Deforestation due to soyabean, palm oil, beef and other agricultural commodities has decreased in several South American and Southeast Asian countries, according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

An April 2017 report titled ‘International Trade and Deforestation: Potential Policy Effect via a Global Economic Model’ tracked the history of production and international trade of forest-risk commodities between 1991 and 2013.

According to the report, deforestation in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay was mostly linked to beef and soyabean production, while in Indonesia and Malaysia the main culprit was palm oil and timber.

Soyabean production in Argentina and Brazil had increased “substantially” since 1991, the report noted but, in recent years, production had mostly expanded onto previously cleared crop land or pasture, rather than contributing directly to further deforestation.

In Indonesia, deforestation due to palm oil production had decreased significantly as most palm plantations in Indonesia came from land that was previously degraded following unsustainable logging.

Palm oil-derived deforestation had also decreased in Malaysia from the high levels of late 2000s, but was still overall higher than between 1991 and 2003.

The report mentioned that palm oil was the most frequently mentioned cause of deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia, but USDA’s findings showed that timber had caused more forest loss.

Beef was the largest contributor to deforestation in total. In Brazil, for example, it accounted historically for more than 80% of all agriculture-related deforestation, although the levels had dropped drastically within the 12-year study period.

In 1995, beef production accounted for 3.75M ha of deforestation in Brazil, compared to 0.71M ha in 2013, the USDA report said.

The report also proposed two international trade policy options to further reduce tropical forest loss, namely removing tariffs on forest-risk commodities or prohibiting the trade of forest products from countries that might be illegally logging.

Additionally, increasing overall agricultural output by increasing the yield of land for all agricultural commodities was also listed as a possible efficient way to reduce or avoid deforestation.