Published on: Jul 18, 2006
Type: Opinions

Deforestation has been described as the cutting down of trees without planting others in their place.
It is hard to think that there was a time when 90% of the earth was covered by trees, but this was once the case. If so, one asks, naturally, what happened to all these trees? Why do people cut down trees? The following are probable reasons:

a) Demand for land for cultivation.
This has been seen both in Kenya and other parts of the world especially countries that have Agriculture as the backbone of their economy. Trees have been cut down to obtain land for cultivation of both subsistence and cash crops, both by governments and individuals.
b) Need for firewood
People, especially those who live in rural areas where electricity and gas are unavailable, resort to use of firewood as a source of heat. Here, wood is cut down and burnt.
c) Need for land to build industries
Industries require a lot of land and while industrialization is important for every country, it is the bane of large tracts of forest. People need jobs in order to provide for their daily needs.
d) Need for land to build houses
With the worldwide increase in population, land to build houses for people to live in is very much required.
e) Need for wood for furniture, pencils, paper etc

Whereas the above needs are important and have to be satisfied, cutting down trees is not the most probable solution to these problems. Why? This is because, most people who cut down trees do not plant others in their place. Also, if all the above needs are to be met by cutting down of trees, even planting two for every tree cut will not prevent desertification. This is because trees take so long to grow and mature, especially so for hard wood trees. Deforestation has the following dangers:
•Destruction of carbon sinks:
Carbon sinks are huge stores of carbon, e.g. Swamps and forests
•Soil Erosion:
Deforestation makes soil prone to erosion by agents such as wind and water. The roots of trees hold the particles of soil together thus, preventing the fertile top soil from being carried away. Soil erosion leads to loss of productivity of the land due to loss of mineral nutrients and soil microorganisms
•Destruction of animal habitats:
Apart from domesticated animals and marine and fresh water animals, all other animals need forests as their habitats. These forests do not only provide a place for the animals to roam day but also provide their food and act as a source of protection from predators through camouflage. Destruction of the animals’ habitats literally kills the animals.
•Medicinal Plants:
Some trees are used as herbs. Trees such as the Cinchona have been used as treatment against Malaria since time immemorial. Destruction of these forests leads to destruction of medicinal plants that could be used as treatment for various ailments.
•Trees act as windbreakers:
Absence of these trees enables strong winds and or storms e.g. Hurricanes and Tornados. I write this in the wake of a Tsunami at the Indonesian coast where about 150 people have just lost their lives. Hurricanes like Katrina are still fresh in our memories. I cannot over emphasize this point.
•Greenhouse effect and global warming:
Nature balances the flow of energy and nutrients. Forests plan a very vital role in these cycles e.g. the carbon cycle where deforestation causes carbon dioxide to remain in the atmosphere. Accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere acts as a blanket that traps long wave radiation of heat and prevents it from escaping the surface of the earth back into the atmosphere. This phenomenon is known as the greenhouse effect. The trapped radiation is converted into heat. This heat causes global warming.
Destruction of forests also causes modification of climate of an area mostly leading to desertification and aridity.

What then should be recommended as solutions to these problems?
a) For every tree that is cut, three, not two should be planted in its case. We have reached such a critical point that to prevent the desertification of the world that many more trees need to be planted.
b) Unless it is necessary, water catchments areas should strictly be left alone
c) Quick growing varieties of soft wood trees should be grown for commercial uses e.g. making of furniture, pencils and paper.
d) We should carry out consistent mass education on a worldwide scale, on the importance of reforestation and the dangers of deforestation
e) We need to enact and enforce strict laws against deforestation, worldwide.
f) It is high time that we reduced our dependence on charcoal as a source of fuel and make use of wind and solar energy.

Nature works as a whole cycle. This is seen not only in animals where predator and prey work together but also in the different energy and nutrient cycles. As already explained earlier, forests play a crucial role in this equation. The knowledge of how to conserve our environment could be our greatest guarantee for survival on this earth and the perpetuation or our species.

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