Conversion of forests – from South America's tropical forests to Russia’s temperate forests – to meet worldwide demand for consumer products is leading to deforestation and a range of ecological and social impacts.
As a result, agriculture is widely believed to be one of the main causes of deforestation. Around the world, forests are giving way to plantations for oil palm, soy, rubber, coffee, tea, and rice among many other crops.
Of increasing concern is the soaring popularity of biofuels. Biofuels are generated from oils extracted from plants such as oil palm –
which are often grown on land cleared of natural forests.
Social impact of forest conversion
There are concerns about the social impacts of agricultural expansion. For example, in the expanding soy plantations of Brazil, poor people are lured from villages and deprived neighbourhoods to remote soy estates where they are put to work in barbaric conditions, sometimes at gunpoint, with no chance of escape.
Worker abuse is especially prevalent where there is strong agricultural expansion, such as in the Amazon states of Pará and Mato Grosso. Although this abuse happens in remote farms, the landowners who are responsible are closely connected with the rest of the world through their soy trading activities.
What is causing forest conversion?
- Rising demand for soy, palm oil, cocoa and coffee is translating into expanding plantations for these crops worldwide. Many of us unwittingly contribute to forest conversion in our consumption of everyday products. For example, palm oil is used to make a whole range of cosmetics, detergents and food products including shower gel, margarine, and ice cream. Soy beans are used to make cooking oils, bread, puddings and sweets and are used in the manufacture of paints, adhesives, fertilizer and insect sprays. And for paper products, pulpwood plantations clear acres of forest to satisfy demand. This human 'footprint' on the Earth shows how our behavior in one part of the world can have negative impact on tropical forests and the people living in other part of world.
- Cheap land, labour, and government subsidies are creating more and more supply of agricultural goods, and to meet needs for increased production.
- Poorly implemented environmental regulations are added incentives for some landowners and producers to convert forests for plantations inside protected areas, intimidate local people so that they are driven off their land, and set fires to clear land with little fear for interference by authorities.
- Global trade arrangements and trade barriers, such as the EU trade barriers for meat compared to 0% tariffs for soy beans.