The Big Story Forests the 18th and 19th centuries. By the end of the 20th century, farms and new settlements had replaced much of America’s deciduous forests.5
Degraded land For landless poor in Rondônia, the chance to carve out a few hectares from the forest to grow bananas and maize, and raise a few chickens and pigs, trumps conservation. The frontier acts as a relief valve allowing the state to mask extreme inequality. (Brazil has the world’s eighth-biggest economy but there is a yawning gap between rich and poor).
Successive governments have encouraged settlement of the Amazon. But small farmers are neither the main cause of deforestation nor, in the long run, the main beneficiaries. Within a few years, rain and erosion leaches nutrients from the thin tropical soil. Yields fall. The degraded land is soon sold to large landowners and powerful agribusiness companies.
Not surprisingly, a similar combination of cash crops and resource projects threatens forests the world over. ● In Australia, coalmining menaces more than a million hectares of forest, while in Canada 20 per cent of the boreal forest (more than 150 million hectares) has been ceded to logging companies, oil and gas exploration, hydro dams and mines.6 ●● Illegal logging flourishes, driven by renegade loggers in cahoots with corrupt politicians and greedy entrepreneurs. In Burma, according to the Environmental Investigation Agency, ‘Chinese businesses pay in gold bars for the rights to log entire mountains and smuggle timber out of [Burma]’s conflict-torn state of Kachin.’ ●● Often the graft is transparent. Under Papua
New Guinea’s ‘Special Agriculture and Business Leases’ scheme, 30 per cent of the country has been auctioned off to foreign timber companies. More than 80 per cent of its forests may be gone by 2021, according to the PNG Forest Authority.1 ●● The conversion of woodlands to cash crops is widespread. In Uganda, tea planters have set their sights on 250 hectares of the Kafuga Pocket Forest Reserve on the southern fringes of the Bwindi National Park. The forest is one of the last homes of the endangered mountain gorilla and the national park has been listed by the UN as a World Heritage Site. ●● Perversely, even the demand for so-called green fuels has fuelled deforestation. Across Europe, power plants looking to replace ‘dirty’ coal are now burning wood pellets for generating electricity. As a result, old-growth trees in Slovakia and Romania are ground into wood chips.7 This trend also endangers forests in the US south. From Georgia to the Carolinas, biologically rich wetland forests are replaced by monoculture pine plantations.8
Zero net deforestation In many countries, managed tree plantations are now the norm. The UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) says 50 million hectares of forests were planted between 2000 and 2010. Unfortunately, these were mostly industrial monocultures – pine, acacia, eucalyptus, rubber and palm – which the FAO bizarrely equates with natural forests.
This might seem odd until you understand the UN’s corporate-friendly goal of ‘zero net deforestation’. Simply put, it means that natural forests can continue to be toppled as long as they are replaced – somewhere, anywhere – by other trees. That’s one reason global corporations such as Unilever, Bunge and Mondelez International have jumped on the bandwagon.
As the World Rainforest Movement notes: ‘Zero net deforestation means companies can
450,000 Aggregated forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon, 1988-2014 (sq km)
400,000 350,000 300,000 250,000 200,000 150,000 100,000 50,000
: M o n g a b a y. c o m
14 ● New I nter nat io nal iS T ● April 2016