Every year thousands of miles of rainforest are destroyed for agricultural use. The two groups chiefly responsible for converting rainforest into farmland are poor farmers and corporations.

Poor farmers in many parts of the world rely on clearing rainforest to feed their families. Without access to better agricultural lands, these people use slash-and-burn to clear patches of forest for short-term use. Typically, they farm the cleared land for a couple of years before the soil is exhausted of nutrients, and they must move on to clear a new patch of forest.

Agricultural companies are clearing more rainforest than ever before, especially in the Amazon where large tracts of rainforest are being converted into cattle pasture and soybean farms. South America has an area of farmland that exceeds that of the American Midwest — much of this farmland has come at the expense of the Amazon rainforest.

Industrial agriculture photo gallery


In Asia, especially Malaysia and Indonesia, large areas of rainforest are being cleared for oil palm plantations to produce palm oil, which is used widely in processed food, cosmetics, and soap. Today palm oil is found in some 50 percent of packaged snack foods, a proportion that is growing because palm oil is the cheapest type of vegetable oil. Unfortunately, the forests that are being destroyed for palm oil production are home to many endangered species, including orangutans, pygmy elephants, Sumatran tigers, and Sumatran rhinos.

Why are biofuels bad for rainforests? | Why is palm oil bad for rainforests? | Why is soy bad for the Amazon rainforest

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Review questions

  • Who are are the two groups primarily responsible for deforestation for agriculture?
  • Why do poor farmers chop down rainforests?
  • What are examples of crops produced at the expense of rainforests?
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