Deforestation is the permanent
destruction of indigenous forests and woodlands.
The term does not include the removal of
industrial forests such as plantations of gums or
pines. Deforestation has resulted in the
reduction of indigenous forests to four-fifths of
their pre-agricultural area. Indigenous forests
now cover 21% of the earth's land surface.
WHAT ARE FORESTS AND
In a forest the crowns of individual trees touch
to form a single canopy. In a woodland, trees
grow far apart, so that the canopy is open.
GOING, GOING GONE!
Of great concern is the rate at which
deforestation is occurring. Currently, 12 million
hectares of forests are cleared annually - an
area 1,3 times the size of KwaZulu/Natal! Almost
all of this deforestation occurs in the moist
forests and open woodlands of the tropics. At
this rate all moist tropical forest could be lost
by the year 2050, except for isolated areas in
Amazonia, the Zaire basin, as well as a few
protected areas within reserves and parks. Some
countries such as Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Costa
Rica, and Sri Lanka are likely to lose all their
tropical forests by the year 2010 if no
conservation steps are taken.
HOW DOES IT HAPPEN?
Deforestation is brought about by the following:
* conversion of forests and
woodlands to agricultural land to feed growing
numbers of people;
* development of cash crops and
cattle ranching, both of which earn money for
* commercial logging (which
supplies the world market with woods such as
meranti, teak, mahogany and ebony) destroys trees
as well as opening up forests for agriculture;
* felling of trees for firewood
and building material; the heavy lopping of
foliage for fodder; and heavy browsing of
saplings by domestic animals like goats.
To compound the problem, the
poor soils of the humid tropics do not support
agriculture for long. Thus people are often
forced to move on and clear more forests in order
to maintain production.
* Alteration of local and global climates
through disruption of:
a) The carbon cycle. Forests
act as a major carbon store because carbon
dioxide (CO2) is taken up from the atmosphere and
used to produce the carbohydrates, fats, and
proteins that make up the tree. When forests are
cleared, and the trees are either burnt or rot,
this carbon is released as CO2. This leads to an
increase in the atmospheric CO2 concentration.
CO2 is the major contributor to the greenhouse
effect. It is estimated that deforestation
contributes one-third of all CO2 releases caused
b) The water cycle. Trees draw
ground water up through their roots and release
it into the atmosphere (transpiration). In
Amazonia over half of all the water circulating
through the region's ecosystem remains within the
plants. With removal of part of the forest, the
region cannot hold as much water. The effect of
this could be a drier climate.
* Soil erosion With
the loss of a protective cover of vegetation more
soil is lost.
* Silting of water courses,
lakes and dams This occurs as a result of
* Extinction of species which
depend on the forest for survival. Forests
contain more than half of all species on our
planet - as the habitat of these species is
destroyed, so the number of species declines (see
Enviro Facts "Biodiversity").
* Desertification The
causes of desertification are complex, but
deforestation is one of the contributing factors
(see Enviro Facts "Desertification")
DID YOU KNOW?
* The World Resources Institute regards
deforestation as one of the world's most pressing
* An area of forest equal to 20
football or rugby fields is lost every minute.
* South Africa's climate is
such that less than 0,5% of its surface area is
covered with indigenous forest - great care
should be taken to conserve the little we have.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
* Use wood sparingly. An energy-efficient stove,
The Number One Wood Stove is available from: Mr
C. le Clezio, P O Box 55333, Northlands, 2116.
* To learn how to make a
low-cost, energy-efficient stove contact: Dr A
Marsh, Small Industries Project, P.O. Box 143,
Windhoek, Namibia. Tel.061-64527.
* The "Wonder Box" is
a cheap, simple way to save fuel, whether wood or
electricity. For a demonstration or to order:
Women for Peace, PO Box 87233, Houghton, 2041.
* Plant indigenous trees.
THE GAIA ATLAS OF
PLANET MANAGEMENT. N Myers (ed.). Pan
Books, London, 1985.
BEHIND THE WOODFUEL
CRISIS. G. Leach and L. Mearns. Earthscan, London, 1988.
THE FUELWOOD TRAP: A
STUDY OF THE SADCC REGION. B. Munslow. Earthscan, London, 1988.
WHOSE TREES? A PEOPLE'S
VIEW OF FORESTRY AID. M. Hisham and J.
Sharma. Panos Institute, London, 1991.
WWF ATLAS OF THE
ENVIRONMENT. G. Lean and D. Hinrichsen.
Helcoan Publishing, Oxford,U.K., 1992.
P O Box 4116, Johannesburg, 2000. Tel. 011-782
P O Box 104, Pretoria, 0001. Tel. 012-574009
Botanical Society of
South Africa. Kirstenbosch, P/Bag X7,
Claremont, 7735. Tel. 021-797 2090
Trees for Africa.
P.O. Box 2035, Gallo Manor, 2000. Tel.011-803
Institute. P. Bag X101, Pretoria, 0001.
Tel. 012-804 3200.
Institute of Natural
Resources. University of Natal. PO Box
375, Pietermaritzburg, 3201. Tel. 0331-68317.
Box 727, White River, 1240. Tel. 01311-32120.
Produce a range of educational resources on