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Monoculture’s double-edged sword
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Region lags in deforestation as industrial food agriculture grows, though a food crisis may still be brewing.

The growth of agriculture in Latin America is the main cause of deforestation in the region, home to more than one-fifth of the world´s forests and more than half of the globe´s primary forests.

But as the industry grows, it does not necessarily mean more food for the region´s inhabitants, as monoculture, such as soybeans, are generally destined for surging demand of biofuels and animal feed.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization´s, or FAO,  2011 edition of its State of the World´s Forests Report, nearly half of Latin America and the Caribbean is forested, but that land has decreased faster there than in any other region.

Between 2000 and 2010, forestland in Latin America and the Caribbean fell by nearly 42,000 hectares to 890,782 hectares. The global annual average deforestation rate in the period was 0.13%, while it was 0.46% in the region.

“We need to emphasize the connection between forests and people, and the benefits that can result when they are managed by people from the area in an innovating and sustainable way,” said Eduardo Rojas, assistant Director General for the FAO´s forest program.

The expansion of large-scale farming that is largely responsible for deforestation in the region ironically does not mean more food for the local population, since much of the crops are not destined for food.

On Feb. 3, the FAO said world food prices had hit another historic high in January, meaning poorer countries that often import food, including Haiti, may suffer more, as global supplies of grains dwindle, demand grows and prices rise even more.

“These high prices are likely to persist in the months to come,” said FAO economist and grains expert Abdolreza Abbassian in a statement. “High food prices are of major concern especially for low-income food deficit countries that may face problems in financing food imports and for poor households which spend a large share of their income on food.”

In a column published on Argentina-based environmental website EcoPortal, the organization´s director, Ricardo Natalichio, criticized the FAO for considering monoculture tree plantations — such as eucalyptus — that are used for industry, as forests, claiming that the industry is detrimental to the environment.

“Among the impacts of tree monoculture is loss of biodiversity, alteration of the water cycle, lower food production, soil degradation, loss of indigenous and traditional cultures, conflict with forestry companies, job loss, expulsion of the rural population and deterioration of tourism-heavy areas,” he wrote.
—Latinamerica Press.

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Latinamerica Press / Noticias Aliadas
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