Forests in developing tropical countries are rapidly depleted and SE Asia is especially affected. Due to a large amount of deforestation in Thailand the amount of land covered by forest was reduced from 70% in 1930 to 25% today.
Deforestation is the main cause of higher concentrations of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. In addition, deforestation causes high levels of carbon dioxide: it’s released when forests are burned or when they decompose, and when trees that used to take in this carbon dioxide are cut down, level rise. According to recent studies, the cutting and burning of forests – primarily tropical rainforests – is responsible for up to 30 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions.
Deforestation History: Facts & Causes
In 1930 70% of Thailand was covered in forests. But during the period of 1855-1934 Thai population doubled from 6 to 12 million and expansion of rice fields was at the expense of forests.
There was another reason too. European colonial powers had changed the economy of many Asian countries pulling the rural population from subsistence farming and transforming them into plantation labour, cash crop producers or city dwellers. It gave a boost to the Thai export of rice.
Lowland farmers didn’t know how to farm sustainably. They burned patches of forest to clean the area and didn’t rotate the fields.
Major damage was made through occupation of hillside forestland that was not suitable for cultivation. Lowlands soon became scarce and the landless farmers had to move into the hills to find unclaimed land to clear and farm. This practice was carried on throughout the country and resulted in destruction of forests and in erosion and damage to watersheds.
By the 1990’s Thailand had the highest rate of deforestation in SE Asia and ranked third of total loss of timber in SE. As one friend of ours living in the country for many years, who is founder of volunteering program in Thailand said: at that time people didn’t care about the environment, they needed money so they sold the timber for those who paid most.
In 1989 Thailand government completed ban on all commercial logging. It is now illegal to sell timber felled in Thailand and all imported timber must be registered with the government before going on sale.
Thailand government has formulated a series of policies to reforest the open tracts of land. One of the most uncommon techniques is to use aerial reforestation. The idea sounds like from a fantasy movie, but they actually managed to plant 900,000 trees in a day by launching seeds from a military aircraft.
Another policy chose a economically profitable tree – eucalyptus, as the preference species for reforestation. The tree’s pulp is used for paper production and was expected to grow the production of it. But this solution already caused more problems. In general, it disrupted traditional land management techniques, the ownership of land was transferred to large corporations and uprooted millions rural farmers and their families.
When logging was banned in Thailand in 1989 Thai timber loggers began illegally harvest wood in Cambodia and Myanmar. After Cambodia banned timber exports in the 1990’s and the harvest of timber from there diminished, but illegally switched to Myanmar and Laos.
Thailand had been a traditional exporter of raw logs and in more recent years had begun to develop a competitive furniture industry. Despite the ban on harvesting, Thailand’s furniture industry has continued to climb in terms of output and export value. The country imports large amounts of raw teak and other wood from Myanmar and Laos now. In fact, these two countries are now experiencing some of the highest deforestation rates in the world.
Deforestation made a huge impacts on people and wildlife: causing wildlife extinction, habitat destruction, soil erosion, relocation of local people, global warming & global change, and many more. Many ethnic minorities are still threaten with resettlement.
As we were passing through the forest we saw people living at the logging site. They were settle down in a temporary camp. While parents where working children were playing with smart phones and life of those people from this perspective wouldn’t seem different from others. But they lived in a plastic tent, children probably didn’t attend any school or get any formal education, and living conditions were appalling.
Nevertheless, people were smiling and children found us as an attraction for the evening.
Many institutions claim locals need to be educated and supported to stop or even reverse the effects of deforestation. This will also increase livelihood of local people and allow agriculture without destroying the environment.
All words by Eisve Treciakauskaite and all images by Justinas Lekavicius, unless otherwise noted.