In 2016 the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reports a total global loss of 7 mi ha of forests. That is an area roughly the size of the republic of Ireland, or one and a half the size of Costa Rica. Due to the increasing human population, it’s not surprising to see that 85% of that is due to conversion to agriculture.
What is worse is that the greatest conversion took place in the tropics, in countries considered low income. Not only are these countries in constant struggle to feed their population, but also have greater number of people depending directly on these forests for their subsistence. Paradoxically, even though the driver is conversion to agriculture, this is more likely to be a land use change to cultivate some sort of commodity (palm oil, sugar, soy) to export, rather than directly feed their population.
For those concerned with biodiversity loss, the picture is equally dim. Any tropical forest lost is almost certainly natural and in many cases primary forest, highly rich in biodiversity and probably understudied. So, the damage is many times fold. Not only we are contributing to climate change by liberating carbon to the atmosphere, affecting water provision, soil protection and all the other ecosystem services that forests provide. But also, we are destroying species that may well be unknown to us… and sadly will remain so.