Agriculture is gradually killing forests, and yet up to half of tropical forestland in Africa, Latin America and Asia cleared for agriculture remains idle, according to research published in the journal Science. The literature review, which analyzes a range of pantropical studies of deforestation, estimates that between 6.4 million and 8.8 million hectares of tropical forests are lost to agriculture annually.
The research which includes analysis of studies in Africa, Latin America and Asia, 90-99% of forest loss can be attributed to agriculture, either directly through clearing of forests for agricultural expansion or indirectly through loss of forest as a result of agriculture-related activities. Research shows that clearance for pastures accounts for about half of the deforestation, translating to between 1.9 million hectares and 2.7 million hectares of forest per year.
The research, based on data from 2011 to 2015, also finds that only about a third to half of all land cleared for agriculture is put into productive use.
“It is not surprising that agriculture is the main driver [of deforestation], what was more surprising was the fact that between one-third and one-half of the land that is being converted is not going into active production,” says Toby Gardner, a senior research fellow at Stockholm Environment Institute and co-author of the research.