often viewed as ‘wasted’ land, and so cut down the trees and burn them to release the nutrients. In Indonesia, the transmigration policy encouraged people to move from the overcrowded island of Java to less populated islands such as Sumatra, where rainforest was cleared away to make way for settlements and agriculture.
Can forests be managed in a sustainable way?
Possible solutions to the problems facing tropical rainforests include:
- Replanting of degraded land, which improves soil, increases biodiversity and reduces erosion.
- Education programmes for LEDC populations- a bottom up approach is more successful in the long run than top down
- Continued research into the structure and function of the tropical rainforest, as well as its biodiversity
- Encourage the use of trees as main crops in order to maintain nutrient cycles
- Eco tourism should be encouraged- brings in tourists and educates tourists not to expect developed world standards when in a tropical rainforest ecosystem
- Land reform- governments of some countries need to redistribute land more fairly to prevent a huge divide between large landowners and landless peasants. Without reform, it is more likely to result in instability within a country