Deforestation is complicated – and so is the solution

Wageningen remote sensing researchers respond to the World Wildlife Fund deforestation report.
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Causes of deforestation differ per region, and as a result, so do the possible solutions. Thus state Wageningen remote sensing researchers Martin Herold and Niki de Sy, in a reaction on the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report on deforestation.

Soy cultivation

According to the WWF, the world’s forest cover shrinks by an area the size of the Netherlands each year. Deforestation is particularly severe in Brazil, Bolivia, Indonesia and Malaysia. In its press release, the WWF focuses strongly on deforestation through soy cultivation and the import of soy-based animal feed by Europe and the responsibility of Europeans to alter their diet to an eating pattern with less meat. ‘This is a valid analysis’, says De Sy, who provided the WWF with information for its report, ‘but also a one-sided perspective.’

Firstly, Europe is no longer the world’s leading soy importer. China has taken over this position. Moreover, the cultivation of crops for export is only part of the issue. The EU import of food and energy crops is at the root of approximately 10 per cent of global deforestation, according to the WWF, based on an EU-report.

‘Many countries use forests as a means of development. Through animal husbandry, mining or logging, various economic sectors put pressure on forests’, says De Sy. ‘And trees are felled by large agricultural companies and small-scale farmers alike.’

Illegal logging

Herold studies deforestation in Africa. In the Congo deforestation has recently increased, satellite images reveal, mainly through small-scale illegal logging by local groups. There is no extensive soy-cultivation in the Congo, and the expansion of palm-oil businesses is fairly recent.

The Congolese government would benefit from reinforced forest management and enforcement. Rapid satellite imaging can help prevent illegal logging, says Herold. In addition, better agreements are needed between governments, NGOs and international logging companies to support sustainable forest management.

Sustainable land-use

Herold feels that sustainable land-use should be central to addressing deforestation. This must include efforts to reduce large-scale soy and palm oil production in tropical forests, but also development towards sustainable agriculture, aforestation and landscape recovery. ‘The WWF focuses on deforestation, but a better understanding and plans on how to restore affected forests to their natural state is also important.’

WUR has all the expertise in the forestry and agriculture domains to make a solid and integrated analysis of the causes of deforestation, says Herold. However, a dialogue on an integrated approach is currently lacking both in Wageningen and internationally. He hopes the WWF report will change this.

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