Policy makers seeking to slow the pace of deforestation in lowland Bolivia need to prioritise two key areas of action, say experts: reduce the expansion of cattle ranching, which accounts for nearly a third of all forest loss but has a lower per-hectare profitability than either small or large-scale agriculture, and enforce existing legislation that protects carbon-rich forests.Robert Mueller of Goettingen University, and his colleagues, acknowledged their analysis was specific to Bolivia, but could apply to other areas in the Amazon.
According CIFOR's blog, they hope others taking part in a U.N.-backed scheme to slow climate change by protecting forests across the globe (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation or REDD+) would benefit.
"Virtually all existing REDD+ pilot projects globally are targeting smallholders," said Mueller, who believes the priority should be on those who are converting forests to agriculture on a much grander scale.
"Moreover, we think that legal enforcement is much more important than the current focus on compensation and payments."
Deforestation is considered to be one of the biggest drivers of global warming, accounting for an estimated 20 percent of greenhouse gasses pumped into the atmosphere. Getting rich nations to effectively pay heavily forested countries to make ensure that threatened forests are not converted into agricultural lands or other uses is seen by many as the best way to slow climate change.
The drivers of deforestation differ from country to country, however, and in order for REDD+ to be effective, there is a need for concrete and country-specific information.
By studying land-use patterns in Bolivia, Mueller and colleagues identified what they believe to be the three biggest contributors of forest loss in that country. In a systematic analysis, they suggest a variety of specific solutions for each of them.
Large-scale, or mechanized agriculture, is by far the most destructive.
But while it accounted for almost 54 percent of forest loss between 1992 and 2004, commercial agriculture is simply too important to the Bolivian economy to be easily scaled back, the authors wrote. It accounts for about 12 percent of the country’s exports and is responsible for about 150,000 jobs, producing mainly soy for export at a time when global demand is growing. Suggested solutions for managing the expansion of agribusiness include a restriction to selected, suitable areas and higher fees for deforestation permits.
Small-scale agriculture, upon which 400,000 people in the lowlands depend, has contributed 19 percent to the country’s forests clearings during the same period. It involves a range of farming systems that often extend beyond subsistence, with rice, corn and other crops being sold at local and national markets.
“It may therefore be more difficult to reduce small-scale agriculture than is often implied by the pilots of REDD+ schemes,” says Mueller.
The priority should therefore be set on cattle-ranching, which is responsible for 27 percent of the trees cut or burned.