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Policy Research Report: At Loggerheads? Agricultural Expansion, Poverty Reduction, and Environment in the Tropical Forests (2006)

This policy research report offers a simple framework for policy analysis by identifying three forest types—frontiers and disputed lands, lands beyond the agricultural frontier, and mosaiclands where forests and agriculture coexist. It collates geographic and economic information for each type that will help formulate poverty-reducing forest policy. The report also reviews the obstacles impeding the use of global carbon finance to reduce deforestation, and offers workable solutions.


Preserving the world’s rapidly shrinking tropical forests and improving the economic prospects of millions of poor people requires an urgent strengthening of national forest governance.

A majority of people in rural tropical areas—about 800 million—live in or around vulnerable forests or woodlands, depending on them heavily for survival. Yet deforestation at 5 percent a decade is steadily depleting this resource base, contributing to 20 percent of annual global CO2 emissions and seriously threatening biodiversity.

In Latin America, dense tropical forest is often cleared to create pastures worth as little as $300 a hectare, while releasing large amounts of carbon dioxide. In Africa and Asia, some deforestation is equally unproductive. These forests may be worth five times more if left standing, providing carbon storage services, than if cleared and burned. If developing countries could tap this value, they could also stimulate more productive agriculture in degraded areas, while preserving the environmental services of forests.

Deforestation is driven largely by economic incentives to expand agriculture, with varying returns. In Madagascar, poor people clear forests for tiny, short-term gains. In Brazil, commercial farmers clear cerrado and forests for large profits. In both, the rate and profitability of deforestation are influenced by changes in agricultural prices.

"It is said that people destroy forests because they are poor, and that deforestation causes poverty—but generalizations are a poor foundation for policy,” said Kenneth Chomitz, the report’s lead author. "We find that deforestation is caused by both rich and poor people—and it can either destroy or create assets for poor people.”


At Loggerhead? Agricultural Expansion, Poverty Reduction, and Environment in the Tropical Forests was written by Kenneth M. Chomitz under the guidance and supervision of Zmarak Shalizi, with research assistance and other contributions by Piet Buys, Giacomo de Luca, Timothy S. Thomas, and Sheila Wertz-Kanounnikoff. Background papers were written by Arild Angelsen (Norwegian University of Life Sciences); Dirk Kloss; William Sunderlin (CIFOR), Sonya Dewi (ICRAF), and Atie Puntodewo (CIFOR).


Press release (English, Français, Português, Español, Bahasa (Indonesian))

Full text ( (EnglishIndonesian-MalaySpanish)

 Recommendations | Questions & Answers 


Audio: Interview with Kenneth Chomitz, October 23, 2006

06m.37s | 
Full Interview
00m.17s | Rate at which tropical forests are disappearing around the world
00m.24s | Do not assume poverty causes deforestation
00m.17s | What needs to be done to save tropical forests
00m.25s | Global carbon finance can be powerful incentive to stop deforestation

Transcript: Radio program with Prof. Wangari Maathai & Kenneth Chomitz

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