Will Increased Food Production Devour Tropical Forest Lands?
As global population soars, efforts to boost food production will inevitably be focused on the world’s tropical regions. Can this agricultural transformation be achieved without destroying the remaining tropical forests of Africa, South America, and Asia?
I once stumbled out of a jungle in the Congo Basin and startled two Bantu farmers – both women – tending a small field. I spoke no Bantu and they no French, and so we just stared at each other, a little warily, until one of their toddlers wailed and we all shared a laugh.
For the Bantu, farming has changed little in 3,000 years. The women still work small farming plots made by slashing and burning the rainforest.
They plant crops like yams and bananas, while their men hunt or talk village politics. It’s a precarious existence, but the slash-and-burn farmers can eke out a living if their numbers are low enough and game abounds in the nearby forest.
Increasingly, though, this picture is changing. The Bantu are multiplying quickly, as are many other peoples across Africa. The United Nations’ mid-range population projections for the continent are staggering, with the number of Africans expected to nearly quadruple from 1.1 billion today to 4.2 billion in 2100. Feeding that populace will be an enormous challenge, requiring, among other things, a gigantic boom in agriculture.