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16 June 2011

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Poverty doesn't drive deforestation, argues new survey

Income from forests and other ecosystem generates a significant proportion of household income in developing countries, finds a six-year survey of 8,000 families from 60 sites in 24 countries.

The research, which will be published by the Poverty and Environment Network, found that income from forest use accounts for more than 20 percent of rural household income across the surveyed sites. Environmental income (forest and non-forest) makes up more than one fourth of income among those surveyed. Surprisingly, the study found that the proportion of income earned from forest use did not vary with income levels.

"Earlier studies have emphasized the special importance of forest incomes to the poorest households. One surprising finding of this project is that, overall, forest reliance (defined as the share of forest income in total household income) apparently varies little with income levels. Hence, forest income is not just for the poor but for everyone at these sites," said Arild Angelsen, a senior researcher at CIFOR who coordinated the study.

The research found that firewood constitutes the single most important forest product, accounting for one fifth of forest income on average among those surveyed. Timber — at 10 percent — was the second most valuable, followed by harvesting of secondary forest products like fiber, food, and medicinal plants.

Most intriguingly however, the study found a strong correlation between income and deforestation.

"We found a strong correlation between income and deforestation. Within each site, on average the top income quintile (richest 20 percent) households deforest 30 percent more than the bottom quintile (poorest 20 percent)," said Angelsen, who is also a professor at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. "There is an even stronger tendency of higher forest clearing in the richer sites. If we look at this deforestation regionally, rates were considerably higher in studies in Latin America, which hold also some of the richer households in the sample. Overall, the results do not lend support to the hypothesis that poverty drives deforestation."

The research collected income data through four quarterly surveys. Study sites were selected "to obtain widely representative coverage of different geographical regions, forest types, forest tenure regimes, levels of poverty, infrastructure and market access and population density," according to CIFOR.

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