Large patches of tropical forest are being lost worldwide as governments and corporations clear more land to make way for industrial-scale agriculture, a Duke University study shows.
The analysis reveals that clearings for large-scale agricultural expansion were responsible for an increasing proportion—in some places, more than half—of all observed forest loss across the tropics between 2000 and 2012.
The trend was most pronounced in Southeast Asia and South America.
“In South America, more than 60 percent of the increase in deforestation was due to a growing number of medium- and large-sized forest clearings typical of what you see with industrial-scale commercial agricultural activities,”
says Jennifer J. Swenson, associate professor of the practice of geospatial analysis at the Nicholas School.
“Brazil, with its stricter policies limiting agricultural expansion until 2012, was the only country showing a reverse trend—its average forest clearing size actually got smaller,” she says. “This unique trend may be short-lived, however, given Brazil’s relaxed forest policies of the last few years.”
The new findings underscore the growing need for policy interventions that target industrial-scale agricultural commodity producers in the tropics, the researchers say.
Swenson conducted the research with PhD students Kemen G. Austin, Amanda Schwantes and Danica Schaffer-Smith, and former postdoctoral researcher Mariano González-Roglich, who is now director of ecosystem analysis at Conservation International’s Moore Center for Science.
They published their peer-reviewed analysis in the journal Environmental Research Letters (May 9).