New UN map shows Latin American forests depleted by cattle ranching
The United Nations agricultural agency today released a map showing the severe destruction of Latin America’s tropical rain forests that it predicts will be caused by cattle ranching and other agriculture by the year 2010.
In the first-ever detailed projection of such changes, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) estimates that, up to 2010, forest cover in Central America will be reduced by 2.4 million hectares or 1.6 percent annually. In South America, forest area will decrease by 36 million hectares or 0.5 percent per year.
Growing demand for animal protein is one of the main driving forces behind the expansion of extensive livestock production, the agency says.
"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.
The FAO model shows that even protected national parks in Guatemala, Venezuela, Columbia and Ecuador were threatened.
"Alternatives to extensive livestock production in Latin America need to be found urgently,” Mr. Steinfeld said. “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.
Recognizing the need for countries to enhance economic development and food security, the agency recommends that countries adopt agricultural practices that improve sustainability while increasing productivity.
Farming systems that promote pastures improvement, fodder banks and tree planting offer both socio-economic and environmental benefits, as they build stable carbon reserves, it said.