Crop prices and deforestation in the tropics

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10 May 2023

Understanding the mechanisms of deforestation is necessary in order to slow or arrest its progress. To accomplish this requires rigorously estimating the demand for deforestation. We contribute to this endeavor by estimating the effect of crop prices on the demand for conversion of land from forest to agriculture in the tropics during the 21st century. The two main difficulties involved are the lack of harmonized data on local crop prices in the tropics and the fact that they are determined simultaneously with decisions to deforest. We propose a strategy to circumvent these two issues using high-resolution annual forest loss data for the tropics, combined with information on crop-specific agricultural suitability and annual international crop prices. We find that crop price variation has a significant impact on deforestation: increases in crop prices are estimated to be responsible for one-third of total deforestation in the tropics (totaling about 2 million km2) during the period 2001–2018. We also find that the degree of openness to international trade and the level of economic development are first-order local characteristics affecting the magnitude of the impact of crop prices on deforestation.