A new study, published this week in Nature Communications and the first of its kind, has linked demand for goods linked to deforestation to a rise in humans’ malaria risk. The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Sydney and the University of São Paulo, Brazil. The researchers discovered that 20% of the malaria risk in deforestation “hotspots” is driven by international trade in “cash crops,” such as coffee and cocoa.
Senior author Professor Manfred Lenzen at the University of Sydney stated, “We need to be more mindful of our consumption and procurement, and avoid buying from sources implicated with deforestation, and support sustainable land ownership in developing countries.”
According to the study, more than 90% of human malaria occurs within and adjacent to the world’s three largest tropical rainforests—the Amazon basin, the Congo Basin, and the Greater Mekong. Deforestation in these regions is attributed to the production of commodities such as timber, soybean, beef, palm oil, tobacco, cocoa, coffee, and cotton. The study reports that the demand for these goods drives changes in land use, increasing deforestation and malaria risk.
Deforestation increases the transmission of malaria by creating ideal conditions for mosquitoes to thrive with warmer habitats and fewer predators. The study reports that loss of forest cover allows more sunlight to reach the soil, raising the temperature of larval habitats, which is favorable to development. Additionally, the study states that deforestation decreases biodiversity, which reduces the abundance of species that prey on mosquitoes.
The results of the study show that Nigeria is facing the highest malaria risk linked to deforestation, mostly due to the export of timber, cocoa beans, and charcoal. Tanzania’s export of cash crops such as tobacco and cotton, as well as wood, is next at risk of deforestation-linked malaria exposure. Malaria has also been linked to deforestation in Uganda, mostly for raw coffee and raw cotton, although to a lesser extent.
The researchers hope that this information will be used to focus on regulating malaria-impacted global supply change on the demand-side. Additionally, they think that initiatives such as product labeling and certification, supply-chain dialogue, and green procurement standards will aid in reducing this risk.