Mongabay.com is considered a leading source of information on tropical forests by some of the world's top ecologists and conservationists. TROPICAL RAINFORESTS: TROPICAL RAINFORESTS

ASIAN/INDOMALAYAN REALM

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

Years
Forest cover, end of period
hectares
Average annual loss
hectares
Average annual loss
percent
1980-1990323,156,000-4,390,000-1.20%
1990-2000297,380,000-2,577,600-0.80%
2000-2005283,127,000-2,850,600-0.96%

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).

Threats


Map of Asia - Rhett Butler 2000

Click for larger image

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.

Outlook


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.


Total land area
Total forest cover
2005
Primary forest cover
2005
Total
deforestation
1990-2005
Loss of
primary forest
1990-2005
Country(1000 ha)(1000 ha)% of total
land area
(1000 ha)% of total
land area
%
of 1990
forest cover
% of 1990
primary
forest cover
Bangladesh14,4008716.7-n/a-1.2n/a
Bhutan4,7003,195684138.85.30.0
Brunei Darussalam57727852.827848.2-11.2-11.2
Cambodia18,10410,44759.23221.8-19.3-58.0
India328,72667,70122.8-n/a5.9n/a
Indonesia190,45788,49548.848,70225.6-24.1-30.8
Lao People's Dem. Rep.23,68016,14269.91,4906.3-6.80.0
Malaysia32,97520,89063.63,82011.6-6.60.0
Maldives3013-n/a0.0n/a
Myanmar67,65832,22249-n/a-17.8n/a
Nepal14,7183,63625.43492.4-24.5-10.7
Pakistan79,6101,9022.5-n/a-24.7n/a
Philippines30,0007,162248292.8-32.30.0
Singapore6823.422.90.00.0
Sri Lanka6,5611,93329.91672.5-17.7-35.0
Thailand51,31214,52028.46,45112.6-9.10.0
Timor-Leste1,48779853.7-n/a-17.4n/a
Viet Nam33,16912,93139.7850.338.1-77.9
Total South and
South-east Asia
898,232283,12733.40.0-12.4n/a




Recent articles | Asia environmental news updates | XML

Half of Borneo's mammals could lose a third of their habitat by 2080
(01/22/2015) Borneo consistently makes the list of the world’s “biodiversity hotspots” – areas full of a wide variety of forms of life found nowhere else, but which are also under threat. To better understand the hazards, a study published today in the journal Current Biology examines the effects of climate change and deforestation in the coming decades on mammals living on the island.


Palm oil giant launches online platform to support zero deforestation push
(01/22/2015) Wilmar, the world's largest palm oil company, has unveiled a tool it says will help eliminate deforestation from its global supply chain. The tool is an online dashboard that maps the company's supply chain, including the names of locations of its refineries and supplier mills.


Sundarbans still reeling from effects of December oil spill
(01/21/2015) Last month, an estimated 350,000 liters of fuel oil spilled into the Sundarbans delta on the Bay of Bengal. An oil tanker that had collided with a cargo vessel on December 9th sank into the Shela River, spilling its oil into a protected sanctuary for the rare and endangered Irrawaddy dolphins (Orcaella brevirostris) and the Ganges river dolphins (Platanista gangetica).


Video: clouded leopards and elephants grace drowned forest in Thailand
(01/21/2015) Camera trap video from Khlong Saeng Wildlife Sanctuary in southern Thailand has revealed an impressive array of wildlife, including scent-marking clouded leopards and a whole herd of Asian elephant. The camera traps were set by HabitatID, an organization devoted to using remote camera traps to prove to government officials that wildlife still flourishes in forgotten places.


India's tiger population up by more than 500 animals in four years
(01/20/2015) The tiger is in major trouble. In 1900, the global population was over 100,000 animals; today, it is on the precipice of extinction, hovering around just 3,000. In response, tiger range countries have pledged to double to the population by 2022. But there has been little evidence of success until now: India has announced that its tiger population has jumped a remarkable 29 percent in the last four years.


Indonesia's moratorium not enough to achieve emissions reduction target
(01/20/2015) When Indonesia's former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono declared a moratorium in May 2012 on the issuance of new permits for logging in primary forests and on peat lands, it was widely hailed as an important, albeit far too limited, step in clamping down on the country's levels of deforestation.


High deforestation rates in Malaysian states hit by flooding
(01/19/2015) Five states hard hit by flooding last month in Malaysia had high rates of forest loss in recent years, bolstering assertions that environmental degradation may have worsened the disaster. According to satellite data from researchers led by the University of Maryland's Matt Hansen and displayed on Global Forest Watch, the states of Johor, Kelantan, Pahang, Perak, and Terengganu each lost more than 10 percent of their forest cover between 2001 and 2012. Loss was greatest in areas with dense tree cover.


Facing legacy of deforestation and corruption, Sarawak may cease granting new logging concessions
(01/18/2015) Sarawak Chief Minister Adenan Satem says his government may stop granting new logging concessions, reports Malaysian state media.


Mother and cub: researchers photograph rare cat with cub in Sumatra
(01/13/2015) Researchers working in Kerinci Seblat National Park have captured a remarkable image of a mother Asian golden cat (Catopuma temminckii) carrying her young in her mouth. The image was taken in mid-2014 as reported by Mongabay Indonesia by the Sumatran Tiger Research Team.


Will Indonesia's REDD+ Agency be dissolved?
(01/13/2015) Indonesia's cabinet-level agency tasked with reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (BP REDD+), may be dissolved after only one year in operation. The head of the newly merged Ministries of the Environment and Forestry has indicated she intends to absorb the group into her agency—stripping BP REDD+ of its ability to operate independently.


Indonesia to weaken peatlands protection to support plantations
(01/08/2015) The Indonesian Ministry of the Environment and Forestry has announced it will further hobble its peatlands protection law to allow plantations to continue operating on a business as usual basis.


New bat species has fangs you won't believe
(01/08/2015) What big teeth you have, my dear! The better to eat insects with—and make one's own ecological niche. Scientists have uncovered a new bat with stupendous canines in the rainforests of Lao PDR and Vietnam, aptly naming it Hypsugo dolichodon, or the long-toothed pipistrelle.


Half of Indonesia's deforestation occurs outside concession areas
(01/06/2015) Roughly half of Indonesia's natural forest loss occurs outside officially designated concession areas, concludes a new assessment that also finds higher deforestation rates in places with worse forest governance scores. The report, released last month by Forest Watch Indonesia, is based on analysis of satellite data spanning the archipelago. Unlike assessments by the Ministry of Forestry, the data includes areas outside the 'forest estate'.


Featured video: new documentary highlights 'Sumatra Burning'
(01/05/2015) A new half-hour documentary investigate the impact of the palm oil industry in Indonesia, including burning forests and peatlands as well as haze spreading across Indonesian borders. Entitled Sumatra Burning, the documentary explores palm oil production on the island of Sumatra, which is experiencing some of the highest deforestation rates on the planet.


Monkey sleep, monkey do: how primates choose their trees
(12/31/2014) Primates don't monkey around when deciding where to spend the night, but primatologists have had a poor grasp on what drives certain monkeys toward specific trees. Now, two extensive studies of Indonesian primates suggest that factors in selecting trees each evening are site-specific and different for each species—and that some overnight spots result in conflicts between monkeys and humans.


Activists call out 'one of the worst actors in pulp and paper'
(12/30/2014) The owner of the only mill in Indonesia equipped to produce dissolving pulp, Toba Pulp Lestari (TPL), is being held out as emblematic of the risks the industry’s massive recent growth pose to endangered forests.


Endangered mussel still harvested for food in Laos
(12/29/2014) Only one freshwater pearl mussel species is known to inhabit tropical water systems. However, despite being listed as Endangered by the IUCN, it is also still a part of the diet of villagers in Northern Laos. A study published recently found that the dwindling populations of the bivalve would benefit from a ban on their capture.


Top 10 HAPPY environmental stories of 2014
(12/29/2014) In what was widely seen as a possible breakthrough in the battle to coordinate some kind of response to global warming, China and the U.S. announced joint actions this year. On November 12th, the world's two most powerful countries surprised pretty much everyone by announcing that they would work together to tackle the crisis.


Indonesia's silent wildlife killer: hunting
(12/26/2014) By and large, Indonesia is a peaceful country. In fact, on the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime’s list of homicide rates, Indonesia ranks number 10, making Indonesians one of the least murderous people on Earth. A ban on gun ownership probably helps, although obviously there are many other ways to snuff out another person. Maybe Indonesia’s general tendency to avoid conflict helps, too. Whatever the reason why Indonesians are relatively unlikely to kill each other, such favors are not extended to Indonesia’s non-human wildlife. The relative safety of Indonesia’s people does not guarantee similar security for its animals.


Top 10 Environmental Stories of 2014
(12/23/2014) In 2014, the unimaginable happened: companies representing the majority of palm oil production and trade agreed to stop cutting down rainforests and draining peatlands for new oil palm plantations. After years of intense campaigning by environmentalists and dire warnings from scientists, nearly two dozen major producers, traders, and buyers established zero deforestation policies.


Child labor and palm oil in Indonesia
(12/23/2014) Meet Bimo Kencana Arief. At 13 years old, this Indonesian middle school student is not spending his afternoons doing homework, helping around the house, or getting into trouble with the neighborhood children. Instead, Bimo is working up a sweat, hauling heavy oil palm fruits from the trees to a waiting truck. If he moves quickly, he can help his father earn up to $2 between 3:00 pm and dark.


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.


10 years following tsunami, Aceh aims to create its own, new, and totally preventable disaster
(12/11/2014) In the run-up to the tenth anniversary of the devastating 2004 tsunami, that claimed the lives of around 200,000 of Aceh’s people, there is much concern that Aceh seems now to be deliberately steering itself towards yet another, entirely avoidable disaster. One that will harm yet more people and cause even more long-term economic damage to the province.


Indonesia sets reference level for cutting deforestation
(12/05/2014) The Indonesian government has established reference levels for measuring reductions in emissions from deforestation and forest and peatland degradation, reports Antara.


Suggested reading - Books


Unless otherwise specified, this article was written by Rhett A. Butler [Bibliographic citation for this page]

Other resources

Contact me if you have suggestions on other rainforest-related environmental sites and resources for this country.




Last updated: 5 Feb 2006






what's new | rainforests home | for kids | help | madagascar | search | about | languages | contact

Copyright Rhett Butler 1994-2013

Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions generated from mongabay.com operations (server, data transfer, travel) are mitigated through an association with Anthrotect,
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.