As birthrates in tropical countries drop and economic forces trigger migration toward cities, a funny thing is happening to the enormous swaths of farmland left behind.
They’re transforming back to what they were in the first place, tropical rain forests.
And we’re not talking about a parcel of land the size of Granny’s Victory Garden, either.
In fact a recent report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates there are 2.1 billion acres of so-called “secondary” rain forest growing in the tropics right now.
That’s as big as the whole United States.
The pace of reforestation is phenomenal. Trees over 100 feet tall spring up within 15 years after land is abandoned, and in another 5 years a true rain-forest canopy forms once again.
According to the New York Times, for each acre of rain forest cut down today, 50 or so acres of secondary forest are growing on land that had recently been logged, farmed or damaged by natural disaster.
The unexpected development has actually triggered debate whether efforts to preserve first-growth rain forests are worth it or even necessary.
The good news is that secondary rain forests are avid carbon sinks just like their first-growth brethren. They will be an enormous help in blunting the greenhouse effects of carbon dioxide that continues to be released in prodigious amounts as a byproduct of burning fossil fuels and biomass.
The bad news is that secondary rainforests are probably not going to save the jaguars, tapirs and thousands of bird and invertebrate species that are headed for extinction due to the wonton destruction of primeval rainforests.
The animals have no way to access the new growth.
As many as 50% of all rain forest species remain threatened despite these heartening developments.