Dynamics of Indirect Land-Use Change: Empirical Evidence From Brazil

Mar 26th, 2013 | By | Category: Adaptation, Biodiversity, Carbon, Forest, Green House Gas Emissions, Information and Communication, International Agencies, Land, Lessons, News, REDD+, Research
Forest AmezonicaETH Zurich: The expansion of a given land use may affect deforestation directly if forests are cleared to free land for this use, or indirectly, via the displacement of other land-use activities from non-forest areas towards the forest frontier. Unlike direct land conversion, indirect land-use changes affecting deforestation are not immediately observable. They require the linking of changes occurring in different regions. This paper empirically assesses the possible indirect effects of sugarcane expansion in Brazil’s state of S ̃ao Paulo, on forest conversion decisions in the country’s Amazon region. Further, it examines the evidence for a mechanism through which these effects might materialize, namely a displacement of cattle ranching activities from S ̃ao Paulo state to the Amazon. The results suggest a positive relationship between sugarcane expansion and deforestation. This indirect land-use effect is shown to be a dynamic process materializing over 10 to 15 years.
Conclusion and Discussion
In this paper, we investigated indirect land-use changes induced by sugarcane expansion in Brazil. First, we found an indirect land-use effect of sugarcane expansion on deforestation, which is sensitive to the number of head of cattle in the Amazon. This is shown to be a long-run effect, which can be disentangled from the short-run, more direct effect of cattle ranching on deforestation. Although relatively small compared to the effect of the traditional deforestation drivers, the indirect effect imputable to displacement is not negligible and statistically significant. Second, land area under sugarcane is shown to be negatively correlated with cattle herd size in S ̃ao Paulo state. Also, deforestation in the Amazon may be explained by numbers of cattle in the Amazon that are in turn significantly, positively correlated with past numbers cattle in S ̃ao Paulo. In sum, our results provide empirical support to the hypothesis that that there has been a substitution of cattle ranching activities from the Center-South region towards the Amazon, as a result of sugarcane expansion. This spatial substitution, which we interpret as displacement, has contributed to the increase in cattle herd size in the Legal Amazon since 1970. We therefore argue that this is a channel through which sugarcane expansion during the 1970-2006 period influenced deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon.

The indirect land-use effect is shown to be dynamic with 10 to 15 years passing before it fully materializes. This relatively long time interval suggests that cattle ranching activities have shifted gradually between non-forest and forest regions. But how have such activities shifted across regions over time? From secondary sources, one plausible explanation concerns the documented movements of farmers and ranchers from sugarcane-growing areas to forest frontier areas in the Amazon (e.g. Schneider, 1992; Arima and Uhl, 1997 and Margulis, 2004). However, we neither know the identity nor observe the precise movements of such agents in our dataset. This limits further inference. Future work could collect detailed data describing precisely the origin and previous occupations of cattle ranchers in the Amazon along with the origin of cattle found at the forest frontier. More generally, it is not possible with our data to establish spatial causality between sugarcane expansion in the state of S ̃ao Paulo and deforestation in the Amazon. Yet, our study is the first to provide empirical evidence that such a relationship between these two land uses might exist.


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