Deforestation is happening in southern Africa much faster than previously thought


Deforestation rates in southern Africa’s woodlands are five times higher than prior estimates, according to recent research published in early August.

More deforestation, combined with widespread degradation of these savannas, translates to three to six times the loss of carbon as compared to previous estimates, Edward Mitchard and his colleagues write in Nature Communications.

“Deforestation and degradation are not just focused on dense tropical forests,” says Mitchard, an environmental scientist at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Wooded savannas, the largest of which lie in southern Africa, are also at risk, he adds.

Because it’s been so difficult to resolve deforestation and degradation in woodlands, uncovering the higher rate of deforestation, along with a loss of three to six times more carbon, wasn’t much of a shock, Mitchard says.

In a ray of hope, they also found that reforestation had occurred in nearly half of southern Africa’s savannas. This offsetting gain in biomass meant that, between 2007 and 2010, the amount of carbon dioxide tied up in the region’s trees held more or less steady at around 6.1 billion tons.

Predictably, the researchers found that the highest rates of deforestation and degradation occur around densely populated areas. Most prominent among the myriad uses of the forest is likely “unsustainable charcoal harvesting,” mostly for city dwellers’ cooking and heating needs, Mitchard says. Charcoal and raw wood provide almost 80 percent of the region’s energy.

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In southern Africa’s savannas, deforestation is really a problem for the people because Charcoal and raw wood provide their region’s energy. Although cutting trees let workers gain incomes, the local people will have less carbon to use for living and their future generation, which causes an external cost. Moreover, as both the deforestation and degradation of the savannas,  there’s three to six times loss of carbon, which will cause market failure for the local people.

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