Poor nations’ economies grow with rising deforestation

forestry worker carries a plank of Padouk (Vermillion) wood
Copyright: Panos

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  • Researchers assessed the link between economic growth and deforestation
  • They found that in poor countries, increased deforestation leads to growth
  • An expert says the study is useful for formulating policies

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[NAIROBI] Poor countries’ economic growth increases with deforestation rates but the effect disappears in wealthier economies, a study says.
According to researchers, climatic factors and inadequate data make it difficult to establish the link between economic development and overexploitation of natural resources.
But using satellite data, researchers were able to assess the link between deforestation rates and economic factors across countries.

“Our results quantify the potential costs that such policies could potentially have in terms of forest cover loss.”

Jesús Crespo Cuaresma, Vienna University of Economics and Business


The study published this month (16 January) in the journal Scientific Reports found that as developing countries become richer, a decrease in forest cover occurs, but such a relationship disappears at higher levels of income per capita.
 “This implies that increases in deforestation, in particular in Sub-Saharan Africa, are expected as poorer economies converge in income per capita to that of developed countries,” says Jesús Crespo Cuaresma, a research scholar and professor of economics at the Vienna University of Economics and Business, who led the study.
The researchers collected remote-sensed data on forest cover and combined these with other macroeconomic variables in a statistical model that allowed them to identify the empirical relationship between income per capita and deforestation.

Forest cover HRUs png

“Given the importance of avoiding the decay of forest stocks to counteract climate change, our paper provides evidence to understand and quantify the potential losses in terms of environmental depletion implied by development policies in Sub-Saharan Africa,” Cuaresma notes.
The study, he explains, is of particular importance to policymakers on the African continent and international organisations interested in designing development policy tools.
“Our results quantify the potential costs that such policies could potentially have in terms of forest cover loss,” Cuaresma tells SciDev.Net, explaining that evidence-based development policies should be enacted to minimise deforestation and combat the negative effects of climate change.
According to Cuaresma such policies could benefit Sub-Sharan Africa and the rest of the world.
Samuel Muriithi, head of economics at the Kenya Forest Service, says the study helps explain sustainable development.
“This study can be useful in policy formulation,” Muriithi tells SciDev.Net.

He calls for a need to appreciate how deforestation could affect economies at local and global levels.
Muriithi says that forests conservation could help decrease poverty. He cites beekeeping, fish farming and ecotourism as approaches that could help diversify local economies and make people less dependent on forests for their livelihoods.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.


Jesús Crespo Cuaresma and others Economic development and forest cover: evidence from satellite data (Scientific Reports, 16 January 2017)