High coffee prices were responsible for a marked increase in deforestation on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, say researchers in a report in Mongabay.com.
But they added that law enforcement efforts could deter deforestation in protected areas, despite high pressure from agricultural expansion.
The study was assessing the effectiveness of conservation in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park in southern Sumatra.
Using satellite imagery, ecological data, interviews, and GIS modelling to map tropical deforestation in and around Bukit Barisan Selatan over a 34-year period, lead author David Gaveau and colleagues found that law enforcement effectively “reduced deforestation to nil” in areas where it was undertaken.
In remote parts of the park where enforcement activities were lax or non-existent, forest areas were rapidly replaced by low-grade robusta coffee plantations, expansion of which was found to be closely correlated with coffee prices.
An estimated 20,000 tonnes – about 4% of Indonesia’s overall annual robusta coffee production – were produced inside this national park in 2006, and were exported into 52 countries around the world, reported the WWF in 2007.
The abandonment of the park by authorities during, and following, the 1997-1998 political crisis also resulted in increased deforestation.
“These findings indicate that law enforcement is critical but insufficient alone, and also highlight that rising costs of agricultural commodities can be detrimental to tropical forests,” said Dr Gaveau, a researcher with the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology and the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Indonesia Programme.
“In southern Sumatra, farmers grow coffee instead of working elsewhere (e.g. in the off-farm sector) because rural labour is poorly compensated (around $2 per day).
“Therefore, higher local prices for coffee combined with low labour costs, rather than coffee price per se, is the underlying cause of deforestation in Indonesia’s main robusta coffee producing region.”
The authors argue that preserving forests in Bukit Barisan Selatan over the long-run will require a strategy that reduces the incentives for coffee cultivation.
They discuss merits of certification schemes for “sustainable” coffee as well as intensification of production, but conclude that raising rural wages relative to coffee prices, in concert with other measures, offers the best long-term hope for curtailing conversion for coffee in the Bukit Barisan Selatan area.
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