May 21, 2009
Conducting field work in the Xishuangbanna prefecture of China's Yunnan province and assessing broader regional trends, Alan Ziegler of the National University of Singapore and colleagues argue that policies favoring agricultural intensification over small-scale slash-and-burn have encouraged the rapid expansion of rubber plantations across more than 500,000 hectares (1,930 square miles) of montane forest in China, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Myanmar. Despite widespread perception among authorities that "swidden cultivation is a destructive system that leads only to forest loss and degradation", the researchers found that the transition to industrial plantations has not necessarily benefited the environment.
Forest conversion for rubber plantations in Northern Laos in January 2009
"In retrospect, it has become clear that the environmental impacts of traditional swiddening were inconsequential until mountain populations increased, cropping periods lengthened, and fallow periods became shorter, and the cultivation of opium as a cash crop proliferated after the Second World War. Recent intensification of permanent agriculture has had numerous negative environmental consequences: Erosion has accelerated and stream sediment loads have increased where repetitive cultivation is performed on steep slopes without appropriate conservation methods; permanent conversion of hill slopes and road building have increased the risk of landslides; irrigation of cash crops in the dry season has desiccated streams; and use of pesticides and fertilizers to sustain commercial agriculture has reduced water quality."
Alan D. Ziegler, Jefferson M. Fox, and Jianchu Xu. The Rubber Juggernaut. 22 MAY 2009 VOL 324 SCIENCE
China's tropical rainforests decline 67% in 30 years March 3, 2008
Tropical rainforest cover in southern Yunnan decreased 67 percent in the past 30 years, mostly due to the establishment of rubber plantations, according to a new assessment of tropical forests in southwestern China. The study, published in the inaugural issue of the open access e-journal Tropical Conservation Science, reviewed species composition in China's only tropical rainforest.
Monoculture tree plantations are "green deserts" not forests, say activists September 19, 2008
A number of environmental and social organizations have declared September 21st: International Day against Monoculture Tree Plantations to highlight the social upheaval and environmental degradation — including impacts on global biodiversity and climate change — wrought by industrial plantations.
Corporations become prime driver of deforestation, providing clear target for environmentalists August 5, 2008
The major drivers of tropical deforestation have changed in recent decades. According to a forthcoming article, deforestation has shifted from poverty-driven subsistence farming to major corporations razing forests for large-scale projects in mining, logging, oil and gas development, and agriculture. While this change makes many scientists and conservationists uneasy, it may allow for more effective action against deforestation.