Forests are important as they support the environment is several ways and their benefits to the world are countless. For instance, humans depend on the forests for survival especially in terms of getting the air we breathe. Forests also provide habitats to wildlife, control pollution, act as carbon sinks, continue the water cycle, control soil erosion, and regulate international temperatures. Many essential products for human consumption are also sourced from the forests.
Therefore, the functions played by forests cannot be undervalued. Despite the many values of the forests, they are constantly disappearing from the face of earth. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates that trees of about 36 football fields are cleared every minute. The economic values of the forests are perhaps the major contributors to the loss of forests. Here are the top reasons for the loss of forests in the world.
1. Agricultural expansion. Forests are increasingly being converted into agricultural fields for the production of commodities with high global demands such as soybeans. The global demands for these essential commodities are pushing industrial-scale producers to cut down forests to create room for commercial agricultural activities. Indonesia and the Amazon are examples of forest regions which have been extensively cleared for agricultural expansion.
2. Logging. Logging accounts for most of the forest loss in the globe. Loggers cut down the trees for timber and as raw material for the manufacture of paper and furniture. Logging is forbidden or controlled in many forest areas to reduce fast rate of forest loss, but the main challenge is illegal logging. Illegal logging is the main driver for the forest loss and it is responsible for more than 75% of the forests lost through logging. For instance, in Indonesia- the largest exporter of timber, it is approximated that 80% of the timber is illegally exported.
3. Overpopulation. With the ever increasing number of human population, it means increased global demands for material use, building space and building materials. This has led to expansion and deforestation to cater for the population needs. The world is currently sustaining more than 7 billion people and the number is steadily rising. As long as the population rate continues to increase, there will also be an even increase in the global wants and needs.
4. Livestock ranching. Changes in weather patterns has made green pastures to become slim and since there is a high global demand for beef, beef producers have resorted to clearing forests for livestock ranching. The practice is one of the major drivers for the loss of forests. In Brazil for instance, a forest area estimated to be three-fourths the size of Texas has been cleared since 1990 to create space for livestock ranching.
5. Expansion of infrastructure. The construction of new roods has contributed to deforestation by cutting down trees and granting entry to formerly inaccessible areas. Infrastructural expansions such as railroads and highways that are constructed across forests are a huge concern because they create opportunities for logging and illegal logging. In other words, they create way into the interior and inaccessible parts of the forest where illegal logging is done. Infrastructure expansion also attracts new settlers in such areas who later expand into the forest by clearing trees.
6. To make more land available for housing and urbanization. Forests are being cleared to make space for new dwelling areas and attractive land for putting up buildings. At the same time, the expansion of urban communities increases the demand for more suitable and cool areas which make forests a wonderful target area.
7. To generate more highly prized consumer products. Cotton, rubber, natural herbs, medicinal ingredients and paper are some of the highly prized consumer products that are fueling the high rates of forest loss. The unsustainable sourcing of these natural and rich products from the forests is the cause for the loss of forests taking place across the world.
8. Harvesting and creating commercial commodities. Furniture and wood finishes are the leading commercial commodities persistently contributing to the loss of forests. The demand for high quality wood finishes in construction and furniture making has promoted the harvesting of hard wood trees thereby resulting in the reduction of forest cover.
9. Palm oil production. Palm oil production is categorically placed among the top reasons for the loss of forests because of the role they’ve placed in forest destruction in African and Asian countries. The ever ascending global demand for palm oil as a raw material for commodities such as cereals, cooking oil, and margarine has seen some African and Asian countries engage in the highest rates of deforestation in the globe. Indonesia and Malaysia are some of the regions that have suffered the most.
10. Subsistence farming. Small-scale farming is also a contributor of forest loss. Small-scale subsistence farming is associated with approximately 33% of deforestation in Africa. Most African countries are greatly dependent on root crops and cereals such as maize, rice and beans which have culminated to the phenomenon. Besides food crops, some people also grow cash crops such as cotton, coffee and cocoa in small scale which exacerbates the activity.
11. Mining. Mining opens up of the remotest areas of the forest which encourages illegal logging. Besides that, roads have to be constructed into the mining areas and in the process, trees are cleared. Because many forest areas are home to rich minerals, it is common to find mining areas situated deep inside the forests therefore driving the continued loss of forests. For instance, the Congo Basin holds huge amounts of untapped gold, diamond, copper and uranium. At one point, these areas will be exploited and it will result in forest loss. 7% of the world’s forest loss is due to mining activities.
12. Fires. Forest fires such as the ones that happen in dry tropical forests are a major cause of forest loss. Whenever forest fires are experienced, thousands of acres of trees and vegetation cover are wiped out. Almost every year, forests fires are witnessed across different forest regions which persistently reduce the quality of certain forest features like soil fertility, biodiversity, and ecosystems. A forest degradation study by 100 nations produced inn 2012 reveal that uncontrolled fires were the agent for nearly 9% total forest loss between 2000 and 2010.
13. Charcoal production. Charcoal production is a cheap and readily available bio-fuel in most African countries. As such, charcoal production is one of the major contributors of forest loss in Africa. Most of the charcoal originates from the Sub-Saharan Africa regions where trees are cut down then processed to produce charcoal, which is later use as fuel for cooking. Preference is given to charcoal made from overly mature hardwood trees owing to the reason that it burns longer and hotter. Charcoal production together with firewood accounts for 48% of forest loss in Africa.
14. Collection of firewood. Just like charcoal use, most African countries depend on firewood for heating and cooking. On this account, the demand for firewood to heat and cook at home has resulted in forest loss not only in Africa but also other poor countries. Apart from use at home, firewood also has high economic value in some regions thereby increasing its demands.
15. Climate change. The effects of climate change and global warming are partly contributing to forest loss. Extreme weather such as droughts and heat threaten the survival of the forests and may also trigger the onset of wildfires. The drying out of tropical rainforests and wildfires in boreal forests explains the effects of climate change.
16. Construction of large dams. The construction of large dams for hydroelectric production is among the drivers of forest loss. The construction process offer avenues for illegal logging as it normally requires clearance of trees for setting up the site. To put up the facility, large tracks of forests also have to be destroyed to create room for the hydro-electric dam.
17. Tourism. The introduction of new national parks and game reserves has not helped in protecting the forests in some parts of the world. Instead, it has encouraged the loss of forests. The reason for this argument is based on fact that some nations open parks and game reserves to the public without having proper tourist management plans and policies. Consequently, it not only creates opportunities for poaching and forest habitat degradation but also illegal logging.
18. Overconsumption. Green advocates are incessantly urging the world to consume less to build a sustainable future. In this sense, the basis of the forest loss problem is due to man’s nature of over-consumption and resource wastage. The world consumes almost four times the resources they need to sustain them including the majority of the materials produced or sourced from forest regions.
19. Poverty. Poverty can as well be categorized as a contributor to forest loss especially in forest areas neighboring poor people. The poor settlers will look for means to survive and their immediate option will be the exploitation of the forest resources such as timber and other highly prized resources available. They may also clear the forest to create space for subsistence farming.
20. The debt burden. The debt burden is a structural concern driving poorer countries to exploit their natural resources. Poor countries have huge international debts that keep increasing due the global economic crunch and rising interests rates. Therefore, for these countries to repay their debts, they are forced to exploit their natural resources, including forests, to service the debts.
21. Colonization schemes. Just like the debt burden, colonization schemes qualify as some of the structural factors that have caused the loss of forests. Governments and aid organizations thought that by promoting trans-migration and colonization schemes into rainforest regions, it would help address poverty. Instead, the schemes opened avenues for logging, mining and extraction of prized consumer products, which have since resulted in thousands of hectares of forest loss. A prime example of the consequence of such a scheme is in Indonesia which has suffered forest loss of more than 200,000 hectares since 1974.