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How does the global commodity collapse impact forest conservation?

Since early 2014, prices for most commodities produced in the tropics have plunged. Palm oil is down by 40 percent, logs from Malaysia and Cameroon are off by roughly a fifth, while soybeans have fallen by a third and beef a tenth. The price drop for industrial commodities like metals, minerals, oil and gas has been even more severe in some cases. The market rout is wreaking havoc on the state budgets of developing countries, curbing investment, and pushing producers to scale back on output and postpone plans for expansion.

In isolation, these developments would seem to be good news for tropical forests. After all, reduced investment and lower financial returns will make it less profitable for industries to exploit marginal lands for plantations, commercial agriculture, or resource extraction. Lower land prices may also make it cheaper to acquire or set aside areas for conservation.

But the reality is more complex: experts say low commodities prices can reduce government spending on programs for conservation, spur changes in land use including increased subsistence agriculture, provoke political pressure to reduce forest protection, and trigger different forms of investment that endanger forests.

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By Rhett Ayers Butler

Rhett Ayers Butler is the Founder and CEO of Mongabay, a non-profit conservation and environmental science news platform. He started Mongabay in 1999 with the mission of raising interest in and appreciation of wild lands and wildlife.

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