Deforestation in New Zealand

by Chien-heng on 週三, 05 三月 2008 評論
Over the past two centuries, intense deforestation has brought serious environmental changes in New Zealand. Agriculture is the first economic activity in New Zealand. The country depends heavily on international trade, and agricultural products account as the main export industry.“In the year to June 2007, dairy products accounted for 21% of total merchandise exports, and the largest company of the country, Fonterra, a dairy cooperative, controls almost one-third of the international dairy trade. Other agricultural items were meat 13.2%, wood 6.3%, fruit 3.5% and fishing 3.3%.”, The Department of Conservation of New Zealand says.

To be competitive on the European market for meat and dairy products, the government encouraged more clearance of the land and gave financial support to farmers to purchase fertilizers and enhance the soil fertility, until as late as the 1980’s, the Ministry for the Environment of New Zealand says. However, forest removal policy to establish agriculture settlements and the non-well regulated use of fertilizers was made over environmental consideration and produced long-term negative effects on the land. Humans’ impacts have been considerable and fast, and expansion of the agriculture is the major cause of these changes.

The Kyoto Protocol established in 2005 pushed the member countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions within a given timescale: a reduction to 5% below 1990 levels before 2012. These gases considered as “the accepted cause of global warming are generated by the burning of trees or the decomposition of most organic materials, which puts deforestation process as a cause of emission of greenhouse gases. On the second hand, as huge removers of carbon dioxide, forests need to be protected from fire and unnecessary destruction for alternative land use”, forestry insights website says.

However, in a country of 48 million sheep, for a population of 4.2 million inhabitants, cattle are the real owner of the land and farmers have a strong influence on the government’s policies. Sheep in New Zealand are raised for their wool and meat, and ‘Merino’ became a famous international clothes brand purchased by every second tourist in the country. This business made out of sheep wool, as well as the thousands of sheep I saw when I was driving through the New Zealand last month, made me think of ‘sheep’ as an emblem of the country.

But at the same time, I could not help but see hectares of wood being cut very drastically raw-by-raw, especially in the center of the North Island, where the highest percentage of the cattle is raised. Reasons to this exploitation are to create more agriculture settlements for pastoral farming. Nowadays, forests cover only 23% of the land of New Zealand, while it used to cover up to 80% before the first human settlements.

Last February 2007, Climate Change Minister David Parker and Forestry Minister Jim Anderson, announced through in a Press Release that the level of deforestation in New Zealand between 2008 and 2012 is expected to rise up to 40 million tons of carbon dioxide gas emission. Deforestation is the reason why the country will not be able to meet its Kyoto target. In an attempt to combat climate change, the government launched a deforestation tax in which ‘the polluter pays’.

It seems the government is taking decisions to make more responsible the polluters in the country but this tax applied to the forestry industry does not concern the farming sector. Indeed, the government promised not to put any restriction measures to agriculture in their gas emissions before year 2013. Hence, more and more people in forestry are tempted to go into dairying not to face their real costs, and need additional land clearance to raise their cattle.

Sustainable development being widely discussed, people are put in front of their responsibilities, and farmers are the center of a polemic in New Zealand for not bearing their true pollution quota. The government is struggling between meeting the targets of Kyoto while still further developing agriculture, the main sector of activity in New Zealand.

Besides taking alternative measures, I think there is a need to further introduce and promote sustainable ways for land use to farmers and the rest of the population. Additional education and training are needed to make people more aware of the damages caused by deforestation and the over-use of fertilizers. In this sense, the National Agroforestry System (USDA) in New Zealand, which “combines agriculture and forestry to create integrated and sustainable land-use systems”, could be of a great help. New Zealand has a strong basis to make these changes; it is a totally nuclear-free country where people struck me for being so environmental-friendly.

The website of the New Zealand forestry industry resource: Forestry insights

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