Demand for beef is unrelated to pasture expansion in northwestern Amazonia


For decades, pastures have replaced Amazon forests, threatening biodiversity. Two dominant hypotheses explain this process. First, according to the hamburger connection beef markets promote conversion of forests into cattle ranches resulting in deforestation. Second, the land-as-wealth hypothesis explains deforestation as the result of land appreciation in forest frontiers. We tested these hypotheses using land use and socioeconomic data from northwestern Amazonia from 2000 to 2009. We also investigated two key control variables: coca cultivation and eradication, both of which have been proposed as important drivers of forest loss. We found high rate of conversion from forest to pasture, and unimpeded forest fragmentation. As predicted by the hamburger connection, pastures expanded as the cattle inventory grew. Beef demand did not drive pasture expansion, as ranching revenues declined and beef prices were roughly stable. Coca cultivation did not respond to the eradication campaign, and declined as the population became increasingly urbanized. We propose that investment on roads has enhanced the anticipated value of land. Cattle bolster land claims and can be used as financial collateral, so they have inherent value even without market exchange. Cattle can then increase despite stable beef prices and declining ranching revenues. To protect biodiversity, policy interventions that enhance the value of standing forests are needed to slow deforestation and fragmentation in these rapidly changing landscapes.

Biological Conservation 170, 64-73
Liliana M. Dávalos
Liliana M. Dávalos
Professor of Conservation Biology

I’m interested in how biology and the environment shape biodiversity in time and space.