Cattle ranching and law enforcement key areas of action to slow Bolivia’s deforestation rate

Concrete and country-specific information on drivers of deforestation are required to protects carbon-rich forests.

Related stories

Reducing the expansion of cattle ranching is the best way to tackle deforestation in Bolivia. Pablo Pacheco

BOGOR, Indonesia (3 September, 2012)_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.

They also 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.

Pablo Pacheco

Intensifying cattle ranching or increasing the number of cattle by unit of pasture land would offer much potential for satisfying the national demand for beef without further expansion into forests. Beef exports from Bolivia are currently insignificant.

That makes it the best target for policy makers, the authors wrote.

They looked, too, at ways to better protect forests that remain.

In 1996, the Bolivian government issued revised land and forest laws that were intended to reduce deforestation by clarifying ownership.

While annual deforestation rates have slightly decreased in the last two years, forests continue to be converted, often illegally, at relatively high rates when compared with other countries, due to poor law enforcement which in part is related to a lack of resources to make it effective.

For example, the enforcement agency in the Amazonian north, Pando, has only 11 people to control an area of 6 million hectares. Simply increasing the number of staff, says Mueller, would be a cost-effective first step to reduce deforestation.

“Those 11 people may cost some US$100,000 per year, so duplicating the local staff in this and other hotspots of illegal deforestation plus improved equipment may be a question of just $1 million or $2 million dollars a year,” he says.

“Together with efficient judicial persecution, this may have a considerable impact on deforestation.”

Mueller and colleagues in a new paper, Policy options to reduce deforestation based on a systematic analysis of drivers and agents in lowland Bolivia , said the approach developed in the paper was meant to be applicable to other countries.

“We did not wish to discuss politics of REDD+ in Bolivia we wanted instead to concentrate on technical measures and policy options that are available to halt deforestation and to manage agricultural expansion,” he said.

“But also within Bolivia implications are clear: Concentrate on legal enforcement and prioritise those land uses causing most deforestation.”

Edited by Robin McDowell and Michelle Kovacevic.

This new publication is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry and was also supported by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (Gottingen University).

Copyright policy:
We want you to share Forests News content, which is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0). This means you are free to redistribute our material for non-commercial purposes. All we ask is that you give Forests News appropriate credit and link to the original Forests News content, indicate if changes were made, and distribute your contributions under the same Creative Commons license. You must notify Forests News if you repost, reprint or reuse our materials by contacting