The cost of flourishing naturally

The Dynamics of Deforestation and Economic Growth in the Brazilian Amazon
February 6, 2004

This book addresses two important questions in the emerging global effort at sustainable development. How did the intertwined processes of deforestation and economic development proceed in the Brazilian Amazon in the late 20th century, and what sorts of opportunities for sustainable development does this historical record suggest for this century? The authors provide answers to these questions through quantitative analyses of recent changes in economic activity and forests in the 257 municipalities that make up the Brazilian Amazon.

The first four chapters set the context for the quantitative analyses. After a brief introduction discussing economic development in regions with tropical rainforests, the authors provide a geographical and historical summary of efforts by the Brazilian government to develop the Amazon basin since the 1960s.

The subsequent chapters present the quantitative analyses. The first looks at the incomes people earn from collecting commercially valuable non-timber forest products such as brazil nuts. The authors next analyse the impact that events such as road-building and paving had on forest clearing rates from 1980 to 1995. They then estimate the increments in carbon emissions caused by forest clearing. The last of these four chapters creates a balance sheet for the region that compares economic gains with environmental costs. The book concludes with a discussion of policies that would promote economic growth without destroying more forest.

The quantitative analyses provide a wealth of insights into the deforestation-development dynamic. The analyses of extractive activities document and explain for the first time the large intraregional differences in income from non-timber forest products. The analyses of forest clearing establish that the drivers of forest destruction have become increasingly local over time. Federal policy-makers authorised the construction of the penetration roads that accounted for most deforestation before 1980. Local coalitions of businessmen, landowners and politicians pressed for the construction of the feeder roads that spurred most forest clearing after 1985.

The analysis of carbon emissions from deforestation estimates, for the first time, the increases in stocks of carbon that occur when recently cleared land reverts to secondary growth. Finally, simulations of the economic benefits from environmental destruction in the Amazon suggest the possibility of a "win-win" scenario in which a policy of road building and paving in already deforested areas produces more economic benefits for the region's residents while reducing deforestation.

The book's only weakness stems from the authors' complete reliance on the municipal data set in arguing their case. Their models indicate, for example, that road paving reduces deforestation by raising the price of land to the point where landowners have to intensify agriculture along paved roads to pay for the land. The concentration of capital and labour along the newly paved roads makes them less available for forest clearing in more remote locations, and these dynamics reduce the overall deforestation rate.

Following this logic, the authors argue that Avanca Brazil, the road-building and paving programme for the Brazilian Amazon, will induce little additional land clearing. The authors offer no concrete examples of the forest-saving effects of road paving, yet there are several well-known examples of the contrary effect, most notably the World Bank-financed Polonoroeste programme.

Despite this drawback, the study advances our understanding of the deforestation-economic development dynamic in the world's largest tropical forest. Readers without statistical training may struggle but will find it useful because the authors write well. For these reasons, the book belongs on the reading list of anyone concerned with sustainable development in the tropics.

Thomas K. Rudel is professor of human ecology, Rutgers University, New Jersey, US.

The Dynamics of Deforestation and Economic Growth in the Brazilian Amazon

Author - Lykke Andersen, Clive Granger, Eustaquio Reis, Diana Weinhold and Sven Wunder
Publisher - Cambridge University Press
Pages - 259
Price - £45.00
ISBN - 0 521 81197 X

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