Farming and ESG – Part 3 Deforestation

This is Part 3 on the impacts of farming on the environment; the first two parts looked at stubble burning and water consumption.

In this article, we are looking at the scale and deforestation caused by farming, why it happens and how it can be monitored.


Scale of Deforestation 

In recent years around 3.2 billion acres (1.3 million square kilometres) have been lost to deforestation. This devasting leads to loss of biodiversity, soil degradation, and reduced water quality. It also results in the loss of habitat and food sources for millions of animals.  This destruction also releases large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere as a result of deforestation, contributing to climate change. In tropical regions, agriculture accounts for around 80% of deforestation.


Deforestation and Climate Change

Deforestation has significant impacts on the weather and the climate. When forests have cleared, the carbon stored in the trees and soil are released into the atmosphere, increasing greenhouse gases. Deforestation also affects regional and local climate patterns, such as rainfall and temperature. This occurs by altering the balance of heat and moisture in the atmosphere.

Addressing deforestation and promoting sustainable land use practices have long been seen as crucial in mitigating the impacts of climate change.


Why are the forests being cut down?

  • Consumer Demand :
    • One of the main reasons farmers clear forests is to expand their crops or pasture lands. As the demand for food and other crops increases, farmers are often driven to clear forests in order to grow more crops.
  • Additional Resources:
    • Clearing forests can provide farmers with access to resources like wood, water, and minerals that can support crop production.
  • Infrastructure:
    • The land being cleared is not all for growing crops; sometimes, it is for logistics/transport as well as power supplies, warehouses, etc.
  • Economics:
    • : Clearing forests is often still profitable for farmers, Simply put, the value of the land for agriculture is often higher than the value of the forest.
  • Government policies:
    • In some countries, government policies may provide incentives for farmers to clear forests, such as subsidies for crops grown on cleared lands or the allocation of public lands for agriculture.

Brazil,  Cattle and Fires

Deforestation has long been associated with cattle ranching in Brazil. The impacts of deforestation for cattle ranching in Brazil are significant and wide-ranging, affecting both the local and global environments. The expansion of cattle ranching has also had significant impacts on indigenous communities and traditional livelihoods in the Amazon region. As with other farming, this is driven by consumer demand   – in this case, beef and leather products.

In the past few years, the scale of destruction in Brazil from fires and ranching has increased. The images below give an idea of the scale of this.


Satellite Images of Amazon Fires

Satellite Images showing Amazon Fires – from 2019

Satellite Images of Burning Amazon Forests

Satellite Images of Burning Amazon Forests

Satellite Images of Burning Amazon Forests

Satellite Images of Burning Amazon Forests

Poor Quality Land

One of the many tragedies of the destruction of the rainforests for farming is that it results in very poor quality land. The geography and weather in rapid soil deterioration, without the forest. In Brazil, they require 10  times the land to grow cattle in areas that have been deforested.

Monitoring  Forests

While the situation is dire in terms of the loss of forests – there are fantastic systems available to monitor forests and detect both macro and micro trends.

Global Forest Watch provides an excellent dashboard showing how forests are disappearing and the rate of change – using satellite data to power the results.

Satellite data is already used to identify changes in forests, even down to a single tree. Recently the Norwegian government made this even more accessible as they provided £ 40 million in funding for public access to high-resolution satellite data on rainforests.