Expanding livestock production is one of the main drivers of the destruction of tropical rain forests in Latin America, which is causing serious environmental degradation in the region, FAO – the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization – said recently.
For the first time, the UN agency published a map showing the projected expansion of crop and pasture land use into tropical forests in the region up to 2010.
“Ranching-induced deforestation is one of the main causes of loss of some unique plant and animal species in the tropical rainforests of Central and South America as well as carbon release in the atmosphere,” said Henning Steinfeld, Chief of the FAO Livestock Information, Sector Analysis and Policy Branch.
“Alternatives to extensive livestock production in Latin America need to be found urgently. Predicting the location of land-use change in the tropics may help decision-makers to better assess the impact of different land-use scenarios and to develop policies that support conservation,” he said.
FAO estimates that forest cover in Central America will be reduced by 2.4 million ha or 1.6 percent annually until 2010, in South America forest area will decrease by 36 million ha or 0.5 percent annually. Growing demand for animal protein is one of the main driving forces behind the expansion of extensive livestock production.
FAO projects that by 2010, 62 percent of the deforested area in South America will be used for pasture (Central America: 69 percent), with the pressure particularly strong in Ecuador, Guyana and Venezuela (more than 80 percent).
In Central America, pasture expansion is expected to affect a considerable portion of forest cover in Nicaragua and Panama. In north-eastern Nicaragua and central Panama the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, the third largest among the world’s biodiversity hot spots, may be under threat.
The projected expansion trend may represent a serious threat for certain tree species, for example large-leaved mahogany in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Brazil, FAO said. Considerable deforestation is also projected in Andean forest remnants as well as in the secondary forest of Eastern Brazil.
The FAO model also looks at deforestation in protected areas. In Central America, it predicts significant pasture expansion into forest in the Maya Biosphere reserve in Guatemala’s northern Peten region, mainly in the Laguna del Tigre national park.
In South America, several parks are also threatened: the Formaciones de Tepuyes natural monument in eastern Venezuelan Amazon, the Sierra de la Macarena national park in Colombia and the Cuyabeno reserve in north-eastern Ecuador.
FAO recommends countries to adopt agricultural practices that improve sustainability while increasing productivity, recognizing the need for countries to pursue increased agricultural production to enhance economic development as well as food security.
Farming systems that promote the improvement of pastures, the use of fodder banks and tree planting, offer greater socio-economic benefits, opportunities for biodiversity conservation and local and global environmental benefits as they build stable carbon reserves, FAO said.
FAO – www.fao.org
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