The Importance of Land Tenure

The Economist today highlighted some recent work by Dr Thomas Elmqvist of Stockholm University. Using a combination of Landsat satellite imagery and interviews and surveys with locals in Madagascar, they examined whether human population densities or land tenure systems were more important for determining patters of tropical deforestation.

“From the Landsat images they were able to distinguish areas of forest loss, forest gain and stable cover. Different parts of Androy exhibited different patterns. The west showed a continuous loss. The north showed continuous increase. The centre and the south appeared stable. Damagingly for the population-density theory, the western part of the region, the one area of serious deforestation, had a low population density.

This is not to say that a thin population is bad for forests; the north, where forest cover is increasing, is also sparsely populated. But what is clear is that lots of people do not necessarily harm the forest, since cover was stable in the most highly populated area, the south.

The difference between the two sparsely populated regions was that in the west, where forest cover has dwindled, neither formal nor customary tenure was enforced. In the north—only about 20km away—land rights were well defined and forest cover increased. As with ocean fisheries, so with tropical forests, everybody’s business is nobody’s business.”

Land tenure (spatial) structure was one of the variables I examined in my agent-based model of agricultural land-use decision-making in Spain. I found that whilst the neighbourhood effects were evident in patterns of land-use due to land tenure, market conditions were the primary driver of change (NB land-use/cover change in the traditional Mediterranean landscape I examined is of a markedly different type).

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