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Ultimate guide to
understanding
deforestation

Learn more about how deforestation affects all aspects of our livelihoods, from public health to food security. Explore what you and your organisation can do to counteract rapid deforestation and contribute to a greener and healthier future.


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Combatting deforestation

As agriculture and urbanisation grew, deforestation became one of the biggest environmental issues since the 1960s. Deforestation leads to biodiversity loss, increased carbon emissions, and significant social and economic impacts on communities and countries relying on forests for their livelihoods.

Approximately 10 million hectares of forests are cut down each year. This is roughly the same size as Portugal. To balance this alarming rate, many individuals, organisations, and governments are supporting reforestation and afforestation projects. This article will discuss deforestation and its solutions in further detail.

Ultimate Guide to Understanding Deforestation (1)
Owl sitting on a tree, Europe.

What is deforestation?

Deforestation is the removal of trees and other vegetation from an area of land, resulting in the conversion of forested land into non-forested land. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, deforestation is the conversion of forest for another land use or the long-term (over 10 years) reduction of tree-canopy cover below a 10% threshold.

The primary causes of deforestation are human activities such as agricultural expansion, logging, mining, and urbanisation. These activities often lead to the degradation and loss of forested ecosystems, resulting in various environmental impacts.

Read more: Top 10 causes of deforestation

According to recent statistics, the global rate of deforestation has slowed down in the last decade, but it is still a significant environmental problem.

The FAO of the United Nations estimates that global forest area decreased from 4.06 billion hectares in 2000 to 3.99 billion hectares in 2020, representing a net loss of 0.12% of the world's forests annually.

Some regions, such as the Amazon rainforest, have experienced higher deforestation rates than others. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), around 17% of the Amazon rainforest has been destroyed over the past 50 years.

Between 2000 and 2020, the Amazon lost an estimated 8.4% of its forest cover, primarily due to clearing for cattle ranching and soybean cultivation.

Read more: Deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest: causes, effects, solutions

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Deforestation: the past, present and future

Historically, deforestation has occurred for thousands of years as humans cleared forests for agriculture and settlement. However, the pace and scale of deforestation increased dramatically in recent decades. According to the FAO, the world lost around 178 million hectares of forest between 1990 and 2015, an area roughly the size of Libya.

The regions most affected by deforestation are the tropical regions of South America, Central Africa, and Southeast Asia. Unfortunately, these regions contain some of the world's most biodiverse ecosystems and thousands of unique species that are negatively affected by deforestation.

Brazil, for example, has experienced significant deforestation in the Amazon rainforest due to agricultural expansion, logging, and other activities.

In Indonesia, deforestation is driven largely by the expansion of oil palm plantations, which produce various consumer products such as palm oil.

Read more: Deforestation in Asia: a call for conservation

In recent years, efforts to address deforestation have been made through international agreements such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 2015 Paris Agreement. Additionally, there is a growing movement towards sustainable land-use practices, such as agroforestry and conservation agriculture, which aim to balance economic development with environmental conservation. However, deforestation remains a significant threat to global biodiversity and ecosystem health, and further action is needed to address this important issue.

Read more: Deforestation in the United States: causes, consequences, and cures

Ultimate Guide to Understanding Deforestation (5)
Oil palm tree plantation next to a tropical rainforest.

Read more: Countries with the highest deforestation rates

How does deforestation affect nature and communities?

Deforestation significantly impacts the environment and local communities, highlighting the need for sustainable land-use practices that balance economic development with environmental and social conservation. In addition to impacting local communities that live in the immediate surroundings of the forests, deforestation impacts different supply-chain activities, food security, and agriculture on a global level.

Environmental impacts of global deforestation 

  • Soil erosion: Trees help to anchor the soil, preventing erosion. When trees are removed, the soil becomes more vulnerable to erosion, leading to loss of fertility and reduced agricultural productivity.
  • Loss of biodiversity: Forests are home to a wide range of plant and animal species. Deforestation leads to the loss of habitat for these species, resulting in extinctions and declines in biodiversity.
  • Increase in carbon emissions: Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. Deforestation releases this carbon back into the atmosphere. In addition, due to deforestation, there are fewer forested areas, and thus more carbon is released into the atmosphere.
  • Water cycle disruption: Trees play a vital role in regulating water cycles. Deforestation leads to reduced water availability, changes in rainfall patterns, and increased risk of drought and flooding.

Ultimate Guide to Understanding Deforestation (2)
 Armadillo, Pantanal, Brazil.

Read more: Why we need to plant more trees

Social and economic impacts of deforestation

  • Displacement: Forests are often home to indigenous and other local communities. Deforestation can result in their displacement and loss of traditional livelihoods.
  • Loss of livelihoods: Deforestation can lead to the loss of livelihoods for local communities depending on forests for their sustenance, such as through hunting, gathering, and non-timber forest-product harvesting.
  • Conflicts over resources: Deforestation can result in conflicts over resources, such as land and water, between local communities, loggers, and other stakeholders.
  • Economic impacts: Deforestation can result in reduced agricultural productivity, decreased water availability, and other economic impacts that negatively affect local communities and national economies.

Read more: Case studies of the biggest companies supporting a greener future

Leading causes of deforestation

Many factors contribute to the growth of deforestation rates in different locations. While these factors can be divided into different types, they are deeply interconnected. Driving forces of deforestation include:

  • Agricultural expansion: The conversion of forests to agricultural land, particularly for commercial crops such as soy, palm oil, and cattle grazing, is one of the primary drivers of deforestation.
  • Logging: The demand for timber and other forest products, including pulp and paper, has resulted in widespread deforestation and forest degradation.
  • Mining: Mining minerals such as gold, copper, and oil can lead to the destruction of forests and the displacement of local communities.
  • Infrastructure development: The construction of roads, dams, and other infrastructure projects often requires the clearing of forests, leading to deforestation.

Ultimate Guide to Understanding Deforestation (4)
Herd of Nelore cattle grazing in a pasture on a Brazilian ranch.

Overall, addressing the drivers of deforestation will require attention to certain underlying economic, political, and social factors; promoting sustainable land-use practices; and improving governance and land tenure systems. The underlying factors that affect global deforestation are complex and can include a range of different industries and sociopolitical dynamics, including:

  • Global demand for commodities for agricultural products, timber, and minerals drives deforestation as companies seek to meet this demand by expanding their operations into forested areas.
  • Weak governance and unclear land tenure systems in some countries lead to illegal land grabbing and converting forests to agricultural land.
  • Poverty and inequality can drive people to clear forests for subsistence agriculture or to sell timber and other forest products to make a living.
  • Political instability can enable illegal logging and land grabbing, undermining forest protection efforts.

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How to combat deforestation?

Deforestation is a significant environmental issue that threatens ecosystems' biodiversity and affects the quality of soil, air, and water. There are various solutions and initiatives to reduce deforestation, such as forest conservation, reforestation, and sustainable land-use practices. Let’s discuss some of them:

  • Reforestation: Planting new trees in areas where forests have been cleared or degraded is an important strategy to combat deforestation. Reforestation efforts involve planting native tree species, using agroforestry techniques, and restoring degraded land. For example, at DGB Group, we partner with local communities for our reforestation and afforestation projects to plant native, fruit, and nut trees to holistically approach the unique ecosystem of each location.

    Read more: Reforestation: 10 amazing benefits of planting trees

Ultimate Guide to Understanding Deforestation (3)
Tree nursery - Greenzone Afforestation Project, Cameroon, DGB.

  • Forest conservation: One of the most effective ways to reduce deforestation is to conserve existing forests. Governments, non-profit organisations, and local communities can work together to protect forests through policies and incentives that encourage sustainable practices.
  • Sustainable land-use practices: Promoting sustainable land-use practices, such as agroforestry and sustainable agriculture, can help reduce the demand for forest clearing for agriculture and grazing. This involves practices such as crop rotation, intercropping, and reduced tillage.
  • Payment for ecosystem services (PES): PES is a market-based mechanism that compensates landowners for the ecological services provided by their land, such as carbon sequestration, water regulation, and biodiversity conservation. PES can provide financial incentives to landowners to conserve forests and adopt sustainable land-use practices. Costa Rica’s success story is a great example of how this system works.
  • Certification schemes: Certification schemes such as Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) provide standards for sustainable forest management and agriculture, respectively. These schemes assure consumers that the products they purchase are produced sustainably.
  • REDD+: Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) is a global mechanism that aims to incentivise countries to reduce their carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. REDD+ promotes the conservation of forests, restoration of degraded lands, and sustainable forest management.
  • Community-based forest management: Empowering local communities to manage and protect forests can provide an alternative to forest clearing for economic development.

    Read more: Sustainable forestry practices combatting deforestation in Canada

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Proactive solutions for deforestation

Deforestation might seem like an issue that affects only those who live near forests and not the urban population. However, environmental and economic ecosystems are deeply interconnected. The destruction of forests thousands of miles away affects the type and price of medicine, food, and materials, as well as the quality of air.

Therefore, it is essential to proactively restore and conserve forests and counteract deforestation. Our livelihoods are not just isolated experiences; they depend on the vital global processes involving air, soil, and water quality. 

Combat deforestation with DGB Group

We help governments, large organisations, small businesses, or individuals take steps towards a greener and more abundant future. If you or your organisation plan to be proactive and plant more trees for future generations—we are here to help. You can plant a couple of trees per month or a few thousand as part of our large-scale reforestation and afforestation projects. Both are meaningful in their own way and accessible to you at any time. You can plant your first tree today or speak with our project team about nature-restoration projects we are currently developing. 

Learn more about our reforestation projects

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