What crops are being raised on converted land? Many countries, in an effort to boost exports, have switched from subsistence food crops to export crops. Among these are coffee, cocoa, nuts, oil palm, and tobacco. Some of these require a great deal of land such as peanuts, maize, rice, cotton and, of course, livestock. Other crops like coffee and cocoa need shade and must be surrounded by other trees or forest. Until recently, coffee trees were raised among other forest trees. However, new types of sun-tolerant coffee trees have been developed and large swathes of rainforest are being cut for new-style coffee plantations, which are edging out traditional forest-based coffee agriculture. The drug trade is also a guilty party. A great deal of rainforest in South America has been cut for coca plantations. In Peru, in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, this crop had a value of approximately $1.2 billion, or 50% of export earning (Amelung, Torsten and Diehl, 1992). This industry is not being subsidized! But it has cost governments many millions of dollars in “search and destroy” missions, criminal activity, policing costs – and lost forest resources.
Since many crops cannot tolerate the declining ground water levels caused by excessive deforestation, much tropical agriculture is not ultimately sustainable. In addition, many tropical agricultural activities are not profitable, and must be subsidized by governments. Among these are cattle ranching in the Amazon and sugar cultivation in Central America.