6841 Does Agricultural Intensification Reduce Pressure on Forests?

Saturday, February 18, 2012: 8:30 AM
Room 220 (VCC West Building)
Ruth DeFries , Columbia University, New York, NY
Marcia Macedo , Columbia University, New York, NY
Victor Gutiérrez-Vélez , Columbia University, New York, NY
Agricultural intensification is often invoked as a solution to reduce pressure on tropical forests, thereby reducing deforestation and maintaining carbon storage and other ecosystem services.  We use remote sensing, field observations, and census data to determine whether agricultural intensification in reality reduced deforestation in the 2000’s in two contrasting regions of the Amazon, the southern Brazilian state of Mato Grosso and the Peruvian western Amazon.  In Mato Grosso where industrial-scale land use produces primarily cattle and soy, a combination of policy and market forces caused deforestation to drop precipitously in the second half of the decade.  Analysis of post-clearing land use indicates that the proportion of soy expansion into forest decreased relative to the first half of the decade, suggesting intensification can reduce pressure on forests if policies provide incentives and already-cleared lands are available.  In the Peruvian Amazon, deforestation is currently low but oil palm plantations are poised to expand in the future with demands from domestic and international markets.  Two modes of oil palm production are large-scale, high-yield industrial plantations typically owned by private companies and small-scale, low-yield plantations owned by smallholders.   Our remote sensing and field data show that high-yield expansion of oil palm plantations counter-intuitively leads to more forest loss relative to production than smallholder’s low-yield crops despite higher yield of the former, suggesting that in this case intensification increases pressure on forests.  These two contrasting, empirical cases illustrate the place- and context-specific determinants of whether agricultural intensification in reality reduces pressure on tropical forests.