UN: $200bn agricultural subsidies driving deforestation

International governments could be unwittingly driving deforestation through misguided agricultural subsidies, a new UN brief has found.


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The report examines the forest-food nexus, which is becoming evermore strained by the need to increase food production by up to 70% by 2050.

However, current subsidy support systems are ineffective for increasing crop yields and harmful for forests, the report claims.

“The negative impact of subsidies on forest cover is often caused by outdated and incoherent policies,” explained United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) executive director Achim Steiner.

“Any government-led effort to bolster agricultural productivity should account for the broader implications of such schemes.”

Drawing on examples from Ecuador, Indonesia, Brazil, India and 10 other countries, the study demonstrates that subsidies for fertilizers and irrigation water often fail to increase yields and can instead contribute to a waste of resources and environmental damage to tropical forests.

The report cites best practices from developed and developing countries, where reversing perverse incentives significantly reduced deforestation.

In Niger for example, the Government scrapped a policy which encouraged farmers to remove trees from their estates. The change led to the regeneration of 4.8 million hectares of land and an increase of farmer household incomes of 18 – 24%.

“I encourage policy makers to consider the case studies in this report as they work to orient agricultural policy toward green economy fundamentals,” added Steiner.

Global problem

The report follows a study published yesterday (3 September) in the Nature journal, which found that humans are still removing around 15 billion trees a year. Studies estimate that deforestation is responsible for around 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Meanwhile, a Leicester University study also released today highlights the importance of trees in an urban setting as well as forests. The Leicester University researches found that trees in cities throughout the UK could be significantly improving the quality of air by decreasing pollution levels for pedestrians.

Lead researcher Dr Roland Leigh explains more in the following video.

Brad Allen

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