Vandermeer’s Breakfast of Biodiversity raises many important points concerning tropical rainforest destruction. Few think of the extent to which the rainforest is threatened – or the extent to which a rainforest may properly operate. He begins the book by discussing the Sarapiqui region of Costa Rica, a region which was drastically changed when the Standard Fruit Company. This company alone was responsible for a great portion of rainforest destruction in Costa Rica – “rain forest cover in the region plummet[ed] from almost 90% in 1950 to approximately 25% today” (6). Much of this forest was destroyed to accommodate for banana plantations, a practice which is still prevalent in many Latin American countries, including Costa Rica. Since this book was published, things have changed somewhat. There has been a greater push for biodiversity, and many small farms are encouraged to plant a variety of crops.
Yet, on large farms and plantations the single-crop mentality persists, which has also been a great harm to banana plants themselves (recently, there has been a new fungal virus – Tropical Race 4).
Vandermeer continues to discuss 6 key factors in rain forest function: biodiversity, pollination, herbivory, seed dispersal, gap dynamics/forms of disturbance, and soils. Many of these key factors may not be associated with rain forest destruction – especially soil, which is a major contributor to rain forest destruction. Soil in tropical rain forests is very nutrient-deprived, and while plants have adapted to this fact, it also makes it difficult for regular cycles to operate when a forest is slashed & burned. In this scenario, a flood of nutrients is released into the forest, but each year the growing season will be lessened (36). Many methods have been developed to combat soil destruction, such as the Chinampa system which catches nutrients as they run off.
Vandermeer also discusses the political economy of agriculture, which once again involves bananas – specifically the United Fruit Company. He takes care to note how intensive agriculture, integrative production, and modernization contributed to the rainforests we know today. Indeed, “the fate of the rain forest is intimately tied to various agricultural activities” (69). It is within this modernized system of agriculture that it becomes apparent how much food insecurity and poverty have impacted deforestation – a problem which will continue to grow as long as the economy and environment remain unstable. Under the current capitalist system, these problems will not be addressed – for capitalism to survive, the peasants who live in and around rainforests, and the rainforests themselves, must be exploited. Or at least that is what is commonly accepted as fact. However, other options have been advocated, including plans that would improve the Brazilian economy, thereby presenting no reason for the extent of tropical deforestation.
Already Vandermeer has raised serious questions concerning rainforest destruction – primarily how we can change our behaviors to make this less of a necessity in today’s socio-political and economic realities. Should modernization be curtailed in an effort to prevent rainforest destruction? Are those who protested against the WTO right in their views of globalization? Or should we take a more moderate track that seeks to protect the rainforest while still allowing for a level of destruction? Capitalists of course argue that these resources are meant to be used, whereas environmentalists are against negotiating the destruction of the forest. However, given today’s socio-political context, it is apparent both sides must renege on their strict arguments and allow for compromise. A pragmatic approach is the only true option in preventing this: