Projects Funded for Elisabeth Sadoulet


Determinants of Deforestation in Mexico


Specific Objectives of the Project

Mexico has been one of the fastest deforesting countries in the world, usually as a consequence of logging and fires to transform natural forests into pasture and farm land. Rapid and uncontrolled deforestation is threatening rainfall patterns in the MesoAmerican and US Southern areas, including California. Mexico is a world Valivov center, so this deforestation has heavy costs on biodiversity, for instance on the Monarch population that reproduces in Mexican forests before flying to California, the United States, and Canada. Forest fires are also a major source of CO2 release that contributes to global climate change. Haze from forest fires is known to affect agriculture in the United States and can be a threat to public health. More effective forestry and land tenure policies are urgently needed in Mexico. These policy issues should be c onsidered as bi-national initiatives as they affect climate, biodiversity, carbon release, and health on the two sides of the border.

Summary of Results

Economic theory predicts that well-defined private property rights over land incentivize efficient transactions between owners, efficient levels of investment as well as optimal allocation across different uses. Thus a strengthening of property rights and the subsequent reduction in tenure insecurity should affect allocations of land across forest, agriculture and forest, depending on the relative returns to each use. As a part of Mexico's second agrarian reform in 1993, the Programa de Certificacion de Derechos Ejidales y Titulacion de Solares (Procede) was implemented to certify all land in Mexico's ejido communities. Using LANDSAT images of ejido and non-ejido land to characterize land use and suitability for different uses in Mexico over this period, we find that the average ejido does in fact alter its allocation of land across forest, agriculture and pasture in response to certification. While the average results indicate that Procede had a positive effect on forest (31 ha.), an offsetting negative effect on pasture (29 ha.), and no effect on agriculture, we explore further heterogeneity based on land suitability. The pattern suggests that strengthening property rights induced a shift in land allocation towards one that better fits the underlying characteristics of the land. In total, the area deforested over 1990-2010 would have been approximately 14 percent higher, there would have been 26 thousand fewer hectares of cultivated land, and 712 thousand more hectares of pasture had Procede not been implemented and ejido land left uncertified.