Deforestation and climate change

It has long been accepted as popular narrative by scientist, policy experts, and NGOs, that slash-and-burn agriculture is the primary driver of deforestation. In reference to these practices, Jacks and Whyte (1939) convey that “the African has no instinctive love for land as such; at all comparable to the European, until they develop a greater love of, and establish a ‘symbiotic relationship’ to the land they will not willingly hold or cultivate it in order to conserve it.” Nye and Greenland (1961) perceive that ‘traditional’ slash-and-burn agriculture was once sustainable and now is not because of a decline in fallow length. Szott (1999) states, “…in the humid tropics, the shifting cultivation cycle traditionally consisted of three to fifteen years of growth of unmanaged secondary vegetation, which is cut and burned at the initiation of a one- to four-year-long cropping cycle… and, fallow periods throughout the tropics have increasingly shortened as a result of land pressure arising from human population growth.”

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However, a study of 396 farming households conducted in 49 villages in southern Cameroon found large variations in fallow length among different plots, even within the same household (Ickowtiz, 2004). And, in the last 10 years, the main pressures of deforestation discussed have expanded to include the commercial logger, the cattle rancher, and the small-scale farmer (Devers and Vandeweghe, 2006; de Wasseige et al., 2010, 2012).

Therefore, since fallow lengths are seemingly more rotational, following no distinct pattern, and other larger causing pressures exist in forests nowadays, then shifting cultivation cannot be the primary reason for deforestation (Ickowtiz, 2004; 2006).

For a long time, local environmental literacy has been falsely classified (Jacks and Whyte, 1939), local customs have been blamed for the state of forests (Nye and 56 Greenland, 1961), and local practices have been criticized for being a major contributor to deforestation and climate change (Yale School of Forestry, 2015). Acknowledgement of and adaptations to forest pressures have been slow. For example, the World Bank Forest Policy Paper published in 1991, ended its support for commercial logging in primary forests and created a new vision of working in forests that emphasizes conservation, reduces poverty, and improved rights for local people.

Because the World Bank has ended its support for industrial logging practices, this has not equated to other entities and industries ending these harmful practices (Virunga, 2014). In contrast to the earlier analyses, the World Bank stated in 2010 that the main threats of deforestation are poverty, political instability, and governance.

The small-scale farmer is subject to a host of pressures, such as population growth, pervasive poverty, misdistribution of traditional farmlands, inequitable land tenure systems, inadequate attention to subsistence agriculture, adverse aid and trade patterns, and international debt. However, the literature portrays the small-scale farmer as accounting for much more deforestation than the other aforementioned pressures combined, although also being less blameworthy (Ickowtiz, 2006).

Most recently, a study conducted by the Yale School of Forestry showed that only 27-34% of harvested fuel wood worldwide is considered unsustainable (Bailis et al., 2015). The sustainability threshold was created and based on annual harvest not exceeding incremental re-growth. Findings from the Yale School of Forestry study and those of Ickowtiz (2004, 2006), are providing concrete contrast to long-held beliefs and assumptions that fuel wood is a major driver of deforestation and climate change.

This 57 shows forest communities are little able to comprehend, let alone control, what is occurring and without an integrated effort of sufficient scope there is every prospect that the demise of tropical forests within another few decades (Ickowtiz, 2006). Therefore, there is a need for more localized quantification and qualification of the causal factors driving forest change.

Urban population growth is an example of a driver spurring deforestation in sub- Saharan Africa (Malhi et al., 2013; Rudel et al., 2013) and in the tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia and Latin America (DeFries et al., 2010). In Kinshasa, DRC, population growth led to some 400 km of agricultural expansion north of the city easily accessible along the Congo River (Peterson, 2000; Rudel, 2005; Ernst et al., 2013). And, all across Central Africa there are high amounts of deforestation seen around cities and transportation corridors as a result of urbanization and the growing demand for agricultural products.

References

  1. Jstor.org. (2017). Amazon Deforestation and Climate Change on JSTOR. [online] Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/2873721.pdf?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents [Accessed 20 Jul. 2017].
  2. Just Great DataBase. (2017). Deforestation among Riparian Lake Communities in Northwestern Democratic Republic Of Congo – Just Great DataBase. [online] Available at: https://jgdb.com/science/earth-sicences/deforestation-among-riparian-lake-communities-northwestern-democratic-republic-congo-220 [Accessed 20 Jul. 2017].
  3. Sciencedirect.com. (2017). What Drives Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon?: Evidence from Satellite and Socioeconomic Data – ScienceDirect. [online] Available at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0095069698910567 [Accessed 20 Jul. 2017].
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