Sheffield University scientists find new risks to rainforests

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High-yielding oil palm crops will lead to the loss of tropical forests rather than help preserve nature, according to scientists from The University of Sheffield.

Improving crop yields is often seen as a popular solution to the increasing demand for food productivity to meet the needs of a growing global population.

It is argued food demand can be met from the smallest land area possible, saving forests from conversion.

But a team of leading international scientists, headed by Sheffield University’s Dr David Edwards, has warned that using high-yielding oil palm crops will simply transfer the agricultural footprint from areas such as North America and Europe to the bio-diverse tropical rainforests of South East Asia, South America and Africa.

Dr Edwards said: “In theory yielding twice as much crop on the same amount of land should be a positive thing because it can reduce demand for further forest clearance.

“However, using high-yielding oil palm crops could in fact lead to further tropical deforestation because it becomes so cheap on the global food markets that it out-competes alternatives grown in temperate regions.”

He added: “This means there would be more demand to plant oil palm in threatened rainforests where there is a hugely diverse range of wildlife and plant species, in favour of crops grown in places such as Canada, which retains much forest and far less wildlife diversity.

“This means we would simply be transferring our agricultural footprint from higher latitudes, where farmers would likely go out of business in the absence of subsidies, to tropical areas where the impact on diverse wildlife and plant species would be extremely damaging.”