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Cutting down forests: what are the drivers of deforestation?

There are a number of estimates on what share of deforestation is driven by agriculture. The differences in these estimates are often explaine

  • There are a number of estimates on what share of deforestation is driven by agriculture. The differences in these estimates are often explained by the different treatment of deforestation versus forest degradation – we cover the differences between these types of forest loss in a related post. Agriculture accounts for 70-80% of tropical deforestation – the permanent conversion of forested land to another land use. It accounts for a smaller percentage when degradation – the temporary loss of forest prior to regrowth – is included.

    One of the most-widely cited studies on this comes from Noriko Hosonuma et al. (2012) who estimate that 73% of tropical deforestation is driven by agriculture. This is similar to estimates by Geist and Lambin (2002) who estimated that around 80% of deforestation in the 1980s and 1990s was driven by agriculture. In fact, over the longer analysis of deforestation from 1840 to 1990, they estimate 96% of deforestation was driven by agriculture. Gibbs et al. (2010) estimate that during the 1980s and 1990s, 83% of agricultural land expansion replaced forest.

    Geist, H. J., & Lambin, E. F. (2002). Proximate Causes and Underlying Driving Forces of Tropical Deforestation. BioScience, 52(2), 143-150.

    Gibbs, H. K., Ruesch, A. S., Achard, F., Clayton, M. K., Holmgren, P., Ramankutty, N., & Foley, J. A. (2010). Tropical forests were the primary sources of new agricultural land in the 1980s and 1990s. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(38), 16732-16737.

    Hosonuma, N., Herold, M., De Sy, V., De Fries, R. S., Brockhaus, M., Verchot, L., … & Romijn, E. (2012). An assessment of deforestation and forest degradation drivers in developing countries. Environmental Research Letters, 7(4), 044009.

  • Pendrill, F., Persson, U. M., Godar, J., Kastner, T., Moran, D., Schmidt, S., & Wood, R. (2019). Agricultural and forestry trade drives large share of tropical deforestation emissions. Global Environmental Change, 56, 1-10.
  • The Global Forest Watch programme categorizes forest loss drivers based on permanent deforestation – the conversion of forest to another land use – and degradation (which includes logging of tree plantations and wildfires). ‘Commodity-driven deforestation’ – which includes some activities such as mining but is predominantly agricultural commodities – totalled 5.4 million hectares in 2019.

    A paper by Philip Curtis et al. (2018) discusses this classification in detail. We also look at these categories in more detail in a related article.

    Curtis, P. G., Slay, C. M., Harris, N. L., Tyukavina, A., & Hansen, M. C. (2018). Classifying drivers of global forest loss. Science, 361(6407), 1108-1111.

  • One-third (1.8 million hectares) came from Brazil, and 19% (1 million hectares) from Indonesia.
  • Since Brazil accounts for 33% of tropical deforestation, and Brazilian cattle account for 24%, cattle accounts for 72% of Brazil’s total [24 / 33 * 100 = 72%].
  • Tyukavina, A., Hansen, M. C., Potapov, P. V., Stehman, S. V., Smith-Rodriguez, K., Okpa, C., & Aguilar, R. (2017). Types and rates of forest disturbance in Brazilian Legal Amazon, 2000–2013. Science Advances, 3(4), e1601047.
  • Gibbs, H. K., Rausch, L., Munger, J., Schelly, I., Morton, D. C., Noojipady, P., … & Walker, N. F. (2015). Brazil’s soy moratorium. Science, 347(6220), 377-378.
  • Boucher, D., Roquemore, S., & Fitzhugh, E. (2013). Brazil’s success in reducing deforestation. Tropical Conservation Science, 6(3), 426-445.
  • Kuschnig, N., Crespo Cuaresma, J., & Krisztin, T. (2019). Unveiling Drivers of Deforestation: Evidence from the Brazilian Amazon.
  • Gibbs, H. K., Rausch, L., Munger, J., Schelly, I., Morton, D. C., Noojipady, P., … & Walker, N. F. (2015). Brazil’s soy moratorium. Science, 347(6220), 377-378.
  • Clark, M. A., Williams, D. R., Buchanan, G. M., Ficetola, G. F., Rondinini, C., & Tilman, D. (2020). Proactive conservation to prevent habitat losses to agricultural expansion. Nature Sustainability.

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