Deforestation in Central America

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Central American countries have experienced cycles of deforestation and reforestation since the decline of Maya civilization, influenced by many factors such as population growth and agriculture. From 2001 to 2010, 5,376 square kilometres (2,076 sq mi) of forest were lost in the region. In 2010 Belize had 63% of remaining forest cover, Costa Rica 46%, Panama 45%, Honduras 41%, Guatemala 37%, Nicaragua 29%, and El Salvador 21%. Most of the loss occurred in the moist forest biome, with 12,201 square kilometers. Woody vegetation loss was partially set off by a plus in the coniferous forest biome with 4,730 km2, and at 2,054 km2. Mangroves and deserts contributed only 1% to the loss in forest vegetation. The bulk of the deforestation was located at the Caribbean slopes of Nicaragua with a minus of 8,574 square kilometers of forest lost in the period from 2001 to 2010. The most significant regrowth of 3,050 km2 of forest was seen in the coniferous woody vegetation of Honduras. [1]

Deforestation removal of forest and conversion of the land to non-forest use

Deforestation, clearance, clearcutting or clearing is the removal of a forest or stand of trees from land which is then converted to a non-forest use. Deforestation can involve conversion of forest land to farms, ranches, or urban use. The most concentrated deforestation occurs in tropical rainforests. About 31% of Earth's land surface is covered by forests.

Reforestation land regeneration method

Reforestation is the natural or intentional restocking of existing forests and woodlands (forestation) that have been depleted, usually through deforestation. Reforestation can be used to rectify or improve the quality of human life by soaking up pollution and dust from the air, rebuild natural habitats and ecosystems, mitigate global warming since forests facilitate biosequestration of atmospheric carbon dioxide, and harvest for resources, particularly timber, but also non-timber forest products.

Maya civilization Mesoamerican civilization

The Maya civilization was a Mesoamerican civilization developed by the Maya peoples, and noted for its logosyllabic script—the most sophisticated and highly developed writing system in pre-Columbian Americas—as well as for its art, architecture, mathematics, calendar, and astronomical system. The Maya civilization developed in an area that encompasses southeastern Mexico, all of Guatemala and Belize, and the western portions of Honduras and El Salvador. This region consists of the northern lowlands encompassing the Yucatán Peninsula, and the highlands of the Sierra Madre, running from the Mexican state of Chiapas, across southern Guatemala and onwards into El Salvador, and the southern lowlands of the Pacific littoral plain.



The history of most Central American countries involves cycles of deforestation and reforestation. For the Ancient Mayan culture at Copan, Honduras, the process of clearing large amounts of land for their agricultural-based society surpassed the forests' ability to replenish naturally. Besides the clearing of land for farmland, Mayans consumed vast quantities of wood as fuel and building materials, rapidly depleting the natural resources of this area. Eventually, the lack of firewood may have caused health problems among those who were unable to properly cook their food or warm their habitations. [2]

Honduras republic in Central America

Honduras, officially the Republic of Honduras, is a country in Central America. In the past, it was sometimes referred to as "Spanish Honduras" to differentiate it from British Honduras, which later became modern-day Belize. The republic of Honduras is bordered to the west by Guatemala, to the southwest by El Salvador, to the southeast by Nicaragua, to the south by the Pacific Ocean at the Gulf of Fonseca, and to the north by the Gulf of Honduras, a large inlet of the Caribbean Sea.

By the fifteenth century, intensive Mayan agriculture had significantly thinned the forests, but had not completely decimated them. Before Europeans arrived, forests covered 500,000 square kilometers – approximately 90% of the region. The arrival of the Spaniards caused a sharp decrease in population resulting from the highly contagious diseases introduced by the conquistadores. This reduction in human pressure gave much of the land that had been cleared for cultivation time to recover. Eventually, the forcing of "Europe's money economy on Latin America" created the demand for the exportation of primary products, which introduced the need for large amounts of cleared agricultural land to produce those products. [3] While the cultivation of some exports such as indigo and cochineal dye worked harmoniously with the surrounding indigenous vegetation, other crops such as sugar required clear-cutting of land and mass quantities of firewood to fuel the refining process, which spurred rapid, destructive deforestation.

Indigo deep and bright shade of blue

Indigo is a deep and rich color close to the color wheel blue, as well as to some variants of ultramarine. It is traditionally regarded as a color in the visible spectrum, as well as one of the seven colors of the rainbow: the color between violet and blue; however, sources differ as to its actual position in the electromagnetic spectrum.

Cochineal species of insect

The cochineal is a scale insect in the suborder Sternorrhyncha, from which the natural dye carmine is derived. A primarily sessile parasite native to tropical and subtropical South America through North America, this insect lives on cacti in the genus Opuntia, feeding on plant moisture and nutrients. The insects are found on the pads of prickly pear cacti, collected by brushing them off the plants, and dried.

Refining is the process of purification of a (1) substance or a (2) form. The term is usually used of a natural resource that is almost in a usable form, but which is more useful in its pure form. For instance, most types of natural petroleum will burn straight from the ground, but it will burn poorly and quickly clog an engine with residues and by-products. The term is broad, and may include more drastic transformations, such as the reduction of ore to metal.

From the eighteenth to the twentieth century, mahogany exports for furniture became the major cause of forest exhaustion. The region experienced economic change in the nineteenth century through a "fuller integration in the world capitalist system". [3] This, combined with conflict with Spain, put an even greater emphasis on plantation cropping. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Europe and North America have become the chief importers of the region's coffee and banana crops, thus putting increasing demand on the land to produce large quantities of these cash crops and perpetuating the clearing of more forest in an attempt to acquire more exploitable farmland.

Spain Kingdom in Southwest Europe

Spain, officially the Kingdom of Spain, is a country mostly located in Europe. Its continental European territory is situated on the Iberian Peninsula. Its territory also includes two archipelagoes: the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa, and the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea. The African enclaves of Ceuta, Melilla, and Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera make Spain the only European country to have a physical border with an African country (Morocco). Several small islands in the Alboran Sea are also part of Spanish territory. The country's mainland is bordered to the south and east by the Mediterranean Sea except for a small land boundary with Gibraltar; to the north and northeast by France, Andorra, and the Bay of Biscay; and to the west and northwest by Portugal and the Atlantic Ocean.

Most recently, as of the 1960s, cattle ranching has become the primary reason for land clearing. The lean grass-fed cattle produced by Central American ranches (as opposed to grain-fed cattle raised elsewhere) was perfectly suited for American fast-food restaurants and this seemingly bottomless market has created the so-called "hamburger connection" which links "consumer lifestyles in North America with deforestation in Central America". [3] This demonstrates how the developed world has had an indirect influence on the environment and landscape of developing countries.


Logging is another factor that increases deforestation in multiple ways. Though regulated logging is far less detrimental to the forest, uncontrolled logging is prevalent in developing countries due to the demand for timber to house growing populations, and the poor economic situation of those making their living from and in the forest itself. Furthermore, all forms of logging necessitate the building of roads, which generates easy access to those seeking new land to clear for agriculture. The use of wood as the primary fuel for cooking and heating is compounded by developing countries inability to pay high oil prices. As a result, the demand for firewood is "one of the most commonly cited causes of deforestation". [4]

Logging the cutting, skidding, on-site processing, and loading of trees or logs onto transport vehicles

Logging is the cutting, skidding, on-site processing, and loading of trees or logs onto trucks or skeleton cars.


The so-called "hamburger connection" is not the only example of the indirect impact that consumers in North America have on the environment and landscape in Central America. The pervasion of the illegal drug trade throughout the region decimates forestland and is primarily fueled by demand for narcotics in North America. Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua have suffered from some of the highest rates of deforestation in the world since 2000 and in 2005 these rates of forest loss began to accelerate, coinciding with an influx of drug trafficking activity. Following the election of Felipe Calderón in 2006 and the ignition of the Mexican Drug War, many Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTO) relocated their operations southward enticed by the porous borders, corruption, and weak public institutions characteristic of Guatemala and Honduras. The sparsely populated forested highlands in these countries harbor little state presence and offer perfect refuge for DTOs looking to evade interdiction.

The increased trafficking of cocaine through Guatemala and Honduras is correlated with a rise in the region's rate of forest loss. In the forests of eastern Honduras, the amount of newly detected deforestation is greater than 5.29 hectares while in Guatemala's Petén, extensive amounts of forest loss was matched by an unprecedented number of cocaine flows through the area. [5] According to Dr. Kendra McSweeney from Ohio State University, the baseline rate of deforestation in the region of about 20 km2 per year has accelerated to 60 km2 per year under the narco-effect - a deforestation rate of around 10%. In 2011, the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve in Honduras was designated as a "World Heritage in Danger" by UNESCO due to the striking degree of deforestation at the hands of narco-traffickers. [6]

Three interrelated mechanisms explain the trend of forest loss following the establishment of a drug transit hub. The first is the clearing of forestland for the construction of clandestine roads and airstrips used by vehicles transporting narcotics, pesticides, and fertilizers. Second, the influx of vast amounts of cash and weapons into areas that are already weakly governed only intensifies the preexisting pressures on forests there. The introduction of narco-capital into these frontiers encourages landowners and other actors in the region to participate in the drug trade, which often leaves indigenous communities bereft of their land and livelihoods. Finally, the large profits to drug traffickers incentivize DTOs to convert forest to agriculture in order to launder these profits. "Improving" remote land not only allows narco-traffickers to inconspicuously convert their assets into private earnings but also legitimizes the DTO's presence in the area. Though conversion of land within protected forest area and indigenous communities is illegal, traffickers have the political influence necessary to guarantee impunity. As for the indigenous communities marginalized by increased drug trafficking activity, they are powerless in the face of the narcos' violence and corruption; conservation groups in the region are threatened and state prosecutors are bribed to turn a blind eye to illegal "narco-zones." [5] According to Dr. Kendra McSweeney from Ohio State University, the baseline rate of deforestation in the region of about 20 km2 per year has accelerated to 60 km2 McSweeney cites Honduras' world's highest homicide rate, explaining that conservationists "don't breathe a word of [narco-trafficking], out of fear... they've all been silenced." [6] International environmental groups have pointed to the death of Jairo Mora Sandoval as an example of this sort of silencing of conservationists by narco-traffickers, indicating that the ecological and social effects of the drug trade have been felt throughout Central America. [7]

Population growth

As the countries of this region continue to develop, the sheer number of people, as well as trade with developed countries, puts pressure on natural resources by creating many of the situations previously discussed, such as the necessary clearing of land for agriculture and housing. [8] Another study shows that population growth and technological development in Central America (the Mesoamerican biodiversity hotspot) does in fact have a direct impact on the rate of deforestation. [9]

Global impact

Similarly to the Amazonian rainforest, the Central American forest also "adds to local humidity through transpiration". [10] Without the extra moisture from transpiration, rainfall totals are significantly decreased. Moreover, with less moisture in the air comes the increased susceptibility to fire. These local ramifications are quite serious and affect the quality of life of the surrounding populations, especially the poor, rural peoples who depend on the land for their livelihoods. In addition to the strain on the local environment, the destruction of the rainforests has "a broader impact, affecting global climate and biodiversity". [10]

Efforts to reverse the effects

Many countries have undertaken plans to conserve and replenish the forest in response to the recent upsurge in deforestation. For example, in Nicaragua, forest management consists of shifting from timber to non-timber harvesting alongside sustainable logging methods. [11] In Costa Rica, logging roads that had once added to the problem of deforestation are being researched as potential avenues of reforestation. Furthermore, in the mid-1990s, "damage-controlled logging practices" were implemented to prevent rampant illegal logging. [12]

Related Research Articles

Central America central geographic region of the Americas

Central America is located on the southern tip of North America, or is sometimes defined as a subcontinent of the Americas, bordered by Mexico to the north, Colombia to the southeast, the Caribbean Sea to the east, and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south. Central America consists of seven countries: Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. The combined population of Central America has been estimated to be 41,739,000 and 42,688,190.

Geography of Honduras geographical information on the country Honduras

Honduras is a country in Central America. Honduras borders the Caribbean Sea and the North Pacific Ocean. Guatemala lies to the west, Nicaragua south east and El Salvador to the south west. Honduras is the second largest Central American republic, with a total area of 112,890 square kilometres (43,590 sq mi).

La Mosquitia is the easternmost part of Honduras along the Mosquito Coast, which extends into northeastern Nicaragua. It is a region of tropical rainforest, pine savannah, and marsh accessible primarily by water and air. Its population includes indigenous and ethnic groups such as the Miskito, Pech, Rama, Sumo, Garífuna, Ladino, and Creole peoples. La Mosquitia has the largest wilderness area in Central America, consisting of mangrove swamps, lagoons, rivers, savannas and tropical rain forests. The Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage site, is a part of La Mosquitia.

Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve biosphere reserve

The Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve is 5,250 km² of preserved land in the La Mosquitia region on the Caribbean coast of Honduras. Most of the land runs along the Río Plátano. The reserve has a number of endangered species and some of Honduras largest sections of forest. It has been a World Heritage site and biosphere reserve since 1982. In 2011, UNESCO placed the reserve on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

Environmental issues in Colombia

Environmentally, Colombia is a mega-diverse country from its natural land terrain to its biological wildlife. Its biodiversity is a result of its geographical location and elevation. It is the fourth largest South American country and only country in South America to have coasts in the Pacific and Caribbean Sea. Colombia’s terrain can be divided into six main natural zones: The Caribbean, the Pacific, The Orinoco region, The Amazonia region, the Andean region, and the Insular region. 52.2% of the environment is predominately the Andes, Amazon, and Pacific Basins, followed by the Orinoco basin 13.9%, the Andes and the Caribbean. The Tropical Andes, Choco, and the Caribbean are considered biodiversity hotspots which puts these areas at high risk of concentration of colonizing activities. Colombia hosts over 1800 species and at least one new species is detected every year. Decades of civil war and political unrest has impeded biological and environmental research in Colombia. The political unrest in Colombia catalyzes the alteration of land patterns through the cultivation of coca and opium crops, the redirection of extractive activities, and land abandonment in some areas.

Tropical Africa region of Africa

Although tropical Africa is mostly familiar to the West for its rainforests, this ecozone of Africa is far more diverse. While the tropics are thought of as regions with warm to hot moist climates caused by latitude and the tropical rain belt, the geology of areas, particularly mountain chains, and geographical relation to continental and regional scale winds impact the overall parts of areas, also, making the tropics run from arid to humid in West Africa. The area has very serious overpopulation problems.

Deforestation in Brazil

Brazil once had the highest deforestation rate in the world and in 2005 still had the largest area of forest removed annually. Since 1970, over 700,000 square kilometers (270,000 sq mi) of the Amazon rainforest have been destroyed. In 2012, the Amazon was approximately 5.4 million square kilometres, which is only 87% of the Amazon's original state.

Deforestation in Nigeria

As of 2005, Nigeria has the highest rate of deforestation in the world according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Between 2000 and 2005 the country lost 55.7% of its primary forests, and the rate of forest change increased by 31.2% to 3.12% per annum. Forest has been cleared for logging, timber export, subsistence agriculture and notably the collection of wood for fuel which remains problematic in western Africa.

Deforestation in Colombia

Colombia loses 2,000 km2 of forest annually to deforestation, according to the United Nations in 2003. Some suggest that this figure is as high as 3,000 km² due to illegal logging in the region. Deforestation results mainly from logging for timber, small-scale agricultural ranching, mining, development of energy resources such as hydro-electricity, infrastructure, cocaine production, and farming. Around one-third of the country's original forest has been removed as a result of deforestation.

Deforestation of the Amazon rainforest deforestation of amazon

The cattle sector of the Brazilian Amazon, incentivized by the international beef and leather trades, has been responsible for about 80% of all deforestation in the region, or about 14% of the world's total annual deforestation, making it the world's largest single driver of deforestation. By 2017, 20% of land forested before 1970 in the Amazon had been deforested, and 90% of that been converted to cattle ranching. Much of the remaining deforestation within the Amazon has resulted from farmers clearing land for small-scale subsistence agriculture or mechanized cropland producing soy, palm, and other crops.

Deforestation in Costa Rica

Deforestation is a major threat to biodiversity and ecosystems in Costa Rica. The country has a rich biodiversity with some 12,000 species of plants, 1,239 species of butterflies, 838 species of birds, 440 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 232 species of mammals, which have been under threat from deforestation.

Deforestation by region

Rates and causes of deforestation vary from region to region around the world. In 2009, 2/3 of the world forests were in 10 top countries: 1) Russia, 2) Brazil, 3) China, 4) United States, 5) Canada, 6) Australia, 7) Congo, 8) Indonesia, 9) Peru and 10) India.

Deforestation in Indonesia

Deforestation in Indonesia involves the long-term loss of forests and foliage across much of the country; it has had massive environmental and social impacts. Indonesia is home to some of the most biologically diverse forests in the world and ranks third in number of species behind Brazil and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Deforestation in Madagascar

Deforestation in Madagascar is an ongoing environmental issue. Deforestation creates agricultural or pastoral land but can also result in desertification, water resource degradation, biodiversity erosion and habitat loss, and soil loss.

Deforestation in Borneo

Deforestation in Borneo has taken place on an industrial scale since the 1960s. Borneo, the third largest island in the world, divided between Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, was once covered by dense tropical and subtropical rainforests.

The illegal drug trade in Guatemala includes trans-shipment of cocaine to the United States. According to some reports, Mexican drug cartels such as Sinaloa have also established poppy growing operations there. There is a reported relationship between the Mexican Los Zetas cartel and the Guatemalan Kaibiles military force.

Illegal drug trade in Latin America

The illegal drug trade in Latin America concerns primarily the production and sale of cocaine and cannabis, including the export of these banned substances to the United States and Europe. The Coca cultivation is concentrated in the Andes of South America, particularly in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia; this is the world's only source region for coca.

Deforestation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Deforestation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is a significant transnational issue. In the DRC, forests are cleared for agricultural purposes by utilizing slash and burn techniques.

Deforestation is one of the main contributors to climate change. It comes in many forms: wildfire, agricultural clearcutting, livestock ranching, and logging for timber, among others. Forests cover 31% of the land area on Earth and annually, 18.7 million acres of forest is lost. Mass deforestation continues to threaten tropical forests, their biodiversity and the ecosystem services they provide. The main area of concern of deforestation is in tropical rainforests, since it is home to the majority of the biodiversity. Organizations such as World Wildlife Fund focus on the preservation of nature and the reduction of the most pressing threats to the diversity of life on Earth.


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