Remittances and deforestation

A group of scientists have been looking at the intersection of economics, ecology, and emigration as it impacts the forest cover (or lack thereof) in El Salvador:
A study in the September issue of BioScience presents novel findings on how globalization, land policy changes, and monies sent to family members by emigrants have transformed agriculture and stimulated woodland resurgence in El Salvador. The study, by Susanna B. Hecht and Sassan S. Saatchi, employed socioeconomic data, land-use surveys, and satellite imagery to monitor changes in woody cover in El Salvador since peace accords were signed in 1992.

Most analyses of forest cover in Central America have focused on the loss of old-growth forests. In drawing attention to the regrowth of woodland in a country that was extensively deforested during the 1970s, Hecht and Saatchi call for a renewed examination of social and economic influences on agricultural practices and of the implications for forest extent. New-growth forests, often in a mosaic alongside agricultural land, buffer declines in biological diversity and are widely used by old-growth species.

War drove many people to flee El Salvador during the 1980s and early 1990s, which led to the abandonment of many farms. Thereafter, the country experienced a net increase in tree cover. Hecht and Saatchi found a 22 percent increase in the area with 30 percent tree cover, and a 6.5 percent increase in the area with more than 60 percent tree cover. Policies that encouraged sustainable farming techniques contributed to the increase, the authors maintain.

Strikingly, the authors also found a strong link between forest resurgence and capital remittances from family members in other countries. More than a sixth of El Salvador's population left the country during the fighting, which helps explain why remittances now exceed direct foreign investment more than eightfold. Apparently, households receiving remittances felt less need to maintain existing fields, and also cleared less land. Conservationists should be more cognizant of the power of remittances and agricultural policies to benefit forest regrowth, according to Hecht and Saatchi, who suggest several measures that conservation-minded financial institutions, transnational organizations, and individuals, among others, can undertake to aid the recovery.

You can read the complete article here. Somehow there is a tremendous irony that seems a little lost on the scientists. To start the process of re-growing trees on the milpas left abandoned in the countryside, it requires a civil war, plus the flight of millions of Salvadorans out of the country who then send remittances. Sounds to me like the neo-liberal, free market approach to environmental protection.

Hat tip to Chuck Stewart who pointed out this article first on his blog.


Anonymous said…
i agree with you on the irony of the story tim. although the flight of millions of people from el salvador may have helped reduce the rate of destruction of the country's ecological resources, let's also take into account that since 1992 and obviously with the aid of billions of remittances, el salvador has experienced a drastic real estate boom. hundreds of acres get cleared every year for new housing projects because several of the millions of salvadorans living abroad still want to buy a house in el salvador. i say the housing boom is good, even though it has sent the value of real property up to the sky to the point that the average salvadoran living is el salvador can only dream of buying a decent home. but i say the roble group with its companya constructora should mass produce affordable housing, a la tower apartment complexes. but cheap, not fancy like torres multiplaza and others.