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close this bookBriefs for Food, Agriculture, and the Environment - 2020 Vision : Brief 1 - 64 (IFPRI)
View the document(introduction...)
View the document2020 BRIEF 1 - AUGUST 1994: ECONOMIC GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT
View the document2020 BRIEF 2 - AUGUST 1994: WORLD SUPPLY AND DEMAND PROJECTIONS FOR CEREALS, 2020
View the document2020 BRIEF 3 - AUGUST 1994: WORLD PRODUCTION OF CEREALS, 1966-90
View the document2020 BRIEF 4 - AUGUST 1994: SUSTAINABLE FARMING: A POLITICAL GEOGRAPHY
View the document2020 BRIEF 5 - OCTOBER 1994: WORLD POPULATION PROJECTIONS, 2020
View the document2020 BRIEF 6 - OCTOBER 1994: MALNUTRITION AND FOOD INSECURITY PROJECTIONS, 2020
View the document2020 BRIEF 7 - OCTOBER 1994: AGRICULTURAL GROWTH AS A KEY TO POVERTY ALLEVIATION
View the document2020 BRIEF 8 - OCTOBER 1994: CONSERVATION AND ENHANCEMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES
View the document2020 BRIEF 9 - FEBRUARY 1995: THE ROLE OF AGRICULTURE IN SAVING THE RAIN FOREST
View the document2020 BRIEF 10 - FEBRUARY 1995: A TIME OF PLENTY, A WORLD OF NEED: THE ROLE OF FOOD AID IN 2020
View the document2020 BRIEF 11 - FEBRUARY 1995: MANAGING AGRICULTURAL INTENSIFICATION
View the document2020 BRIEF 12 - FEBRUARY 1995: TRADE LIBERALIZATION AND REGIONAL INTEGRATION: IMPLICATIONS FOR 2020
View the document2020 BRIEF 13 - APRIL 1995: THE POTENTIAL OF TECHNOLOGY TO MEET WORLD FOOD NEEDS IN 2020
View the document2020 BRIEF 14 - APRIL 1995: AN ECOREGIONAL PERSPECTIVE ON MALNUTRITION
View the document2020 BRIEF 15 - APRIL 1995: AGRICULTURAL GROWTH IS THE KEY TO POVERTY ALLEVIATION IN LOW-INCOME DEVELOPING COUNTRIES
View the document2020 BRIEF 16 - APRIL 1995: DECLINING ASSISTANCE TO DEVELOPING-COUNTRY AGRICULTURE: CHANGE OF PARADIGM?
View the document2020 BRIEF 17 - MAY 1995: GENERATING FOOD SECURITY IN THE YEAR 2020: WOMEN AS PRODUCERS, GATEKEEPERS, AND SHOCK ABSORBERS
View the document2020 BRIEF 18 - MAY 1995: BIOPHYSICAL LIMITS TO GLOBAL FOOD PRODUCTION
View the document2020 BRIEF 19 - MAY 1995: CAUSES OF HUNGER
View the document2020 BRIEF 20 - MAY 1995: CHINA AND THE FUTURE GLOBAL FOOD SITUATION
View the document2020 BRIEF 21 - JUNE 1995: DEALING WITH WATER SCARCITY IN THE NEXT CENTURY
View the document2020 BRIEF 22 - JUNE 1995: THE RIGHT TO FOOD: WIDELY ACKNOWLEDGED AND POORLY PROTECTED
View the document2020 BRIEF 23 - JUNE 1995: CEREALS PROSPECTS IN INDIA TO 2020: IMPLICATIONS FOR POLICY
View the document2020 BRIEF 24 - JUNE 1995: REVAMPING AGRICULTURAL R&D
View the document2020 BRIEF 25 - AUGUST 1995: MORE THAN FOOD IS NEEDED TO ACHIEVE GOOD NUTRITION BY 2020
View the document2020 BRIEF 26 - AUGUST 1995: PERSPECTIVES ON EUROPEAN AGRICULTURE IN 2020
View the document2020 BRIEF 27 - AUGUST 1995: NONDEGRADING LAND USE STRATEGIES FOR TROPICAL HILLSIDES
View the document2020 BRIEF 28 - AUGUST 1995: EMPLOYMENT PROGRAMS FOR FOOD SECURITY IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA
View the document2020 BRIEF 29 - AUGUST 1995: POVERTY, FOOD SECURITY, AND THE ENVIRONMENT
View the document2020 BRIEF 30 - JANUARY 1996: RISING FOOD PRICES AND FALLING GRAIN STOCKS: SHORT-RUN BLIPS OR NEW TRENDS?
View the document2020 BRIEF 31 - APRIL 1996: MIDDLE EAST WATER CONFLICTS AND DIRECTIONS FOR CONFLICT RESOLUTION
View the document2020 BRIEF 32 - APRIL 1996: THE TRANSITION IN THE CONTRIBUTION OF LIVING AQUATIC RESOURCES TO FOOD SECURITY
View the document2020 BRIEF 33 - JUNE 1996: MANAGING RESOURCES FOR SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE IN SOUTH ASIA
View the document2020 BRIEF 34 - JUNE 1996: IMPLEMENTING THE URUGUAY ROUND: INCREASED FOOD PRICE STABILITY BY 2020?
View the document2020 BRIEF 35 - JULY 1996: SOCIOPOLITICAL EFFECTS OF NEW BIOTECHNOLOGIES IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES
View the document2020 BRIEF 36 - OCTOBER 1996: RUSSIA'S FOOD ECONOMY IN TRANSITION: WHAT DO REFORMS MEAN FOR THE LONG-TERM OUTLOOK?
View the document2020 BRIEF 37 - OCTOBER 1996: UNCOMMON OPPORTUNITIES FOR ACHIEVING SUSTAINABLE FOOD AND NUTRITION SECURITY - An Agenda for Science and Public Policy
View the document2020 BRIEF 38 - OCTOBER 1996: WORLD TRENDS IN FERTILIZER USE AND PROJECTIONS TO 2020
View the document2020 BRIEF 39 - OCTOBER 1996: REDUCING POVERTY AND PROTECTING THE ENVIRONMENT: THE OVERLOOKED POTENTIAL OF LESS-FAVORED LANDS
View the document2020 BRIEF 40 - OCTOBER 1996: POLICIES TO PROMOTE ENVIRONMENTALLY SUSTAINABLE FERTILIZER USE AND SUPPLY TO 2020
View the document2020 BRIEF 41 - DECEMBER 1996: STRUCTURAL CHANGES IN THE DEMAND FOR FOOD IN ASIA
View the document2020 BRIEF 42 - MARCH 1997: AFRICA'S CHANGING AGRICULTURAL DEVELOPMENT STRATEGIES
View the document2020 BRIEF 43 - JUNE 1997: THE POTENTIAL IMPACT OF AIDS ON POPULATION AND ECONOMIC GROWTH RATES
View the document2020 BRIEF 44 - JUNE 1997: LAND DEGRADATION IN THE DEVELOPING WORLD: ISSUES AND POLICY OPTIONS FOR 2020
View the document2020 BRIEF 45 - JUNE 1997: AGRICULTURE, TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE, AND THE ENVIRONMENT IN LATIN AMERICA: A 2020 PERSPECTIVE
View the document2020 BRIEF 46 - JUNE 1997: AGRICULTURE, TRADE, AND REGIONALISM IN SOUTH ASIA
View the document2020 BRIEF 47 - AUGUST 1997: THE NONFARM SECTOR AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT: REVIEW OF ISSUES AND EVIDENCE
View the document2020 BRIEF 48 - FEBRUARY 1998: CHALLENGES TO THE 2020 VISION FOR LATIN AMERICA: FOOD AND AGRICULTURE SINCE 1970
View the document2020 BRIEF 49 - APRIL 1998: NUTRITION SECURITY IN URBAN AREAS OF LATIN AMERICA
View the document2020 BRIEF 50 - JUNE 1998: FOOD FROM PEACE: BREAKING THE LINKS BETWEEN CONFLICT AND HUNGER
View the document2020 BRIEF 51 - JULY 1998: TECHNOLOGICAL OPPORTUNITIES FOR SUSTAINING WHEAT PRODUCTIVITY GROWTH TOWARD 2020
View the document2020 BRIEF 52 - SEPTEMBER 1998: PEST MANAGEMENT AND FOOD PRODUCTION: LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
View the document2020 BRIEF 53 - OCTOBER 1998: POPULATION GROWTH AND POLICY OPTIONS IN THE DEVELOPING WORLD
View the document2020 BRIEF 54 - OCTOBER 1998: FOSTERING GLOBAL WELL-BEING: A NEW PARADIGM TO REVITALIZE AGRICULTURAL AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT
View the document2020 BRIEF 55 - OCTOBER 1998: THE POTENTIAL OF AGROECOLOGY TO COMBAT HUNGER IN THE DEVELOPING WORLD
View the document2020 RESUMEN No. 56 - OCTUBRE DE 1998: AYUDA A LA AGRICULTURA EN LOS PAÍSES EN DESARROLLO: INVERSIONES EN LA REDUCCIÓN DE LA POBREZA Y NUEVAS OPORTUNIDADES DE EXPORTACIÓN
View the document2020 BRIEF 57 - OCTOBER 1998: ECONOMIC CRISIS IN ASIA: A FUTURE OF DIMINISHING GROWTH AND INCREASING POVERTY?
View the document2020 BRIEF 58 - FEBRUARY 1999: SOIL DEGRADATION: A THREAT TO DEVELOPING-COUNTRY FOOD SECURITY BY 20207
View the document2020 BRIEF 59 - MARCH 1999: AGRICULTURAL GROWTH, POVERTY ALLEVIATION, AND ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY: HAVING IT ALL
View the document2020 BRIEF 60 - MAY 1999: CRITICAL CHOICES FOR CHINA'S AGRICULTURAL POLICY
View the document2020 BRIEF 61 - MAY 1999: LIVESTOCK TO 2020: THE NEXT FOOD REVOLUTION
View the document2020 BRIEF 62 - OCTOBER 1999: NUTRIENT DEPLETION IN THE AGRICULTURAL SOILS OF AFRICA
View the document2020 BRIEF 63 - NOVEMBER 1999: PROSPECTS FOR INDIA'S CEREAL SUPPLY AND DEMAND TO 2020
View the document2020 BRIEF 64 - FEBRUARY 2000: OVERCOMING CHILD MALNUTRITION IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES: PAST ACHIEVEMENTS AND FUTURE CHOICES
View the document2020 BRIEF 65 - MARCH 2000: COMBINING INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL INPUTS FOR SUSTAINABLE INTENSIFICATION

2020 BRIEF 9 - FEBRUARY 1995: THE ROLE OF AGRICULTURE IN SAVING THE RAIN FOREST

Stephen Vosti

Stephen Vosti is a research fellow in the Environment and Production Technology Division at the International Food Policy Research Institute.

IS CONVERSION OF FOREST TO AGRICULTURE THE PROBLEM?

Tropical forests are disappearing rapidly - with potentially high social costs in biodiversity loss and carbon emissions. But what does agriculture have to do with this? Consider the role of small farmers: they account for about two-thirds of rain forest destruction, by converting land to agriculture (Figure 1). Most of them are poor. They moved to forest margins to escape from poverty elsewhere, and they deforest in order to survive. Deforestation is not likely to slow until these people can earn a living and meet their food needs. And their numbers are growing, even where in-migration has slowed or stopped, as families reconstituted at the forest margin move through the life cycle. Agriculture to meet these food needs may lie behind much forest clearing - true. Still, only improvements in agriculture's performance as part of an opening up of alternatives for meeting basic welfare requirements can save the rain forest.


Figure 1 - Tropical forest depletion by proximate cause

Source: N Sharma, ed. Managing the World's Forests (Washington DC World Bank, 1992)

WHY DO SMALL FARMERS DEFOREST?

Like rural households throughout the developing world, farm households in the forest margins strive to put enough food on the table for the next day, week, or month. In their struggle, farmers do not view natural resources as the most important asset, to be conserved at all costs, especially human costs. Although degradation is viewed as undesirable by the farmer and society as a whole, economic necessity predictably leads to land degradation.

In fact, when a farm household in the humid tropical forest margins slashes and bums as the initial step in an agricultural cycle, it starts a clock ticking. During the first tick of the clock, annual crops are the crops of choice. Fertilized by forest residue, the nutrient-poor soils can support such crops, and recently arrived families, needing food (and without the resources to purchase food), plant them Annual crop production, however, depletes soil, narrowing the crop choice of farm households at the next tick of the clock At this point, they favor perennials, which in turn deplete the land (though at much slower rates) Finally, pasture and fallow - lower than the original forest in biomass and lowest in per hectare productivity for the farmer - become the only viable options While farm households in other agroclimatic zones may see some narrowing of land-use options over time, in the humid tropical forest margins, it is the speed and certainty of this sequence (over several agricultural cycles) that is striking

This does not mean that successful agricultural intensification is out of reach in these areas with technical innovations, the range of agricultural choices open to the farmer could widen from current patterns, but few such innovations are currently available to resource-strapped farm households, and policies for promoting them are often lacking

Well-known off-farm externalities, such as smoke and carbon dioxide emissions, which dissipate into the air above the farm, have no direct production consequences for the farmer, therefore, they do not play a major role in farm household decision making These environmental effects are important on a global basis, but from the farmer's perspective, private costs and benefits - the farmer's - matter most

WHAT HAS GONE WRONG IN THE PAST?

Because the poverty-stricken small farmer has a short time horizon for planning, incorporation of pro-environment choices can be difficult This short-term perspective is not myopic, but rational natural resource mining may be the only way, not the short-sighted way, to meet short-term goals Policies that ignore this constraint generally fail

For example, farmers must diversify income sources to survive, and improved infrastructure is key to such diversification However, national and regional governments, often under pressure from the international community looking toward long-term environmental protection, make limited investments in all-weather transportation infrastructure The problem for the small farmer is that even the investment in infrastructure needed to link existing communities is limited, which can make farmers more reliant on their natural resource base for survival

The emphasis often placed on extracting forest products as an alternative livelihood activity is also illustrative, in that little is known as yet about the interdependence of different components of ecosystems, the impact of different techniques for extraction on these systems, the potential for marketing extracted products; and the consequences of, and scope for, expanding extractive activities.

Farmers often have insufficient knowledge to successfully implement sustainable agriculture. Populations transplanted from different agroecological environments do not carry with them the stock of knowledge about local conditions helpful in designing an environmentally compatible farming system. Where indigenous knowledge about sustainable livelihood practices does exist, it often cannot support the higher population density that migration has brought

Labor conditions must also be right: coffee production, desirable from an environmental and income viewpoint, requires high labor input and might be ruled out where labor is scarce. Cattle raising requires much less labor and might be chosen regardless of environmental consequences.

The bottom line: forest conversion will continue so long as it makes sense to rural households, given the incentives and constraints they face, regardless of the costs to society.

WHAT CAN BE DONE?

If output generated from deforested plots and the value of natural products extracted from forests cannot be increased and sustained, the pressure on standing forests will remain. The "tools of the trade" for development planning - policies, technologies, and institutional arrangements - play a role in lifting constraints to implementation of environmentally sound practices. And they help encourage agricultural practices that use natural resources to boost livelihood security without using them up.

Policies need to change to take into account needs of current resident farmers, on land already deforested. This means helping them intensify their agriculture - through improved technology and access to well-integrated, reliable markets; credit; and roads that remain open in all seasons.

The generation and use of new, more sustainable agricultural technologies is absolutely critical. This requires focusing sights not on agricultural technologies that just meet growth goals or those that meet only sustainability goals, but on those that meet both growth and sustain-ability goals. The approach is controversial, there are fears that successes in agricultural intensification could attract new waves of migrants, and that introduction of non-traditional crops might disrupt the ecosystem in unforeseen ways. But clear definition and enforcement of property rights can help allay these concerns.

The third "tool" of development planning, the set of institutional arrangements (formal and informal, public and private) charged with generating, distributing, and implementing information and policies to achieve sustain-ability, growth, and poverty alleviation goals, has expanded dramatically over the past 15 years and now includes a vast array of governmental, nongovernmental, and hybrid forms. The forest margins have seen a dramatic proliferation of organizations - local, state, and international - but little is known about their relative sustainability or effectiveness, particularly cost-effectiveness, in meeting development goals.

INTERREGIONAL LINKAGES

Forest margin areas generally do not enjoy a comparative advantage in the production of food staples: poor soils, severe pest problems, and intense, seasonal rainfall all keep yields low. These areas do, however, have a comparative advantage in agroforestry products, some types of livestock, and products extracted from primary or secondary forests. But poor infrastructure leading to inefficient or even missing markets can lower and destabilize prices for nonfood items produced in the forest margins and raise and destabilize prices of the foods rural households purchase. These economic signals induce rural households to allocate time, money, and land to producing their own food, even though they do so inefficiently. To improve natural resource management in the forest margins, therefore, it is necessary to improve infrastructure and thereby promote the flow of nonfood and food products across regions.

IMPORTANCE OF AGRICULTURE TO LONG-TERM SOLUTIONS

Looking toward 2020, three scenarios are possible. First, if all goes well, improvements in social and physical infrastructure will integrate forest margin areas into the economy. The combined agricultural productivity growth of the breadbasket and forest margin areas will be adequate to feed the larger population, lessening the pressure to convert forests to agricultural uses. In the second scenario, regional integration will only partially be successful. Productivity growth will be swift in the breadbasket areas, but it will languish in the forest margins, and deforestation will continue. Under the disastrous third scenario, regional integration will largely fail, agricultural growth will stagnate everywhere, and deforestation will accelerate. Which of these scenarios will prevail largely depends on agricultural intensification.

While agriculture is critical to the long-term solution of sustainable livelihood and food security in the humid tropics, it is only part of the story. To take pressure off land, nonagricultural sectors of rural economies must be strengthened in addition to improving agricultural productivity. In short, what is called for is a portfolio of agricultural, extractive, and nonagricultural activities that involve technological innovation designed for higher productivity of land and labor. These activities must translate into higher profitability for the farmer at lower cost to the environment and must be compatible with the constrained resource position of the small farmer.