Livestock and Deforestation Central America in the 1980s and 1990s: A Policy Perspective

Livestock and Deforestation Central America in the 1980s and 1990s: A Policy Perspective


Between the 1980s and the 1980s, Central America experienced significant land-cover change, most of which was conversion of forest to pasture. Yet the economic and ecological trade-offs of converting land typically do not favor the process. Thus, this study seeks to understand why this change occurred. In each section of this paper, the author explores on of seven explanations for the dominant land-cover change: 1) favourable markets for livestock products; 2) subsidised credit and road construction; 3) land tenure policies; 4) limited technological change in livestock production; 5) policies which reduce timber values; 6) reduced levels of political violence; and 7) characteristics specific to cattle which make conversion attractive.

Conclusions & Takeaways

Starting in the late 1980s, there was a decrease in land conversion throughout Central America. Yet, the author stresses that in order to promote a further decline one must go beyond eliminating subsidies and financial incentives for cattle ranching. Instead, he overs the following recommendations: 1) restrictions on road construction and livestock credit in agricultural frontier areas; 2) increased enforcement of land-use restrictions in protected areas; 3) the expansion of land rights for indigenous peoples; 4) stronger restrictions on the titling of natural lands by large landholders; 5) pilot efforts to establish local land taxes with higher rates for pasture and crop lands than for forest; and 6) economic incentives for secondary forest regeneration and research on pasture degradation in Central America.


Kaimowitz, David. Livestock and deforestation in Central America in the 1980s and 1990s: a policy perspective. No. 9. Cifor, 1996.


  • Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)
  • International Food Policy Research Institute