Population growth and associated food demand to take heavy toll on rainforests
Human population growth and associated food demand will likely take a heavy toll on tropical ecosystems unless major shifts occur in how crops are produced and consumed, warns a new review published in Trends in Ecology & Evolution.
Noting that projections published by the U.N. now forecast the human population to swell to 11 billion before the end of the century, William F. Laurance, Jeffrey Sayer, and Kenneth Cassman highlight potential impacts of agricultural expansion on biodiversity in the tropics.
“This growth, in concert with rising per-capita consumption, will require large increases in food and biofuel production,” they write. “We foresee (i) major expansion and intensification of tropical agriculture, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa and South America; (ii) continuing rapid loss and alteration of tropical old-growth forests, woodlands, and semi-arid environments; (iii) a pivotal role for new roadways in determining the spatial extent of agriculture; and (iv) intensified conflicts between food production and nature conservation.”
The authors cite research suggesting that global food demand could double by mid-century, necessitating anywhere from 120 million to a billion hectares of new cultivated areas. Most of the expansion is expected to occur in the tropics, where land is cheaper and recent innovations have enabled agribusiness to dramatically scale-up productivity. The Amazon and Congo Basins, dry woodlands of West Africa, and Cerrado and Chaco of South America will be particularly targeted.
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