Deforestation in the Greater Mekong

Forest cover in the Greater Mekong has fallen from over 55% in the early 1970's to 34% today.

Too much, too fast

From mountainous jungles to low lying dry forests, people are utilizing and accessing the forests of the Greater Mekong like never before.
Healthy forests are necessary to all aspects of modern life. They store carbon, help protect communities and infrastructure from the impacts of drought and flash-floods, supply clean water and food, livelihoods, materials used in construction, trade, and provide a whole host of other ecological services.

The forests of the Greater Mekong are rich in natural resources that most other parts of the world have already lost. This makes them an attractive investment for governments seeking to answer the development needs of their country, particularly China, and natural resource based industries keen to meet growing market demand.

What is driving deforestation?

Illegal and unsustainable logging and conversion of forests for agriculture are the direct causes of deforestation and biodiversity loss in the Greater Mekong, driven by population growth, in-migration, poor law enforcement, poor land-use planning, increasing market demand, and policies that promote short-term economic growth.

Agriculture - a way of life for millions of people

Nearly 80% of the region’s population lives in rural areas where subsistence agriculture, fisheries, and forest extraction are the main economic activities.

Agriculture accounts for 78% of total employment in Laos, 75% in Cambodia, 69% in Vietnam, and roughly 50% in Thailand. The majority of these people are harvesting rice, which remains a critical crop for food security in the Greater Mekong.

What's the problem?

Recent expansion in the scale and intensity of these agricultural activities has come with significant costs to the environment.

In Cambodia and Laos, a surge of land concessions for agricultural plantations has added to pressure on both natural ecosystems and the rural communities that depend upon them.

In addition, since agriculture is often linked to the construction of infrastructure projects like roads, bridges, and dams, it leads to significant secondary impacts on the environment through forest degradation, habitat fragmentation, increased poaching, and in-migration of people.

 / ©: Nick Cox / WWF Greater Mekong Programme
Road through the dry forest ecoregion in Cambodia.
© Nick Cox / WWF Greater Mekong Programme
Mangrove destruction for shrimp farming in Thailand. / ©: WWF / Hartmut JUNGIUS
Mangrove destruction for shrimp farming in Thailand.
© WWF / Hartmut JUNGIUS

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