The Effects of Agricultural Technological Progress on Deforestation: What Do We Really Know?

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Increasing agricultural yields seem an obvious way to satisfy increasing demands for food and fuel while minimizing expansion of agriculture into forest areas; however, an influential literature worries that promoting agricultural innovation could enhance agriculture's profitability thereby encouraging deforestation. Clarifying the effects of agricultural technological progress on deforestation is therefore crucial for designing effective policy responses to the challenges faced by global agriculture. In this article we review the empirical evidence on these effects and synthesize estimates of future global cropland expansion. Our main insights are that: (i) the empirical evidence on a positive link between regional technological progress and deforestation is much weaker than what seems generally accepted; (ii) at a global level, most analysts expect broad based technological progress to be land saving; however, composition effects are important as low-yield, land-abundant regions are likely to experience further land expansion. Toward the future, empirical work understanding how localized technological progress in agriculture transmits through international trade and commodity markets will help to bridge the gap between the findings of local, econometric, studies on the one hand and global, model based, studies on the other.

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