While the export of agricultural products is beneficial for the economy of many South American countries, conservation groups urge sustainable practices for industries that may encroach on endangered rainforest lands.
Rainforest timber cut from the Peruvian Amazon. (Atelopus/iStock/Thinkstock)
Megan MacDowell, Washington, D.C., office director of the Amazon Conservation Association, said that in order to strike a balance between economic growth and environmental protection, conservation actions need to be taken.
"[Industries] need to use land that has already been cleared, rather than cutting down more forest for fields," she said.
Deforestation of the Amazon rainforest has removed millions of acres of tropical habitat, caused extinctions that scientists have yet to see the full scope of and may even impact weather patterns in the future.
As much as 80 percent of deforestation is a result of agriculture expansion. More than 105,000 miles of illegal roads have been made in South American rainforest to expedite illegal logging practices.
Citing products such as soybeans, which she said go to feed livestock overseas, MacDowell said that the process of clearing rainforest to have agricultural fields is contributing to massive species losses and harming the rainforest's habitat.
What's more is that the industrial growth often does not have a positive impact on regional poverty levels.
In Bolivia, for example, 51.3 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.
"Most of the work is done by machines," she explained. "They aren't employing local people to earn an income."
Industry growth is also having a negative impact on local native tribal people.
According to Alice Bayer of Survival International, "In terms of tribal peoples, the benefits of industrial growth rarely reaches them. On the contrary, the destruction of their forest and land, on which they depend for their survival, has devastating impacts on their livelihoods."
A member of the Pataxo tribe stands outside Planalto presidential palace in Brasilia, Brazil, on March 12, 2014. Natives went to the capital for meetings with government officials to discuss health issues and the legalization of indigenous lands. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
Bayer stated that the forest is the entire source of survival for many tribal peoples. Deforestation can cause a loss of their land and their hunting grounds, and industrial pollution can have negative impacts on their health. Diabetes and other illnesses are also far more common in displaced peoples. Bayer added that suicide rates also skyrocket, with Bayer specifically citing the Guarani tribe in Brazil. Most of their land now belongs to cattle ranchers and sugar and soya plantations.
"Tribal peoples affected by deforestation face the entire loss of their livelihood, turning them from self-sufficient peoples into beggars," she said.
Survival International states that 80 percent of protected lands are inhabited by tribal people who have lived in those areas for thousands of years.
"Tribal peoples are the original conservationists," Bayer said. "Protecting tribal peoples' rights to their land can also lead to the protection of the forests."
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