Tropical forest loss enhanced by large-scale land acquisitions

Kyle Frankel Davis*, Heejin Irene Koo, Jampel Dell’Angelo, Paolo D’Odorico, Lyndon Estes, Laura J. Kehoe, Milad Kharratzadeh, Tobias Kuemmerle, Domingos Machava, Aurélio de Jesus Rodrigues Pais, Natasha Ribeiro, Maria Cristina Rulli, Mokganedi Tatlhego

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Tropical forests are vital for global biodiversity, carbon storage and local livelihoods, yet they are increasingly under threat from human activities. Large-scale land acquisitions have emerged as an important mechanism linking global resource demands to forests in the Global South, yet their influence on tropical deforestation remains unclear. Here we perform a multicountry assessment of the links between large-scale land acquisitions and tropical forest loss by combining a new georeferenced database of 82,403 individual land deals—covering 15 countries in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia—with data on annual forest cover and loss between 2000 and 2018. We find that land acquisitions cover between 6% and 59% of study-country land area and between 2% and 79% of their forests. Compared with non-investment areas, large-scale land acquisitions were granted in areas of higher forest cover in 11 countries and had higher forest loss in 52% of cases. Oil palm, wood fibre and tree plantations were consistently linked with enhanced forest loss while logging and mining concessions showed a mix of outcomes. Our findings demonstrate that large-scale land acquisitions can lead to elevated deforestation of tropical forests, highlighting the role of local policies in the sustainable management of these ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)482-494
Number of pages13
JournalNature Geoscience
Issue number7
Early online date22 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020


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