Deforestation – The Problem that Affects Everyone

Sep 13th, 2017 | By | Category: Environment/Sustainability

By Candela Vázquez Asenjo, youth blogger, Transition Earth.


Mother orangutan with baby in Tanjun Puting National Park, Kalimantan [photo: Suzanne York]

This past summer I volunteered with an orangutan sanctuary located in Borneo, Indonesia. The feeling of being just one more creature in the middle of the forest, no longer an intruder but a guest, is a beautiful gift that few people get to experience. However, there is a dark side, which is severe deforestation. It woke me up from the dream I was living and made me realize that in some sectors of our society we are still very far from achieving a complete symbiosis between humans and nature. Although there is still potential for this, we must work very hard to achieve it; I even think that it may be the hardest thing for humans to accomplish in modern history.

Population, Consumption and Fragile Forests

Indonesian Borneo, also known as Kalimantan, is the world’s third largest island and it is one of the most environmentally threatened places on Earth. The Bornean forest is one of the richest terrestrial ecosystems in the world and the oldest on the planet, dating to around 130 million years old. It is an important carbon sink that reduces the amount of carbon that is concentrated in the atmosphere. It is also an important and critical flood buffer that controls the water and sustains local communities. For the people in Borneo, the rainforest is treasured for its spiritual value and the services it provides.

Deforestation is an environmental problem that is mainly driven by overpopulation and overconsumption. Borneo’s deforestation accelerated in the industrial age; before, its level of deforestation was minimal. Between 1980 and 2000, more wood has been harvested in Borneo than in Africa and the Amazon combined. Borneo has lost already half of its forest, and a third of it has disappeared in just the last three decades.

Main Drivers of Deforestation

Deforestation’s impacts on the rainforest include palm oil exploitation, illegal logging, agriculture, mining, infrastructure development and increasingly frequent forest fires, the vast majority of which are intentional. The illegal wildlife trade has also increased the rate of deforestation as “cleaner” forests allow easier access to more remote areas.


Deforestation in Indonesia [photo:]

Deforestation in Indonesia [photo:]


Palm oil is a tropical vegetable oil that is ubiquitous in both food and non-food products and is the main driver of the deforestation in Borneo. It is having a devastating effect on the tropical forest ecosystem. Today, half of the productive plantations have been established in secondary forest and bush areas. In Indonesia, palm oil plantations have expanded from 600,000 hectares in 1985 to over 6 million hectares by 2007.

Illegal logging is another main driver of deforestation. Unfortunately, some communities that lack other economic development possibilities have become dependent upon illegal logging. Furthermore, the laws that exist in Indonesia to protect the rainforest are not strong enough, and are frequently violated and inadequate, without any consequences.

In terms of agriculture, there are two types in Borneo – subsistence (which is the main one) and industrial. Industrial agricultural crops cover about 10% of the entire island of Borneo, including rubber and acacias trees for the pulp and paper industry, and other industrial tree plantations. In 2010, 65,000 square kilometers (twice the size of Belgium) was planted with oil palm and over 10,000 square kilometres are covered with industrial tree plantations.

Local communities practice subsistence agriculture and rely upon the “slash-and-burn” technique. This practice sets the land on fire because it is the fastest and cheapest way to clear land for agriculture. However, much of Borneo is comprised of peat soil, which is highly flammable, and slash-and-burn causes big and uncontrollable fires that are difficult to stop. In addition, fires can cause extensive damage during El Niño years and its related drought events. The fires are not just caused by the local communities who have no intention of destroying big areas of land, but increasingly by palm oil producers.

According to the World Resources Institute, “more than one third (37%) of the fires in Sumatra are occurring on pulpwood concessions. A good proportion of the rest on or near land used by palm oil producers”. Lindsey Allen, executive director of Rainforest Action Network, says “Many of these fires are a direct result of the industrial manipulation of the landscape for plantation development”.



Logging and related impacts in Borneo [map:]

The Need to Reverse Course

A 2012 study by the World Wildlife Fund projected that “with a current deforestation rate of 1.3 million hectares per year, only peat and montane forests would survive in the coming years. If current deforestation rates continue, 21.5 million hectares will be lost between 2007 and 2020, reducing the remaining forest cover to 24 per cent. If this is the case, then Borneo could lose most of its lowland rainforests outside of protected areas by 2020”.

Although it may seem like there is no solution or hope for the rainforest of Borneo, there are several sustainable projects that are working in affected areas that will help to prevent these catastrophic statistics and stop, or at least slow down, the deforestation rate on Borneo. At the same time, it will protect the species that depend on the rainforest to live.

These projects cover different methods and purposes, including sustainable and controlled logging that will help not only the forest but animals that live in it and the communities that depend upon it. There is also a smartphone system that allows a person to listen the sounds of the forest remotely and drones that will help to control if there is any illegally deforested land or any poachers.

And perhaps there is hope to be found in that clear-cutting of forests around the world has been slowing down since the 1990s. For example, China and Europe are increasing their forest land. But for now, the main problem resides in the major rainforest basins of the Congo, Amazon and Southeast Asia where forest land is alarmingly decreasing every year. It is paramount that all of us work together to find a solution.


Candela Vázquez Asenjo is an Environmental Management student at the University of Manchester, UK, and a Law student at the Nebrija University, Spain. She aspires to be a social entrepreneur, with a focus on international environmental problems.

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