Expanding global commodities trade and consumption place the world's primates at risk of extinction

Alejandro Estrada, Paul A. Garber, Abhishek Chaudhary

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


As a consequence of recent human activities. populations of approximately 75% of the world's primates are in decline, and more than 60% of species (n = 512) are threatened with extinction. Major anthropogenic pressures on primate persistence include the widespread loss and degradation of natural habitats caused by the expansion of industrial agriculture, pastureland for cattle, logging, mining, and fossil fuel extraction. This is the result of growing global market demands for agricultural and nonagricultural commodities. Here, we profile the effects of international trade of forest-risk agricultural and nonagricultural commodities, namely soybean, oil palm, natural rubber, beef, forestry products, fossil fuels, metals, minerals, and gemstones on habitat conversion in the Neotropics, Africa, and South and Southeast Asia. Total estimated forest loss for these regions between 2001 and 2017 was ca 179 million ha. The average percent of commodity-driven permanent deforestation for the period 2001-2015 was highest in Southeast Asia (47%) followed by the Neotropics (26%), South Asia (26%), and Africa (7%). Commodities exports increased significantly between 2000 and 2016 in all primate range regions leading to the widespread conversion of forested land to agricultural fields and an increase in natural resource extraction. In 2016, US $1.1 trillion of natural-resource commodities were traded by countries in primate range regions. The Neotropics accounted for 41% of the total value of these exports, Southeast Asia for 27%, Africa 21%, and South Asia 11%. Major commodity exporters in 2016 were Brazil, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and South Africa, countries of high primate diversity and endemism. Among the top 10 importers were China, the US, Japan, and Switzerland. Primate range countries lag far behind importer nations in food security and gross domestic product per capita, suggesting that trade and commodity-driven land-use have done little to generate wealth and well-being in primate habitat countries.Modeling of land-use and projected extinction of primate species by 2050 and 2100 under a business as usual scenario for 61 primate range countries indicate that each country is expected to see a significant increase in the number of species threatened with extinction. To mitigate this impending crisis, we advocate the "greening" of trade, a global shift toward a low-meat diet, reduced consumption of oil seed, diminished use of tropical timber, fossil fuels, metals, minerals, and gemstones from the tropics, accompanied by a stronger and sustained global resolve to regulate and reverse the negative impacts of growing unsustainable global demands and commodity trade on income inequality, and the destruction of primates and their habitats.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number7068
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2019


  • Agricultural expansion
  • Food security
  • Forest degradation
  • Forest loss
  • Forest risk commodity trade
  • Global market demands
  • Logging
  • Mining
  • Road building
  • Sustainable trade

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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