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GCSE Geography | Causes of Deforestation (Tropical Rainforests 4)

AQA, Edexcel, OCR, Eduqas

Last updated 19 Jul 2023

There are many different causes of deforestations in tropical rainforests.


Logging is when the trees are chopped down to use the wood for things such as building materials or furniture – tropical hardwoods such as teak and mahogany are particularly valuable. Logging is the first step in converting forest into land for other uses.

One of the most damaging clearance techniques is clear felling, which is where all of the trees in one area are chopped down – this is very damaging as it causes the total destruction of forest habitats. Selective logging is a better technique in the rainforest – with selective logging only fully grown trees are cut down which causes less damage, and means that trees with important ecological value are left unharmed.

Mineral extraction

Another cause of deforestation is mining as many valuable minerals can be found beneath the world’s tropical rainforests. Trees are cut down to explore potential mining areas, and then cleared in huge numbers to exploit whatever mineral has been found. Often explosives are used which is particularly damaging in terms of animal habitats.

In the Amazon, there is lots of gold – around 50,000 hectares of land is being used for gold mining. The Amazon rainforest is also home to the Carajas mine, which is the world’s biggest iron ore mine and is pictured below.

Energy development

The rainforest is also being deforested to make way for energy development. Rainforests often have large rivers flowing through them and the unlimited water supply means the potential for hydroelectric power (HEP) is huge – and the development of new energy sources is really important for economic development in newly emerging economies such as Brazil. However building hydroelectric dams involves flooding vast areas of rainforest, which means that thousands of trees are submerged under the water, leading to them rotting and dying. The dams can also become silted up and blocked with the soil that has been washed off exposed slopes, by heavy rainfall.


Farming is also extremely damaging to the rainforest. Huge areas are cleared for cattle ranching, which accounts for around 80% of destruction in the Amazon rainforest. This is mainly to supply higher income countries with beef, as well as large food based TNCs. Cattle need large areas to graze, but the quality of pasture declines fairly quickly meaning that farmers have to move their herds onto new areas, which means clearing even more areas.

Huge areas are also cleared for crop plantations for cash crops – these are crops that are grown for export rather than for feeding the local population, such as palm oil, soybeans and coffee, which all have vast plantations. Because of over-cultivation the soil is quickly stripped of nutrients, so farmers then move and search for more land. The demand for sugar cane and biofuel is increasing rapidly leading to even more destruction.

As well as large scale farming, subsistence peasant farming also takes place, which often uses slash and burn cultivation where areas of land are burnt to create fertile ash, but these fires can get out of control, causing destruction.

Road building

Many people argue that road construction is the most destructive cause of deforestation as building roads opens up the rainforest and makes it commercially accessible and enables further exploitation. This is because by building new roads it makes it easier to bring in equipment and transport goods found in the rainforest to markets. A good example of this is the 4000km long TransAmazonian Highway which has opened up many remote areas of the Amazon rainforest to exploitation.

Causes of Deforestation | AQA GCSE Geography | Tropical Rainforests 4

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