The Asian region makes up about one-quarter of Earth's land area, but holds almost 60 percent of the world's population.
Tremendous population pressures throughout the region have contributed to the region's substantial forest loss.
Additionally, many Asian countries have entered a period of sustained spectacular economic growth in the past few
years, resulting in the increased consumption of forest resources.
Forest change in south and southeast Asia, 1980-2005
Forest cover, end of period hectares
Average annual loss hectares
Average annual loss percent
Source: FAO. Data for 1980-1990 is extrapolated from disparate FAO sources.
Since the close of the 1990s, the rate of deforestation in tropical Asia has climbed by more than 20 percent, from 0.8 percent per year to almost 1 percent per year. This jump is largely due to the economic slowdown that affected the region in the late 1990s and depressed logging and development (see explanation below).
In this region, clearing for agriculture fueled by the food demand of the large population, has played a large
part in forest clearing in the region. The poverty of some countries means there is a large class of rural poor dependent on forests for food and wood supplies.
Of commercial activities, logging takes a dominant role in forest loss, followed distantly by mining and hydroelectric
projects. Commercial logging in this region has been more widespread and intensive than in other regions, and poor
harvesting techniques have led to severe ecological degradation. Before World War I and during the early postwar
years, most tropical timber entering the world market came from countries bordering the Atlantic. Foreign demand
for Asian rainforest timbers was limited to certain specialty species and timber consumption was mostly domestic
in nature. Since the 1950s, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Papua New Guinea have exported large amounts
of timber to Japan for its postwar reconstruction and economic boom. Initially most logging occurred in Peninsular
Malaysia and the Philippines, but in the 1970s Indonesia became the timber king when it began granting concessions
to multinational corporations. The market share of nonconiferous tropical timber exports of Indonesia, Malaysia,
and Brunei increased from 17 percent in 1965 to 30 percent in 1973 to over 70 percent in the 1980s. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, with falling timber stocks and log prices, many traditional log exporters placed moratoria on log exports and began to restrict timber harvesting. Today timber from new markets (Laos, Cambodia, New Guinea) is taking over for the
Philippines and Malaysia.
Several countries in Asia have extensive mineral endowments on their rainforest lands, the exploitation
of which is generally detrimental to the environment.
A few governments, most notably Indonesia, have promoted the settlement of outer area to relieve some of the population
pressures of major cities and islands. The colonists arrive on outer islands and proceed to cut forests for agricultural
sites, fuelwood, and grazing lands. These myopic resettlement policies have already had serious ecological consequences
and threaten the future economic vitality of the region.
Today much of Asia's remaining forest is degraded, making it more susceptible to drying out during dry spells. The
El Niño conditions of 1997-98 facilitated the spread of land-clearing fires set by plantations owners and
subsistence farmers. These fires rapidly spread into massive conflagrations that burned expansive tracts of bush
and rainforest in Kalimantan, Sumatra, Sulawesi, New Guinea, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, and the Philippines.
Health advocates warn that the regional health effects may last for years.
There is hope for the rainforests of the Asian realm. Many governments and middle-class citizens are increasingly
environmentally conscious and recognizing the importance of conserving their forests, and many are showing interest
in reforming their environmental policies. Governments and local conservation organizations are looking towards
new ways to promote sustainable use of rainforests in a way that benefits impoverished peasants, conserves biodiversity
and forest resources, and helps to sustain the region's current economic growth. Community-based forest management
is on the increase as is eco-tourism, which in many areas is over-developed and devastating to the local environment.
The Asian realm has the most plantations of any tropical region, with around 80 percent of tropical plantations. Though
many of these have been planted on forest lands specifically cleared for the purpose, more plantations are being
planted on previously degraded lands. Plantations are effective in that they both provide the product they are
designated for, but also are used as a source of wood for peasant farmers after harvesting.
One of the biggest concerns facing the Asian region in the new few years is what will become of countries that
still have abundant forest reserves. These tend to be poorer countries, yet to reach the economic development of
the others in the region, conservationists fear they will use their forest resources as a stepping
stone towards development.
The Asian economic slowdown produced some good news, from a conservation standpoint: the higher prices of imports
like the equipment necessary for logging and mining meant that many firms had to suspend operations. Higher production
costs, coupled with lower demand from a drop in construction, meant that less timber was taken from Southeast Asian
forests than anticipated. In addition, in order to reduce spending, the governments of Indonesia and Malaysia had
to reduce subsidies for and shelve some development projects that would have resulted in more deforestation.
Palm oil facilitates large-scale illegal logging in Indonesia
(12/16/2014) Development of oil palm plantations is providing cover for large-scale illegal logging in Indonesian Borneo, driving destruction of some of the island's most biodiverse forests and undermining efforts to reform the country's forestry sector, alleges a new report published by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).
Children 'clean' oil spill with kitchen utensils in the Sundarbans
(12/15/2014) On December 9th, a tanker slammed into another vessel along the Shela River in the world's largest mangrove forest: the Sundarbans in Bangladesh. The tanker sank, spilling an estimated 75,000 gallons (350,000 liters) of fuel oil into waterways that are a part of a reserve for threatened Ganges river dolphins and Irrawaddy dolphins.
Tradeoff: Sabah banks on palm oil to boost forest protection
(12/05/2014) Last month Sabah set aside an additional 203,000 hectares of protected forest reserves, boosting the Malaysian state's extent of protected areas to 21 percent of its land mass. But instead of accolades, Sabah forestry leaders were criticized for how they went about securing those reserves: allowing thousands of hectares of deforested land within an officially designated forestry area to be converted for oil palm plantations
Old fishermen document declining range of the Indus River dolphin
(12/03/2014) The Indus River dolphin (Platanista gangetica minor) is an endangered freshwater mammal found only in the Indus River and tributaries draining the Himalayas. Since 1879, the dolphin—locally known as the bhulan—has vanished from 80 percent of its range. Now, a study using interviews with dozens of elders in the Pakistani fishing communities along the river documents when dolphins disappeared from different river sections.
Is captive breeding the final resort for the Sumatran rhino?
(12/03/2014) Nearing extinction, the Sumatran rhino is running out of options. A native of Indonesia and Malaysia, the Sumatran rhino has declined in the past 30 years from an estimated 800 individuals to no more than 75 remaining today. So far there have been three ad hoc meetings held in 1984, 1993, and 2013, each attempting to develop policies that would potentially save this critical species.
Indonesia to audit licenses of palm oil companies that clear peatlands
(11/30/2014) New Indonesian president Joko Widodo has ordered the Ministry of Environment and Forestry to review licenses for companies that have converted peatlands for oil palm plantations, reports Antara. Jokowi, as the president is popularly known, announced the move after a visit last week to Sungai Tohor, a community in Riau that has been particularly affected by peatlands degradation and haze caused by fires set for land clearing.
APP boosting timber productivity to support zero deforestation policy
(11/26/2014) Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) appears to have enough plantation fiber to operate existing mills as well as supply a new mill under construction in South Sumatra without having to pulp natural forests, argues a new report that also finds the forestry giant is successfully improving yields to support its zero deforestation commitment.
New blood record: 1,020 rhinos killed in South Africa
(11/24/2014) South Africa has surpassed last year's grisly record for slaughtered rhinos—1,004—more than a month before the year ends. In an announcement on November 20th, the South African Department of Environmental Affairs said that 1,020 rhinos had been killed to date.
Indonesia's anti-corruption agency questions former Minster of Forestry
(11/21/2014) Indonesia's Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) questioned the former Minister of Forestry about his role in altering zoning to facilitate oil palm expansion into public lands. The case centers around Riau Governor Annas Maamun, who allegedly accepted bribes to convert an area's status from 'production forest' into 'non-forested land'.
Conflict-fueled deforestation, poaching in Assam continue despite truce
(11/19/2014) Northeastern India boasts nearly 44 percent of the country’s dense forests, and contains one of the most biodiverse areas in the world. However, the region lost approximately 548,440 hectares of tree cover—more than 3 percent—from 2001 through 2012. Sonitpur, Assam, has been particularly hard hit as people flooded into the area and cleared forest.
Shifting the way the world shops (commentary)
(11/17/2014) If you are what you eat, then just as true, you are what you buy. From organic, fair-trade, responsible palm oil, Wildlife Friendly, and most recently deforestation-free, consumers can cast their lot with a variety of eco-friendly labels and define who they are by what they buy. It gives someone in New York City the chance to contribute to forest protection in Indonesia by using their wallets to influence the sustainability of the supply chain that serves them with goods.
One man plants forest larger than Central Park
(11/13/2014) Jadav “Molai” Payeng resides in northeast Assam’s Jorhat district in the village of Aruna Chapori. Here, for the past 35 years, he has worked to plant trees on a sandbar island in the river near his home—and in the process, single-handedly established a forest larger than New York City’s Central Park.
Only place where rhinos, tigers, elephants, and orangutans coexist is under threat
(11/12/2014) A forest that is the only place where rhinos, tigers, elephants, and orangutans coexist is under threat from planned infrastructure, mining, logging, and plantation projects, warns a new report from the Rainforest Action Network. The report looks at one of the last vestiges of wilderness on the island of Sumatra, which for the past three decades has been heavily ravaged by logging, fires, and conversion to industrial timber and oil palm plantations. This area, known as the Leuser Ecosystem, is today a battleground between business-as-usual interests seeking to mine its forests and a collection of conservationists, local communities, and a collection of companies seeking to steward its resources.
Will merging competing ministries help save Indonesia's forests?
(11/10/2014) Newly elected Indonesian president Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo announced on October 26th that the Ministry of Forests and the Ministry of Environment would be combined and that Siti Nurbaya would become Forests and Environment Minister. The move was part of Jokowi’s appointment of 34 cabinet level positions, ranging from Foreign Minister to Religious Affairs Minister.
Human infections by 'monkey malaria' increasing as forests disappear
(11/10/2014) 68% of malaria hospitalizations in Malaysia last year were caused by a once-rare strain of the disease traditionally limited to macaque monkeys. However, as deforestation has put humans and wild animals in closer proximity, Plasmodium knowlesi infections and deaths have increased rapidly. The strain is now responsible for three times the severe malaria infections in Malaysian Borneo than P. falciparum—the world's deadliest form of the parasite.
Flying under the radar in Central Africa, Chinese companies may be wreaking environmental havoc
(11/07/2014) Tchimpounga, chimpanzees, and extractive industries in the Republic of Congo. 'Tchimpounga is not just a sanctuary,' shouted Rebeca Atencia above the din of the outboard motor, as she pointed to our progress up the Kouilou River on her tablet, donated by Google, which included access to high-resolution satellite maps. The GPS tracking showed us as a small, blue diamond moving slowly up the murky river.
Another mining company found operating in flagrant violation of Indonesian law
(11/06/2014) A Harita group mining company in West Kalimantan, Indonesia has been operating well outside of its permit boundary, reports local NGO, Forest Monitoring Volunteers of Borneo (RPHK). Their investigation found that PT. Karya Utama Tambang Jaya, is operating illegally on 78 hectares of land. The company holds permits to mine bauxite (aluminum ore) on 8,878 hectares.
'Too many people': Philippine island being deforested despite extensive protections
(10/31/2014) About an hour and a half plane ride from the Philippine capital Manila is Palawan, a long, narrow island home to about a quarter of all the animal species found in the country. But the province is losing its forests at a rapid clip due to human population increases, logging, quarrying, mining, and even a huge palm plantation.
Pet trade likely responsible for killer salamander fungus
(10/30/2014) As if amphibians weren't facing enough—a killer fungal disease, habitat destruction, pollution, and global warming—now scientists say that a second fungal disease could spell disaster for dozens, perhaps hundreds, of species. A new paper finds that this disease has the potential to wipe out salamanders and newts across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and the Americas.
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an organization working with Afro-indigenous and Embera communities to protect forests in Colombia's Darien region. Anthrotect is protecting the habitat of mongabay's mascot: the scale-crested pygmy tyrant.
"Rainforest" is used interchangeably with "rain forest" on this site. "Jungle" is generally not used.