Cover Image


View/Hide Left Panel

provides a framework for thinking about the different ways that population growth and technology change affect forest cover. This section is followed by a discussion of the key features of the data that have been used in the analysis and then a characterization of the primary results to date. Finally, I examine a central theme that has governed the work, the identification of the appropriate set of scales of analysis.


While a variety of global economic forces affect the trends in deforestation in developing countries, recent research in development economics has emphasized the importance of local-level processes, such as agricultural encroachment and product extraction through firewood collection and animal grazing that are themselves importantly influenced by the fact that forest resources in most developing countries are not privately owned (e.g., Dasgupta, 1995; Filmer and Pritchett, 1986). The nonprivate ownership of forests lands, as well as of grazing and wastelands, has raised two questions: (1) whether there has been historically or currently is a “tragedy of the commons” (Hardin, 1968) that characterizes forest operations and (2) whether this tragedy is or is not exacerbated or a cause of excess population growth (Lee, 1991). Although, as popularly conceived, depletion of such resources is a straightforward consequence of rapid population growth, these studies suggest that traditionally many common property resources have been well managed by local institutions so that historically the effects of rapid population growth have been, in Jodha’s (1985:247) words, “mediated by institutional factors and often overshadowed by pressures arising from changing market conditions.”

In the substantial economic literature concerned with the question of the efficiency with which common areas, such as forest areas, are managed in developing countries, however, there is surprisingly little discussion of the process by which forest area is chosen. The primary difficulty with this literature, with its emphasis on the tree management, is that it neglects factors determining the demand for forest products inclusive of population growth and does not allow for the possibility that forest area will be importantly determined by the relative returns to forest and other uses of land. These omissions would seem difficult to justify in terms of current patterns of forestation and deforestation in both developed and developing countries. In particular, growth in forests in the developed world in recent years can be attributed in part to investment decisions on the part of private owners in certain regions (such as the northwest United States) and to decreases in the returns to agriculture in others (such as New England) that reflect the changing costs of labor, an important input in forest extraction, and changes in the demand for forest products (Sedjo, 1995). An investiga-

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement