10 Causes of Deforestation (Natural and Manmade)

Causes of deforestation include agriculture, urbanization, mining, natural hazards, desertification, infrastructural development, timber logging, climate change, overpopulation and energy development.

In this article, the causes of deforestation are discussed according to the following outline;

-Anthropogenic Causes of Deforestation

-Natural Causes of Deforestation




Anthropogenic Causes of Deforestation

These are human-induced factors, which are related to various forms of human activity and manmade processes.


1). Agricultural Development

It is estimated that agriculture accounts for up to 80 percent of deforestation on Earth [3].

There are various forms of agricultural practice which contribute to deforestation.

Livestock farming, for example; is said to account for about 14 percent of global deforestation. This is because forests are often cleared to make room for cattle.

Subsistence agriculture is yet another agricultural practice that is associated with deforestation. It is estimated that subsistence agriculture causes about 33 percent of global deforestation [2].

The main reason behind the rapid rate of conversion of forest lands for agricultural purposes, is the rise in global demand for food. It is estimated that at least 40 percent of the original forest area on Earth has been converted to agricultural land, so far.

When clearing forest areas for agricultural purposes. some practices like bush burning, which are applied, have ripple, negative effects on a large area of the forest, causing potential damage to soil, water and air.

The Amazon Forest is said to have experienced over 50,000 fires in the year 1991 alone. These fires were mostly human-induced, in a bid to clear portions of the land for agricultural purposes.


deforestation causes of deforestation forest fire wildfire agriculture
Agriculture as one of the Causes of Deforestation (Credit: Zimmerman 2007 .CC BY 2.0.)


2). Urbanization as one of the Causes of Deforestation

There are two main ways in which urbanization leads to deforestation.

Firstly, urbanization creates an increase in the demand for processed products. This occurs because urban dwellers are not inclined to the practice of subsistence agriculture like their rural counterparts. Also, the rate of income-earning and consumption are both higher in urban areas than rural areas [4].

To produce enough food and processed products for the urban population, industries mist be built, and raw materials must be sourced. All these result in deforestation.

Secondly, urbanization causes deforestation because of urban regional development. To develop residential areas which will accommodate the urban population, it is often necessary to clear forests.

It is estimated that urban regional development will engulf up to 1.2 million square kilometers globally, between 2000 to 2030. It is also estimated that between 2.7 and 4.9 million hectares of additional land will be required per year to meet the needs of the urban population [1].


3). Mineral Exploration as one of the Causes of Deforestation

The extraction of minerals is known to have numerous, potential effects on the environment. One of these effects is deforestation.

Mineral exploration often causes deforestation for two main reasons. Firstly, several mineral deposits have been found in remote areas, many of which are also occupied by forests. Secondly, the practices involved in extracting miner deposits, often lead to deforestation.

There are different scales of mineral exploration, which include large-scale and small-scale exploration. Generally, the scale of mineral exploration is directly proportional to its environmental effects.

In the process of locating minerals like barite, as well as other natural resources like petroleum and coal, vegetation in the surrounding areas are often removed.

After locating these minerals and resources, deforestation is also often necessary in order to install the required equipment for their extraction.

In the course of mineral exploration, roads often have to be built so as to create pathways for the conveyance of trucks, personnel and tools.

During and after extraction of the minerals, a significant amount of waste is often produced. This waste may be hazardous, and may pollute the soil, air and water within the environs. All these events lead to deforestation.


 4). Infrastructural Development

In order to develop infrastructure, deforestation is often necessary.

This is so because infrastructural development involves the specialization of geographic areas with facilities that are designed for human use.

It therefore demands that naturally-existing features, like forests, be converted to more human-needs-tailored features like bridges and roads.

The development of infrastructure drives deforestation because it requires that forest lands be occupied, and also requires the use of some forest resources.

Some typical examples of the occurrence of deforestation as a result of infrastructural development include dam, road, and bridge construction.


5). Logging and Timber Production as Causes of Deforestation

 Logging is the practice of felling (cutting down) trees.

There are various reasons for which logging is carried out. One of these is to extract raw materials for various industries like paper, timber and wood fuel.

In many cases, logging is carried out in such a manner as is potentially harmful to the environment. In such cases, the logging is referred to as ‘illegal’.

Timber production is one of the main reasons for illegal logging. This is because of the high demand for timber in various industries around the world.

Illegal logging can result in large-scale deforestation, which in turn has negative effects on the environment and society.


6). Overpopulation as one of the Causes of Deforestation

Population growth is directly related to deforestation.

This is because of various reasons such as the rise in demand for food, housing and infrastructure.

As the human population grows. so does the demand for natural resources. Overpopulation drives deforestation through increase in mining, road construction, and agriculture among others.

Overpopulation also increases the tendency of environmental degradation, in the form of resource-depletion and pollution.


7). Energy Development

Another anthropogenic cause of deforestation is energy development.

The development of energy leads to deforestation, in a variety of ways. One of these ways is through the direct use of forest resources.

Biomass energy can be produced from forest timber (firewood, wood pellets), as well as residue like wood shavings, from forest management and wood processing.

In order to carry out energy development projects, deforestation is often required. This may be for the purpose of mineral prospecting and extraction, or for the construction of energy-generation facilities.

Examples of energy development projects that can cause deforestation include hydroelectric dam construction, which usually requires the clearing and flooding of a large expanse of land.

Energy development also causes the release of large amounts of greenhouse gas. This can lead to global warming and climate change, both of which can affect the growth and vegetation, thereby contributing to deforestation.


8). Climate Change

The relationship between deforestation and climate change is a reciprocal one. This implies that climate change is both a cause and an effect of deforestation.

Climate change is associated with heatwave, drought, and other environmental effects that can reduce the productivity potential of forest vegetation and soil, thereby contributing to deforestation.

In addition to destroying forests through unfavorable environmental conditions, climate change also induces other hazardous events like wildfires, which can damage forest ecosystems.

Climate change harms both biotic and abiotic components of the forest ecosystem, including vegetation, soil and organisms, by creating unfavorable conditions that do not support the survival of these groups.

In reverse, climate change is also an effect of deforestation. This is mainly because when deforestation occurs, the vegetation which has been cut down, may decay to release greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4). These gases cause global warming and climate change.


Natural Causes of Deforestation

Although deforestation is mostly the result of human (anthropogenic) activities, some natural processes can also lead to deforestation. The natural causes of deforestation are discussed as follows;


9). Desertification as one of the Causes of Deforestation

Like climate change, desertification is both a cause and an effect of deforestation.

As a cause, desertification facilitates unfavorable environmental conditions like low-humidity and drought. These conditions, on a large scale, may hamper the growth of forest vegetation, and may lead to deforestation.

As an effect, deforestation can enhance the rate of global warming, which will in turn cause drought and desertification.


10). Natural Hazards

At least 10 percent of all wildfire events are believed to be caused by lightning.

These events can be referred to as natural hazards. They are among the potential causes of deforestation, alongside other hazards like flooding.

Forest fires also release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This greenhouse gas contributes to global warming and climate change, both of which could impede the productivity potential of forests.



Causes of deforestation include;

1). Agricultural Development

2). Urbanization

3). Mineral Exploration

4). Infrastructural Development

5). Logging and Timber Production

6). Overpopulation

7). Energy Development

8). Climate Change

9). Desertification

10). Natural Hazards

Most of these causes are related to human activities.

They involve factors which affect the stability and optimal conditions of the environment, and which affect the survival of both the abiotic and biotic components of the forest ecosystem.



1). Gray, R. (2017). “How can we manage Earth’s land?” Available at: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20170628-how-to-best-manage-earths-land. (Accessed 14 March 2022).

2). Hosonuma, N.; Herold, M.; De Sy, V.; De Fries, R.; Brockhaus, M.; Verchot, L.; Angelsen, A.; and Romijn, E. (2012). “An assessment of deforestation and forest degradation drivers in developing countries.” Environ. Res. Lett. 7 044009. Available at: https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/7/4/044009/pdf. (Accessed 14 March 2022).

3). Meek, T. (2019). “How Does Agriculture Cause Deforestation, and How Can We Prevent It?” Available at: https://sentientmedia.org/how-does-agriculture-cause-deforestation/. (Accessed 14 March 2022).

4). Pandey, B., Reba, M., Joshi, P.K., Seto, K. C. (2020). “Urbanization and food consumption in India.” Sci Rep 10, 17241 (2020). Available at: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-73313-8. (Accessed 14 March 2022).

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