Please join the Environmental Change Initiative for an in-person seminar presented by Kathy Baylis, Professor in the Department of Geography at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Her seminar title is "Deforestation in response to agricultural productivity shocks."
Abstract: Deforestation is the second most important source of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions contributing to 11% of greenhouse gas emissions. Globally, over half of the deforestation is driven by agriculture, and some of the highest rates of deforestation occur in sub-Saharan Africa. Little is understood about how agricultural productivity shocks affect deforestation.
We study the effect of a negative agricultural productivity shock on deforestation in Zambia. Specifically, we focus on the unexpected arrival of the Fall Armyworm in Africa in 2016, whose spread was facilitated by climate change. We use primary data to show that those farmers who are more exposed to fall armyworm produce more charcoal after the pests’ arrival. When farmers in the region are able to reduce the share of the crop planted to maize or find off-farm employment, they are less likely to resort to charcoal as a coping strategy. To estimate the overall effect of the fall armyworm on deforestation, we train a machine learning model using data from before the arrival of the FAW, to predict deforestation in absence of the FAW. We then estimate how fall armyworm suitability affects the difference between actual and predicted deforestation rates and find that areas with higher FAW suitability see a significant decrease in yields and a significant increase in deforestation. Specifically, locations with a fall armyworm suitability index 1 standard deviation above the mean experiences a 11.4% decrease in maize yields, and a 9.5% increase in deforestation. We then estimate that the elasticity of forest loss to maize yields is of 0.83, which means that for a 1% decrease in maize yields, forest loss increases by 0.83%.
This research highlights how the use of forests as a coping mechanism could lead to a vicious cycle as climate change increases agricultural shocks, forcing smallholder farmers to respond by increasing natural resource consumption and emissions. It also points to the potential benefits of providing alternative coping strategies for farmers suffering from agricultural shocks.