In some cases, deforestation can be beneficial. Given the right mix of social needs, economic opportunities, and environmental conditions, it can be a rational conversion from one type of land use to a more productive one. The tragedy lies in the fact that most lands that have been deforested in recent decades are not suited for long-term farming or ranching and they quickly degrade once the forest has been cut and burnt. Unlike the fertile soils of temperate latitudes, most tropical forest soils cannot sustain annual cropping. The carrying capacity of the soil will not support intensive annual cropping without rapid, irreversible degradation. Similarly, intensive cattle grazing cannot be supported because grasses grown on forest soils do not have the same productivity levels as those on arable soils. In fact, there are very few forested soils in developing countries today that are available for future agricultural expansion, underscoring the urgent need to increase agricultural production on existing farmlands rather than converting more forests to farms.
In many cases, political decision-makers knowingly permit deforestation to continue because it acts as a social and economic safety valve. By giving people free access to forested lands, the pressure is taken off politicians to resolve the more politically sensitive problems that face developing countries, such as land reform, rural development, power-sharing, and so on. Nonetheless, the problems do not go away. They persist as do the injustices associated with them.
The social consequences of deforestation are many, often with devastating long-term impacts. For indigenous communities, the arrival of "civilization" usually means the destruction of their traditional life-style and the breakdown of their social institutions. Individual and collective rights to the forest resource have been frequently ignored and indigenous peoples and local communities have typically been