THE REALITY: Deforestation is inspired by the greatest economic opportunities, rather than specifically by biofuel production. Therefore, cattle ranching is the dominant cause of Amazonian rainforest clearing in Brazil, while Indonesian and Malaysian forests are primarily cleared to satisfy demand for oil for human cooking.
Deforestation is the process of clearing large forested areas to increase farmland, support timber industries, and/or facilitate urbanization. The largest part of new farmland in emerging countries is used for meat production (i.e. pasture), followed by cash crops such as cotton, fuel crops and even flowers. Deforestation occurs around the world. However, discussions of biofuel development focus on two particular industries: Brazil’s sugarcane and Indonesia’s palm oil.
In Brazil, a thriving ethanol industry relies on the high energy content of sugarcane. However, to be competitive with gasoline, ethanol producers must control costs. Consequently, growers prefer to rely on converted pasture land rather than virgin forest land, in order to avoid the cost of permits, land clearing, and the development of roads, water, and power supply. For similar reasons of cost control, the main sugarcane industry is centered nearer to the population centers where fuel is consumed, thousands of miles from the Amazon rainforest. The primary driver of deforestation in the Amazon is cattle ranching.
Demand for biofuels has been blamed for deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia, due to the rapid proliferation of palm oil plantations. In both countries, virgin forests indeed succumb with increasing frequency. However, the primary cause is the high profits in providing a cheap source of high-quality cooking oil to Asian consumers, as well as to the global fast food market. After having surpassed soybean oil in market dominance, approximately 75% of palm oil is used for food. The remaining 25% is used to produce soaps, lotions, cosmetics and biofuels.
- Causes of Deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon