Friday, June 12, 2009

Amazon deforestation leads to development 'boom-and-bust'

Aerial view of cattle farm in Amazonian deforested jungle close to Maraba

By Alok Jha

Chopping down the Amazon rainforest to make way for crops or cattle has no economic or social benefit for local people in the long term, according to a major new study.

The finding undercuts the argument that deforestation, which causes 20% of the globe's greenhouse gas emissions, leads to long-term development.

Conservationists showed communities develop rapidly but temporarily when forests are cleared. But rates of development quickly fall back below national average levels when the loggers move on and local resources near depletion.

More than 155,000 square kilometres of Amazonian rainforest in Brazil have been cleared for timber or burned to make way for agricultural land since 2000. Every year, around 1.8m hectares are destroyed — a rate of four football fields every minute. The Amazonian rainforest is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world, guarding against climate change by absorbing CO2 and maintaining geochemical cycles.

But some argue that local communities, which are among the poorest in Brazil, should be able to benefit from the local resources by creating farms or logging the trees. To calculate these potential benefits of deforestation for local communities, a team of international scientists analysed the life expectancy, literacy and income of people living in 286 areas around the Brazilian Amazon.

Their results, published today in Science, showed that the quality of life for local communities improved rapidly when a forest first cleared. "The monthly average income started out at 74 Reals per month," said Rob Ewers of the department of life sciences at Imperial College London, a member of the study team. "Then it went up to as much as 196 Reals per month in the middle [of the deforested area] and then to 82 once the resource is gone. Literacy went from 68% at the frontier [of the forest] up to a maximum of 83% then dropped down to 69%." …

Amazon deforestation leads to development 'boom-and-bust.'

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