Tropical Mixed Agroforestry

Sep 1, 2008

Tropical Mixed Agroforestry: Understanding the Drivers of Land Use Change

In many tropical countries, mixed agroforestry systems—in which crops such as coffee, cocoa, and bananas are planted alongside trees—are important sources of ecological benefits. For example, in El Salvador, the most densely populated and heavily deforested country in Latin America, shade coffee plays a critical role in preventing soil erosion, facilitating aquifer recharge, and harboring biodiversity.

Allen Blackman
RFF Senior Fellow

Download the Report (PDF)


Effective policy design for conserving these benefits requires understanding the drivers of land use change in mixed agroforestry systems. While clearing of natural forests tends to occur close to urban centers, mixed agroforestry becomes more profitable the closer it is to markets.

RFF Senior Fellow Allen Blackman, with colleagues Beatriz Ávalos-Sartorio and Jeffrey Chow, recently completed a detailed spatial econometric analysis of land use changes in El Salvador’s shade coffee growing regions. Their results indicate that clearing in shade coffee areas tends to occur farther from markets—the opposite of patterns generally observed in natural forests. However, this result is heavily influenced by the characteristics of the growing area, in particular, the dominant use of cleared land. For example, plots farther from export markets were more likely to be cleared only if they were in primarily rural areas instead of in the urban periphery.

The lesson for policy, the authors conclude, is that conservation efforts should be targeted and tailored, taking into account the institutional and socioeconomic characteristics of different regions. One-size-fits-all policies and programs aimed at expanding or retaining agroforestry systems are likely to be ineffective and inefficient when applied on broad geographical scales.

Beatriz Ávalos-Sartorio is the director of academic development at the Polytechnic University of Morelos. Jeffrey Chow is a doctoral candidate at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies

Figure One: Major Coffee Growing Areas in 1993

Figure two: Clearing Between 1990 and 2000 in Major Coffee Growing Areas