Deforestation - Global and Local Threat
Deforestation is frequently listed as one of the more serious threats facing human kind today. Between 100,000 and 200,000 square kilometers of forest area are lost annually, contributing to the extinction of at least 17,500 species each year. Furthermore, it is estimated that deforestation is responsible for almost 30% of total global carbon dioxide emissions (1). West Africa is experiencing some of the highest numbers of forest loss. In all, Africa loses nearly 10 million acres of forest each year (1), contributing to desertification and changes in rainfall patterns.
Causes of Deforestation
The causes of deforestation differ from country to country and involve social and economic factors. Trees are cut and land cleared to make way for agriculture and cattle. Rising populations within and near forested area have increased the pressure on the forests for building supplies, fuel, paper products, and land to grow food. In West Africa, and Togo specifically, much deforestation is the result of wood gathering and charcoal production for cooking. Biomass fuels (predominately wood and charcoal) provide 80% of the energy for sub-Saharan African countries. Charcoal production is particularly destructive. Many charcoal producers live far from urban centers and have few other opportunities to make money, and it is the least expensive fuel source available to consumers (2).
In central Togo, charcoal production has contributed greatly to deforestation. First, charcoal is easy to make, easy to transport, and in great demand in the urban centers; therefore it is an easy source of money for people who have few other options. Furthermore, most charcoal makers are immigrants to the central Togo region, and therefore have no social constraints to cutting live trees, which are required for charcoal production. Charcoal production has been outlawed in India for more than 40 years since it is so destructive to forests. However, in Togo charcoal production is increasing at a rapid rate.
Commercial logging and mining also contribute to deforestation. Governments are motivated to exploit their natural resources to pay interest on their international debt and to pay for imports. In Togo, small scale logging in gallery forests has increased rapidly in the past 15 years due to a relaxation of the laws protecting these biodiverse areas.
Effects of Deforestation
The effects of deforestation are equally diverse and tragic. The loss of trees and forest canopy contributes to soil erosion, which results in a loss of fertility in the soil and also harms fish and water quality. Deforestation has devastating effects on plant and animal species, resulting in dramatic numbers of species lost each year. Deforestation also adds to global warming; as trees are burnt, carbon dioxide is released into the air, and as trees are removed the amount of carbon dioxide being converted into oxygen lessens. The negative consequences of global warming in tropical zones are catastrophic, and include increasing drought and desertification, crop failures, coastal flooding, and displacement of major vegetation regimes.(3) Deforestation also disrupts normal regional weather patterns, creating hotter and drier weather or more erratic rains.
There are social consequences of deforestation as well, and they often have devastating long-term impacts. Destruction of traditional lifestyles and the breakdown of their social institutions are some of the more extreme consequence.(3) When governments or multinational corporations undertake large logging and mining activities, the indigenous people's individual and collective rights to the forest resource are frequently ignored, and the intrusion of outsiders destroys traditional life styles, customs, and religious beliefs. Deforestation also contributes to the losses of forest capital (a real issue as shea trees are being turned into charcoal throughout central Togo), future revenues and employment from sustainable management of timber and non-timber products, and biodiversity. Deforestation destroys watersheds, disrupting potable water sources and increasing risk for communicable diseases. Furthermore, cleared soils are exposed to the intensity of the tropical sun and torrential rains, which can increase compaction, reduce organic material, leech out nutrients, increase aluminum toxicity of soils, and make it marginal for farming. Extreme land degradation can result in desertification, at which point it is no longer capable of supporting agriculture.
Alaffia's Response to Deforestation Issues
While deforestation seems overwhelming and ultimately devastating, there is much that can be done to reduce it. Since deforestation occurs in myriad ways, there are also many solutions. While it is difficult for individual organizations to halt large scale logging and mining without governmental or international programs, we believe there are options for smaller scale programs. First, providing alternative fuel options for individuals and families can stop a large part of deforestation caused by firewood and charcoal production. In 2010, we launched our biogas pilot project - providing an alternative to wood and charcoal cooking fires.
Second, we can assist with agriculture improvement and agroforestry plans to better manage remaining forests. Each year since 2006, we have donated 1,000 fruit and forages trees to farmers in central Togo. In 2011, we were able to increase our donation to 4,000 trees and also hope to increase it again in 2012, to 6,000 trees. In 2009, we modified the project to include primarily women farmers, as our studies indicate women farmers are more likely to provide the extra care saplings need during the first years. Fruit and forage trees planted in and around farmer's fields have several impacts, including reducing soil erosion, improving soil quality, providing food, fuel, and habitat.
Furthermore, we all have the ability to make a difference, whether it is simply educating our family and friends about the causes and effects of deforestation, or whether it includes something further, like contacting our legislators and analyzing our own lifestyles. Every change makes a difference and displays an important example for future generations.
1. Erhardt-Martinez, K. 1988. Social determinants of deforestation in developing countries: a cross-national study. Social Forces 77(2):567-586.
2. Hosier, R.H. 1988. The economics of deforestation in eastern Africa. Economic Geography 64:121-136.
3. Roper, J. and R. W. Roberts. Deforestation: Tropical Forests in Decline. Canadian International Development Agency. Online at http://www.rcfa-cfan.org/english/issues.12-6.html