Fighting Deforestation and Poverty Go Hand In Hand In Indonesia

Deforestation in Berau, Kalimantan, Indonesia     Photo: Mahastra Wibisono, Newsweek

A new study published yesterday in the journal Science Advances found that in Indonesia, a country with bountiful but highly exploited natural resources, a national anti-poverty program also reduced deforestation as a side benefit. The program uses conditional cash transfers (CCTs) to elevate families over the poverty line, an increasingly popular way to provide assistance, conditional on taking specific actions related to education and health.  As a result, families did not need to resort to clearing forests to make ends meet or grow more food during difficult times.  The researchers compared satellite images of areas where the government made CCTs to those where they did not and found a distinct increase in forest cover in those with cash assistance.

Why This Matters: Indonesia is one of the poorest nations in the world, and has the third-largest amount of tropical rain forest.  It also, according to Global Forest Watch, is the country with the third-highest rate of rainforest loss in the world in 2019. Due to this loss, Indonesia is also the fifth-largest emitter of greenhouse gasses in the world, according to the World Resources Institute. A program that curbs deforestation and cuts greenhouse gas emissions in Indonesia while reducing poverty seems like a no-brainer. 

Big Benefits, Small Dollars

When compared to the costs of climate change, the Indonesia program’s benefit of keeping Indonesian rain forests intact more than justifies it.  One of the study authors argued in Science News that the economic benefits of saving the forests “justify the intervention.”  It also demonstrates that a healthy environment and strong economy are not at odds with one another — it is possible to have both.  One of the authors told Newsweek, “For decades, people have been debating whether alleviating poverty and protecting the environment are at odds with each other. Resolving this debate is important because lots of poor people are found in the same areas where we find the most endangered ecosystems, like the rainforest.”

Accidental Impact

Most interesting is the fact that the environmental benefits of reducing forest loss were not the objective of the program.  “We found that modest, but persistent, transfers of cash to extremely poor households reduced deforestation by about 30 percent. That result is surprising given that the cash transfers were not contingent on reducing deforestation and there were “many possible economic paths through which the cash might have had deleterious effects on the forests,” one author explained.  Instead, the goals were increasing education and health — that is what the CCTs were incentivizing.  The question is whether this type of cash transfer in other poor countries could have the same effect.  There are 16 tropical countries that currently have some form of anti-poverty cash payment program.  The authors believe that CCTs in other Asian countries may have the same impact.

Up Next

Trump To Reopen Largest National Forest to Development, Rejecting Environmental and Cultural Importance

Trump To Reopen Largest National Forest to Development, Rejecting Environmental and Cultural Importance

by Amy Lupica, ODP Contributing Writer On Friday, just one day before National Public Lands Day, the Trump administration moved to expand development in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, the largest national forest in the United States as well as the largest remaining temperate rainforest in the world. About 55% of the forest is currently protected […]

Continue Reading 621 words
What’s to Blame for CA Fires, Forest Management or Climate Change?

What’s to Blame for CA Fires, Forest Management or Climate Change?

As wildfires across the West continue to rage, President Trump has continued to push the message that the cause of the fires is solely due to poor forest management. It’s not a new message for Republicans, but science unequivocally points to the ways in which climate change is supercharging wildfires. Ezra Romero, an environmental reporter […]

Continue Reading 423 words
Deforestation in Afghanistan Multiplies Climate and Security Threats

Deforestation in Afghanistan Multiplies Climate and Security Threats

by Julia Fine, ODP Contributing Writer As Stefanie Glinski reported for the Thomson Reuters Foundation this week, large-scale deforestation in Afghanistan, due primarily to the past 40 years of war, has advanced flooding in the country (as trees prevent soil erosion and serve as a buffer against flooding). According to Glinski, “Trees have long been […]

Continue Reading 646 words

Want the planet in your inbox?

Subscribe to the email that top lawmakers, renowned scientists, and thousands of concerned citizens turn to each morning for the latest environmental news and analysis.