This article appeared in Volume 8, Number 1 of ATF.
Deforestation is an complex problem. A recent study by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that during the decade from 1980 to 1990, the world’s tropical forests were reduced by an average of 15.4 million hectares per year (0.8 percent annual rate of deforestation). The area of land cleared during the decade is equivalent to nearly three times the size of France. The phenomenon of deforestation is occurring globally, in different types of forests, and for different reasons.
At the end of 1990, Africa had an estimated 528 million hectares, or 30 percent of the world’s tropical forests. In several Sub-Saharan African countries, the rate of deforestation exceeded the global annual average of 0.8 percent. While deforestation in other parts of the world is mainly caused by commercial logging or cattle ranching the leading causes in Africa are associated with human activity.
Developing countries rely heavily on wood fuel, the major energy source for cooking and heating. In Africa, the statistics are striking: an estimated 90 percent of the entire continent’s population uses fuelwood for cooking, and in Sub-Saharan Africa, firewood and brush supply approximately 52 percent of all energy sources.
Land clearing by farmers may contribute as much as fuelwood gathering in the depletion of tree stocks. According to Porter and Brown, conversion of forests for subsistence and commercial agriculture may account for as much as 60 percent of world-wide deforestation.1