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Increased Demand For Food And Fuel Takes Toll On Forests

July 14, 2008

With the increased demand for crops to create biofuel, supply food and wood, the Earth’s forests and overall prosperity could be in danger, according to a recent report.

Only half of the extra land needed by 2030 is available without eating into tropical forested areas, according to the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI).

A separate report shows very little progress has been made in reforming land ownership and governance in developing countries.

Supporters of RRI include the UK’s Department of International Development (DfID) and its equivalents in Sweden and Switzerland.

“Arguably, we are on the verge of a last great global land grab,” said RRI’s Andy White, co-author of the major report, Seeing People through the Trees.

“It will mean more deforestation, more conflict, more carbon emissions, more climate change and less prosperity for everyone.”

The RRI report estimates that 515 million hectares of extra land will be needed for growing crops and trees by 2030. Only 200 million hectares will be available without resorting to tropical forests.

“…if the current plateau in productivity continues, the amount of additional agricultural land required just to meet the world’s projected food demand in 2050 would be about three billion hectares, nearly all of which would be required in developing countries,” the report said.

Some experts hope that genetically modified crops will add opportunities for new crop yields, but advances have been slow. And yields are actually falling in some areas – a trend which is likely to be exacerbated by climate change.

Additionally, dipping into tropical forests for extra land would also intensify global warming’s affects since deforestation amounts to about 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

The RRI noted that land ownership reform is absolutely necessary to avoid turning to tropical forests.

The conclusion is supported by DfID, whose minister Gareth Thomas will be speaking at the launch event.

“These new studies should strengthen global resolve to protect the property rights of indigenous and local communities who play a vital role in protecting one the most outstanding natural wonders of the world,” he said.

“It is clear that the dual crises of fuel and food are attracting significant new investments and great land speculation,” said Andy White.

“Only by protecting the rights of the people who live in and around the world’s most vulnerable forests can we prevent the devastation these forces will wreak on the poor.”

But this progress of reforming ownership has been lagging for some time, according to the second RRI report entitled “From Exclusion to Ownership?”. it also raises the question of who owns rights to the trees – the rich Western countries that want to fund carbon sequestration, or the people who live in the forest areas?

Reforming ownership would both help battle global warming and remove reasons for conflict, said the RRI report. About two-thirds of the world’s current violent conflicts are driven by land issues.

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