photo by Lou Gold (visionshare on Flickr CC)

Half of the Earth’s forests have already been cleared or degraded. A lot of this former forestland is used for growing food, but much is unused or underused. All the while more deforestation is taking place in order to feed a growing global population and to increase economic development.

A new study argues that these degraded forests could be either reforested or put to productive use, instead of cutting down more virgin forest.

In Brazil, reports show that deforestation rose immensely in recent months, in sharp contrast to government studies released last December claiming that Amazon deforestation had fallen to its lowest level in 22 years.

Environmentalists say the main culprits for Amazon deforestation are the soya and cattle industries and a failure to enforce existing laws.

A Greenpeace spokesperson was quoted by Reuters:

You have 300-400 lawmakers here in Brasilia sending the message that profiting from deforestation will be amnestied, that crime pays.

Read more in this report from BBC News:

At the same time, food prices are way up – 37% since last March, according to the UN’s Food Price Index.

A plan in Indonesia to use already cleared areas for palm oil plantations – instead of cutting more rainforest for that purpose – may be showing some promise.

Representatives of the World Resources Institute’s Global Forests Initiative write in the Guardian:

Brazilian groups are looking to the Indonesian experience as they struggle to find space for that country’s expanding beef, soya and sugar cane enterprises. Through a careful process of defining degraded land, mapping it, and consulting with existing landowners and local communities, plans and policies encourage a shift in future investment to this kind of land and away from the forests of the Amazon.

Any such systems need affective enforcement of laws and of course decent laws to begin with and proper planning. How is this possible when the industries that profit from deforestation have such a strong influence over government policies?