Discussion Paper

Tree Cover Loss in El Salvador's Shade Coffee Areas

May 15, 2007 | Allen Blackman, Beatriz Ávalos Sartorio, Jeffrey Chow

Abstract

Shade coffee farms in Central America provide important ecological services. But because international coffee prices have fallen since 1990, many have been cleared to make way for more remunerative land uses. This problem is of particular concern in heavily deforested El Salvador, where a large share of the remaining tree cover is associated with shade coffee. We use satellite images, stakeholder interviews, and secondary data to analyze the magnitude, characteristics, and drivers of clearing in El Salvador’s shade coffee areas during the 1990s. We find that 13 percent of these areas was cleared, mostly in middle- and high-altitude regions. Falling coffee prices were not the only drivers of this phenomenon, however: a downward spiral of on-farm investment and yields, debt, poverty, urbanization, migration, and weak land use regulation also contributed. Our findings suggest that stricter enforcement of land use and land cover regulations is urgently needed to prevent further clearing.