What drives household deforestation decisions? Insights from the Ecuadorian lowland rainforests
Tropical forests, and more concretely, the Amazon Basin and the Chocó-Darién, are highly affected by deforestation activities. Households are the main land-use decision-makers and are key agents for forest conservation and deforestation. Understanding the determinants of deforestation at the household level is critical for conservation policies and sustainable development. We explore the drivers of household deforestation decisions, focusing on the quality of the forest resources (timber volume potential) and the institutional environment (conservation strategies, titling, and governmental grants). Both aspects are hypothesized to influence deforestation, but there is little empirical evidence. We address the following questions: (i) Does timber availability attract more deforestation? (ii) Do conservation strategies (incentive-based programs in the Central Amazon and protected areas in the Chocó-Darién) influence deforestation decisions in household located outside the areas under conservation? (iii) Does the absence of titling increase the odds of a household to deforest? (iv) Can governmental grants for poverty alleviation help in the fight against deforestation? We estimated a logit model, where the dependent variable reflects whether or not a household cleared forest within the farm. As predictors, we included the above variables and controlled by household-specific characteristics. This study was conducted in the Central Amazon and the Chocó-Darién of Ecuador, two major deforestation fronts in the country. We found that timber volume potential is associated with a higher odds of deforesting in the Central Amazon, but with a lower odds in the Chocó-Darién. Although conservation strategies can influence household decisions, the eects are context-dependent. Households near the incentive-based program (Central Amazon) have a lower odds of deforesting, whereas households near a protected area (Chocó-Darién) showed the opposite effect. Titling is also important for deforestation reduction; more attention is needed in the Chocó-Darién where numerous households are living in untitled lands. Finally, governmental grants for poverty alleviation showed the potential to generate positive environmental outcomes.