The human effects of the process of deforestation

1. Campesinos with no legal title to their land are moved off the land they have farmed for many years, in some cases for generations, by wealthy landowners seeking to expand their holdings or by large companies (often foreign TNCs) seeking to take over fertile land for plantation agriculture or to take over land that is rich in minerals.

2. The company fells any timber that stands in the way of their operations.

3. The displaced campesinos and families either:

A) migrate into the cities

B) move onto more marginal land as yet not in demand for other purposes

C) stay put and become plantation labour and find what work they can in the vicinity when their plantation work lays them off


D) migrate to other areas where seasonal labour is required – some agricultural labourers become itinerant, moving from area to area.

(In all four of the above options, the household finds it harder to subsist and has to depend on the pluri-activity of all members of the household.)

4. Following Option B above – at the agricultural frontier, the campesino has no option but to deforest in order to clear land for planting. Being marginal land, often on slopes and with its nutrients in the litter rather than in the biomass (trees), this land will only support plantings for a couple of years before the litter and its nutrients are lost.

5. The campesino household moves on to another area and repeats the process. Cattle ranchers move in behind them and their cattle compact the ground and turn it into a sterile savannah-like area.

6. The cleared land becomes vulnerable to erosion and slope failure. Loss of trees and other vegetation reduces the watershed’s capacity to hold water. This causes flooding downstream during the rainy season and reduces the water that filters into the underground water table.

7. Other effects include: rivers and lakes filling with sediment and becoming shallower, leading to a greater likelihood of flooding during the rainy season; siltation of reservoirs behind HEP dams reducing the life and capacity of such plants on which Central American nations have a high dependence for their electricity; sedimentation of coastal estuaries damaging habitats for shrimp and other marine life; and loss of biodiversity.