Cash Cropping, Farm Technologies, and Deforestation: What Are the Connections? A Model with Empirical Data from the Bolivian Amazon

Article excerpt

Research suggests that cash cropping is positively associated with deforestation. We use three-year data (2000-2002, inclusive) from 493 households to estimate the association between cash cropping rice and deforestation. Doubling the area sown with rice is associated with a 26-30 percent increase in the area of forest cleared during the next cropping season. We simulate the changes in rice cultivation to reach a daily income level of $1/person from cash cropping rice. We find that within 10 years: (1) the amount of deforestation would triple, (2) work requirements would exceed household's labor availability, and (3) fallows duration would decrease two-fold. To avoid the increase of deforestation from cash cropping requires increasing productivity, diversification of income sources, or both.

Key words: Latin America, Bolivia, deforestation, cash crop, poverty alleviation, farm technology


Awareness of the many ecological services provided by tropical forests (Costanza et al. 1997) and the rapid increase in tropical deforestation has put forests at the center stage of the policy debate between developers, conservationists, and policymakers. Researchers have studied many of the factors influencing deforestation, such as the opening of new roads (Chomitz and Gray 1996; Reid 2001), property rights (Alston, Libecap, and Mueller 2000; Deacon 1999; Godoy, Kirby, and Wilkie 2001), the spread of cash cropping (McMorrow and Talip 2001), slash-and-burn agriculture, cattle ranching, and logging (Hecht and Cockburn 1989; Palm et al. 2005). Research suggests that the drivers of deforestation interact in complex ways (Angelsen and Kaimowitz 1999).

Because of the complexity of the issue, site-specific variability, and the lack of reliable empirical information about the causes of deforestation, there is little consensus as to which mechanisms best explain deforestation (Kaimowitz and Angelsen 1998). A lack of empirical information hinders our understanding of deforestation. Kaimowitz and Angelsen (1998) reviewed 146 econometric models of deforestation and found that 24 percent relied on simulations and 23 percent drew on theoretical models that included no empirical data. Furthermore, among the 53 percent of the studies based on empirical data, 38 drew on secondary, national-level data. Only nine of the models reviewed (6% of total) used household-level empirical data. The authors suggest that future studies of the causes of deforestation should focus on household and regional-level data, with a strong micro-level empirical base (Kaimowitz and Angelsen 1998:99). Since the publication of the review by Kaimowitz and Angelsen, another excellent household-level study of deforestation has appeared (Rudel 2005).

This study has two aims. In the first part, we draw on household-level data from the Tsimane', a horticultural and foraging society of native Amazonians in Bolivia, to assess how cash cropping by smallholders affects neotropical deforestation. We focus on clearing of fallow and old-growth forest because previous research suggests that both forest types harbor substantial biological diversity (Finegan 1996; Silver, Brown, and Lugo 1996; Smith et al. 1999). In the second part of the paper, we use data in a needs-based simulation to explore the consequences of the rural poor using cash crops to escape poverty. We focus on the consequences of household-level decisions to deforest for the total area of forest cleared, for household labor requirements, and for the duration of the fallow. We pay special attention to fallow duration because previous research suggests that increased land scarcity reduces the length of fallow (Coomes, Grimard, and Burt 2000).

This work contributes to the debate on the causes of deforestation in several ways. First, we use household-level data, which is relatively rare in studies of deforestation (Kaimowitz and Angelsen 1998). Second, we document deforestation by indigenous peoples. …