October 22, 2017

The problem of deforestation

From the Global Forest Fund Theme Book, JCI (Junior Chamber International) Conference, Rotterdam, 1982.


In a few decades, world tropical forests will have been cleared. This is a terrible tragedy, not only because they are so magnificent and so awe-inspiring, but deforestation in the tropics is the first step towards poverty, malnutrition and eventual starvation. It causes streams to dry up, rivers to turn into torrents, the soil to blow away with the wind to be washed away by the monsoons. It causes peasants to be deprived of humus for their fields and animal protein from fish and wild animals. It deprives them of firewood and forces them to burn cow-dung which should be returned to the soil.

It effects their climate which tends to become drier and less predictable and subjects them to the so-called ‘flood cycle’. Thus even when rainfall does not diminish, less water is available because of the degraded soil’s reduced water-absorbing capacity. And when the rain comes, rather than be contained in the sponge-like root system of the forest, it pours over brick-like denuded slopes into rivers whose beds have been raised by erosion – causing the ever worsening floods which, every year, devastate greater areas of cropland.

Deforestation will, on the other hand, favour development and provide foreign currency mainly from the sale of tropical hardwoods, but this will largely be spent on manufactured goods of doubtful utility, which can do little towards reversing the fatal process described.

To reverse this – or at least to preserve as much as possible of what remains, so that genetic reserves remain available from which seeds and plants can be obtained for the re-establishment of natural forests in critical areas – must be among the most important tasks that responsible people must set themselves today.

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