Why forests in indigenous and TRIBAL territories have been better conserved

e. Low profitability of agriculture and limited accessibility

In general, locations with less access to markets and services, infertile soils, steep slopes, and high precipitation generally have lower deforestation rates (Kaimowitz and Angelsen, 1998). Commercial agriculture is less profitable there. Throughout the tropics deforestation is lower in places farther from highways and secondary roads (Angelsen, 2010).

In Latin America and the Caribbean indigenous and tribal peoples and other traditional communities, such as riverine communities and caboclos, have historically been among the main inhabitants in such places. Since Colonial times, the Spaniards and later mestizos have tended to occupy locations suitable for intensive agriculture first and have had less presence in forest areas inhabited by indigenous peoples. Meanwhile, many African slaves or their descendants fled to remote forest zones to escape slavery and exploitation, where they created quilombos, palenques, and other types of communal territories. The remoteness and inaccessibility of these areas made them less profitable for commercial agriculture and harder for other groups to get there. Many of these inaccessible forest areas were very humid, had acidic soils, and/or flooded frequently. Endemic diseases such as malaria and yellow fever discouraged outside settlers from entering these areas or drove them off (Sawyer, 1993; Asenso-Okyere et al., 2009). Hence, it is not surprising that indigenous and tribal territories have more forest cover and less deforestation.

Even so, lack of roads, infertile soils, humid climates, and widespread diseases do not fully explain the differences in deforestation rates between indigenous and tribal territories and other forest areas. Multiples studies show that even when one compares forests in indigenous territories with other forests that have similar ecological conditions and access to markets and services, the former have lower deforestation rates (Nelson, Harris, and Stone, 2001; Nelson and Chomitz, 2011; Nolte et al., 2013; Blackman et al., 2017; Blackman and Veit, 2018; Jusys, 2018).26

  • 26 The evidence is less clear in the case of the Ecuadorian Amazon. One study there found that differences in access to markets and ecological conditions explained almost all the difference in deforestation rates (Blackman and Veit, 2018), while another study found the opposite (Hollande et al., 2014).