Can a Plant-Pased Diet Help Reduce Deforestation?

can a plant-based diet help reduce deforestation?

Iva Dimitrova
Sustainability Content Writer | LinkedIn

Iva is a certified content writer and sustainability impact analyst. Her focus is conservation of environment and biodiversity, clean technology, climate change, vegan lifestyle and active living. Additionally, she is a certified aerobics instructor.

What is deforestation? 

Forests still cover around 30% of the world’s land area and are home to 80% of the world’s land-based species.

However, forests disappear at alarming rate which leads to more extreme temperature swings that can be harmful to plants and animals and contribute to climate change (source 1).

According to the UN’s State of the World’s Forests report, since 1990, 420 million hectares of forest are lost through conversion to other land uses. The estimates show that between 2015 and 2020 the rate of deforestation has been 10 million hectares per year and that the area of primary forest worldwide has decreased by over 80 million since 1990 (source 2).

The WEF’s Global Risks Report 2020 ranked ecosystem collapse and biodiversity loss among the top five threats the global economy will face in the following 10 years (source 3).

What are the causes of deforestation? 

The most common forest degradation and deforestation causes are agriculture, unsustainable forest management, mining, infrastructure projects and increased fire incidence and intensity (source 4).

The agricultural sector, where forests are cleared to make space for crops and livestock, is number one driver of deforestation, being responsible for approximately 80% of deforestation worldwide (source 5).

Amazon is the biggest deforestation front in the world with 17% of the forest being lost in the last 50 years, mostly due to forest conversion for cattle ranching (source 6).

The Amazon is losing an area comparable to nearly one million soccer fields of forest land each year, mainly to free up space for agriculture (source 1)

Experts from WWF have estimated that 27%, more than a quarter, of the Amazon biome will be without trees by 2030 if the current deforestation rate is to be maintained( source 7).

Plant and animal agriculture and their effects on deforestation

Combining population growth and people moving from rural to urban environment, increasing their household’s income, the consumption of meat has increased.

About 57 million tons of beef are produced annually on a global scale.

As a result of the rising demand, livestock farming has become extremely resource-intensive.

Cattle herds in the Amazon have increased by 140% during the period 1990 to 2003, leading to record levels of deforestation.

Feedlots require large amount of feedstock such as soybean or corn, which in turn requires large amount of area to grow (source 8).

To compare, the plant-based replacement for beef can produce twenty-fold more nutritionally similar food per unit of cropland (source 9).

Furthermore, even after pasture abandonment, intensive grazing can degrade the land to the extent of preventing forest regeneration (source 8).

Conclusion 

A transformation of our food system is needed in order to halt deforestation and biodiversity loss.

Moving away from current situation where demand for food results in unsustainable agricultural practices is essential to preserve forests and environmental balance.

Adopting a plant-centric diet is a way to act on a personal level and become part of the positive change. 

References: 

  1. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/deforestation/ 
  2. http://www.fao.org/state-of-forests/en/
  3. https://www.worldwildlife.org/blogs/sustainability-works/posts/moving-closer-to-tackling-deforestation-at-scale 
  4. https://wwf.panda.org/discover/our_focus/forests_practice/deforestation_causes2/ 
  5. https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/forests/issues/agribusiness/ 
  6. https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/deforestation-and-forest-degradation  
  7. https://wwf.panda.org/discover/our_focus/forests_practice/deforestation_fronts2/deforestation_in_the_amazon/ 
  8. https://globalforestatlas.yale.edu/land-use/industrial-agriculture/cattle
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5899434/ 

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