Tropical Turn

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Published: March 2, 2015 2:40:50 AM

Tropical deforestation rose rapidly—not shrank, as the FAO held—between 1990 and 2010

As per a report in the Nature magazine, satellite data shows that tropical forest cover shrank 62% faster in the two decades to 2010 than the earlier period for which it was studied. This contradicts the findings of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN—that deforestation in the tropics slowed down by 25% between 1990 and 2010. The new study spans 34 countries, including Brazil (home to the Amazonian forests), Indonesia, Democratic Republic of Congo, etc. Researchers believe that the discrepancies in methodologies adopted by the countries that report to the FAO and the flawed data thus generated could have caused the UN body’s findings to be so off the mark.

With agriculture forming a key part of the economies in the tropics (due to favourable climatic conditions, topography, etc), the denuding of forests for increasing farm acreage has risen markedly, especially for cash crops. The immediate problem from such deforestation is habitat-loss, resulting in a loss of biodiversity. The longer-term consequence is the shrinking of the planet’s natural carbon sinks—tropical forests play a key role in climate phenomena by acting as CO2 absorbers—and the resulting warming effects. The scientists behind the new study, however, point at Brazil, where deforestation in the Amazon basin has been brought down by 75% in the last decade, as a template for other tropical nations to check the loss of their tropical forest cover. The country’s conservation efforts seem strongly correlated with the period in which it adopted GM variants for many crops which may have boosted  productivity levels, thereby reducing the need for new fields.

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