Deforestation is the permanent destruction of forests in order to make the land available for other uses. According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), about 18 million acres of forest, roughly the size of Panama and equal to 27 soccer fields, are lost each year.

Deforestation is a worldwide phenomenon, though tropical rainforests are the worst hit. At the current rate of deforestation, the world could lose all its rainforests in the next 100 years, according to National Geographic. Countries that suffered most in 2016 included Brazil, Indonesia, Thailand, the Democratic Republic of Congo and other parts of Africa, as well as parts of Eastern Europe. The World Resources Institute estimates that most of the world’s remaining indigenous forest is located in Canada, Alaska, Russia, and the Northwestern Amazon basin.

Causes of Deforestation

There are many causes of deforestation, but the main one is the use of wood as fuel. Other common reasons are:

  • To make land available for housing and urbanization
  • To use timber for making items such as paper and furniture
  • To create ingredients such as oil from palm trees
  • To create room for cattle farming 

Methods of Deforestation

The most common methods of deforestation are burning trees and clear-cutting, both of which are controversial practices and leave the land completely barren. 

Clear-cutting is when large swathes of forests are mowed down all at once. It has been described as “an ecological trauma that has no precedent in nature except for a major volcanic eruption.”

Burning can be done quickly, in vast swathes of land, or more slowly with the slash-and-burn technique, which involves cutting down a patch of trees, burning them and growing crops on the land. The ash from the burned trees provides some nourishment for the plants and the fire removes the weeds from the land. When the soil becomes less nourishing and weeds begin to reappear over years of use, the farmers move on to a new patch of land and begin the process again.