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Copyright © 2001 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance.

The following is the established format for referencing this article:
Mannon, S. E. 2001. Book Review: Barraclough, S. L., and K. B. Ghimire. 2000. Agricultural expansion and tropical deforestation: poverty, international trade and land use. Earthscan, Sterling, Virginia, USA. Conservation Ecology 5(2): 7. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol5/iss2/art7/

Book Review

Barraclough, S. L., and K. B. Ghimire. 2000. Agricultural Expansion and Tropical Deforestation: Poverty, International Trade and Land Use. Earthscan, Sterling, Virginia, USA

Susan E. Mannon

University of Wisconsin

Published: December 6, 2001

A leading theory about the causes of tropical deforestation argues that international trade fuels rapid agricultural expansion, thus leading to deforestation. In Agricultural Expansion and Tropical Deforestation: Poverty, International Trade and Land Use (2000), Solon L. Barraclough and Krishna B. Ghimire investigate and question this theory. The contradictory evidence they present on the relationship between trade, agriculture, and deforestation suggests that such questioning is long overdue.

Barraclough and Ghimire argue that, although agricultural expansion and international trade are key factors driving deforestation, their effects are largely context specific. Thus, their book focuses on social actors (e.g., individuals, corporations, government officials), policies (e.g., land use, forest, trade), and institutions (e.g., government, economic, land tenure), using five countries as case studies. There are three noteworthy aspects to this book: the case-study approach, the discussion on agricultural expansion, and the discussion on international trade. These cornerstones are the source of both the book's strengths and its weaknesses.

In light of evidence showing that deforestation varies over time and space, Barraclough and Ghimire use a case-study approach. They highlight Brazil, Guatemala, Cameroon, Malaysia, and China, all of which are experiencing intense deforestation. However, it is unclear why the authors chose these particular countries. In Table 2.6, they categorize developing countries according to whether the amount of agricultural land, forest land, and "other land" has increased or decreased. ("Other land" here includes land used for industrial, infrastructural, and urban development.) In that the authors are trying to understand a complex relationship, it would have made sense to choose a country from each category. They did not. Nor did they provide an adequate explanation of their "sampling procedure."

Case-study approaches work best when the cases are a representative sample and/or when the cases differ along one or two important axes. The selected case-study countries do not meet these criteria. Although the descriptive data in the areas studied are rich and informative, and the reader learns a lot about Brazil, Guatemala, Cameroon, Malaysia, and China, little information is provided about the general process of deforestation.

Previous studies suggest that agricultural expansion is a significant factor in deforestation in some developing countries, but not in others. This book presents existing data clearly and concisely in a number of tables in Chapter 2. Beginning in Chapter 3, the authors outline the extent to which agricultural expansion can be blamed for deforestation in the case-study areas under examination. They find that, in all cases, most forests were cleared for the purposes of "other land", with a much smaller area cleared for agricultural expansion. In fact, it appears from these case studies that deforestation has relatively little to do with agricultural expansion. Where there is a connection, as in Cameroon and Guatemala, the relationship is mitigated by larger industrial development policies. In Brazil, Malaysia, and China, industrialization programs, growing manufacturing sectors, and rapidly expanding urban populations are the main culprits behind deforestation.

When we dig beneath the surface, we find that "agricultural expansion" is less about poor peasants clearing land for subsistence production, and more about state-directed industrial development. Both the easy-to-read tables and the descriptive case-study data point to this fact. However, the book would have benefited from both a clearer discussion of the effects of industrialization on deforestation and a clearer title. Such a focus might also have helped do away with the prevailing myth that it is poor peasants who are at the root of the deforestation crisis.

As Barraclough and Ghimire describe, expanding commodity exports have been a main cause of agricultural expansion and hence deforestation in some countries. However, the authors note that it is difficult to tell if agricultural expansion is due more to domestic consumption than to international trade. For example, in China, domestic industries and consumers constitute the primary demand for agricultural and forest products; most of China's overseas trade is in manufactured products. The authors are correct in identifying international trade as a key variable. Export-led development has been the foundation upon which developing economies have attempted to modernize since the 1950s. However, the book's title and introduction misled me a bit. The impact of international trade on deforestation encompasses far more than the overseas demand for agricultural products. It includes the export-oriented focus of economic activity in these countries, the structural adjustment policies that ignore most negative environmental impacts, and the market volatility that disrupts development.

Any discussion of deforestation in the developing world must take issue with structural adjustment policies and related neo-liberal fiscal reforms. These policies tend to favor trade at the expense of the environment. Poor countries burdened with enormous debts have less freedom to develop and adopt sustainable development strategies. The absence of such a discussion in this book is felt most profoundly in Chapter 5, the final chapter, in which the authors offer a brief review of possible solutions. As the authors note, social welfare and sustainable use of natural resources have not long been the priority of most agencies responsible for setting the development agenda (page 123). This is the reason they give why the book does not focus on international policies and institutions, or on industrialized nations (page 135). Here, we finally have a discussion of structural adjustment policies and rigid fiscal measures that have "...discouraged developing countries from adopting socially and ecologically friendly strategies..." (Barraclough and Ghismire 2000: 135).

Agricultural Expansion and Tropical Deforestation takes a critical approach to the issue of deforestation. Despite the problems with sample selection noted above, the case studies are interesting to read and illuminating. Indeed, the data tell us much about the factors leading to deforestation: a neo-liberal trade climate, rapid industrialization and urbanization, and rigid fiscal and privatization policies. Unfortunately, there is little synthesis of these points nor do the title or introduction give an adequate indication of the focus of the book. Nevertheless, for those well versed in the issue of deforestation, the data contained in this book will be useful and insightful.


Barraclough, S. L., and K. B. Ghimire. 2000. Agricultural Expansion and Tropical Deforestation: Poverty, International Trade and Land Use. Earthscan, Sterling, Virginia, USA. 200pp., hardcover, US$60.00. ISBN 1853836664.


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Barraclough, S. L., and K. B. Ghimire. 2000. Agricultural expansion and tropical deforestation: poverty, international trade and land use. Earthscan, Sterling, Virginia, USA.

Address of Correspondent:
Susan E. Mannon
University of Wisconsin
8128 Social Science Building
1180 Observatory Drive
Madison, WI 53706 USA
Phone: (773)929-6598

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