Small farmers play big role in felling Peru rainforest: satellite maps

RIO DE JANEIRO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon has risen this century - destroying an area of rainforest 14 times larger than Los Angeles - with small farmers behind most of the cutting, according to a new analysis of satellite maps.

Small farmers account for about 80 percent of Peru’s forest loss, the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP), a Washington, D.C.-based research group, said on Wednesday.

“One of the big findings of this report is that deforestation is not driven by sexier issues such as large-scale oil palm (plantations) or dams, but widespread small-scale agriculture,” said Matt Finer, MAAP’s director.

Small producers clearing forests for farms or cattle grazing along with logging roads and illegal gold mining have caused Peru to lose 1,800,000 hectares of Amazon rainforest since 2001 and the trend is steadily increasing, the analysis said.

The research underlies the difficulties governments face in balancing the need to find farmland for the rural poor while preserving diverse ecosystems, analysts said.

“Civil society and government must confront this reality when shaping priorities,” Finer wrote in an email to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Peruvian officials were not immediately available to comment.

The finding contrasts with the picture in neighboring Brazil - home to the world’s largest tropical forests - where small growers are only behind about a third of the cutting.

This could be due to the higher poverty levels in Peru, underlying the need to improve job creation and land rights so poor farmers have options beside cutting down trees.

More than 20 percent of Peruvians live in poverty and the country’s president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, said he aims to cut the rate to ten percent in the next five years.