Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Impact of increasing agricultural land on mother nature
If we cut down all the trees in our forests and replace them with plants, will the plants have the capacity to take in the large volumes of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and will we get enough oxygen in exchange to breathe? Will there still be life on earth in years to come with the temperature increase? What happens to the plants? Will there be enough water supply for all life on earth or will there be a surplus such that it will wipe out all life on earth?
With the growing human population worldwide, there is need for an expansion of farming area in order to provide food for all. This population is expected to be twice as much as it is now by 2050 according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. The prediction is that millions of forested area will be cut down. The greatest problem with this is that, to obtain the agricultural land, tropical rain forests are being felled and a rise in the deforestation rates contributes to a rapid global warming rate. Rapid growth of the Newly Industrialized Countries in the world e.g. China and India are showing the greatest interest in meat consumption which means that there is a need to increase land for agriculture. Also, with the urgency of using renewable sources for energy, there is a motivation set out to encourage people to grow crops for biofuel production.
According to Stanford researcher, Holly Gibbs and her colleagues, in the 1980’s, there was a high deforestation rate from large company owned farms. However, a decade later, the deforestation rates decreased and only small family farms cut down the trees. Other studies show that between the years 2000 and 2007, the speed at which the tropical forests are being brought down has decreased but as the human population grows continuously, demand for food by both people and animals and fuel required to run machinery will rise as well.
The area of farmland in the tropics is increasing as the area in non-tropical countries decreases; but why is this happening and what is its impact to the environment? The only way that a growing population can obtain an increase in agricultural produce is by cutting down the trees for the availability of space. However, the amount of carbon released from trees that have just been felled and set aside to decompose, release about the same amount of carbon as a forest that has been burnt down.
"The tropical forests store more than 340 billion tons of carbon, which is 40 times the total current worldwide annual fossil fuel emissions," Gibbs said. This increases the risks of global warming as well as reduces the amount of rainfall in the long run as there won’t be trees to attract precipitation.
Looking at the example of Brazil where they had started clearing forests to increase the soy production and graze cattle in forested areas, a campaign by Greenpeace and other key companies helped the Brazilians to use the agricultural land available for use instead of cutting trees to have more space for agriculture. This was taken up positively because the produce of soy and herds of cattle per acre increased on the initial, available land.
Gibbs was overwhelmed at how Brazil was able to heed and utilize the available space and meet the requirements that the public wanted. She also pointed out that advancements in machinery, which make life easier for man, will at least reduce the rates of people cutting into the forests for agricultural purposes.
"It is critical that we focus our efforts on reducing rates of deforestation while at the same time restoring degraded lands and improving land management across the tropics," Gibbs said. "The good news is that pressure from consumer groups and nongovernmental organizations combined with international climate agreements could provide a real opportunity to shift the tide in favor of forest conservation rather than farmland expansion." Gibbs added.
Gibbs H. 2010. FSE study finds most new farmland comes from cutting tropical forest