Underlying Causes of Deforestation

Agriculture, ranching, timber extraction, road building, and mining are only the proximate causes of deforestation (Geist and Lambin 2002). These activities are necessary for human survival, but individuals cannot easily undertake them on their own. There have to be institutions that make these activities feasible, and forces that drive people and institutions to undertake them. These institutions and forces are the underlying causes that drive tropical deforestation and can be separated into five major categories (Fig. 4.1). They are presented here in order of decreasing importance as listed by Geist and Lambin (2002). Economic

The economic development on forested frontiers often follows a pattern that is exemplified by the region west of Belem, Para, on the eastern edge of the Amazon rain forest (Jordan 2001; Fig. 4.2). In this figure, the horizontal axis is the distance from a particular piece of land to markets for agricultural products or beef. In the eastern Amazon region, the city of Belem is a traditional market and the town of Paragominas is becoming one. "Distance from markets" not only implies the actual linear distance, but also includes the logistical difficulty of getting supplies from the market and taking the produce to the market. A farm 100 km from the market on a paved road is logistically closer to the market than a farm 40 km away on a dirt road that becomes impassable during rainstorms. "Net present value" of the land is simply its current market price. Net present value is determined in part by the value of the labor necessary for economic income; the cost of defending property rights to that land; the value of the capital necessary to produce an economic income; and the equilibrium price of the land, that is, what bidders in the market place will pay after consideration of other factors.

Underlying causes

Fig. 4.1. Proximate causes of tropical deforestation (immediate human actions), factors underlying these causes, and forces driving the underlying causes o

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