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Indigenous Communities, Land Use and Tropical Deforestation

Periodic Reporting for period 4 - INCLUDE (Indigenous Communities, Land Use and Tropical Deforestation)

Reporting period: 2020-10-01 to 2021-10-31

Tropical deforestation releases massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, making it a major contributor to climate change. The main direct cause of deforestation in tropical is agricultural expansion. The project examines deforestation in the dry Chaco of the Argentine province of Salta.
The region is home to considerable ethnic and cultural diversity, including criollos (small-scale livestock farmers of European descent) and indigenous peoples.
The research project examines five main themes, as discussed below.

Theme 1: The governance structure behind the land use policies in the province of Salta.
Ten years after the introduction of a new forest law, the project examines the governance structures that were created to implement sustainable forest management.

Theme 2: Sustainable land management practices
The introduction of genetically modified soybean varieties in the 1990s and high international prices for commodities like maize, soya, rice, and wheat led to expansion of agriculture in the province of Salta. On one hand this resulted in vast deforestation, to the detriment of displaced indigenous communities. On the other hand, marginal land areas, formally owned by absentee landowners, suddenly gained in value. As a result, small-scale livestock farmers (criollos), who lived in these areas for many years without any formal title, have been increasingly displaced. Land conflicts have increased – as has land degradation.

Theme 3: Deforestation narratives from the indigenous people’s perspectives
Indigenous communities, whose identities are rooted in “traditional” uses of forest flora and fauna, are faced with finding other sources of livelihood. Lacking alternatives, they are often forced to sell their labour in activities involving deforestation. This places them in conflict with local environmental laws – and ultimately their own identity. These predicaments add to tensions within the community.
Theme 4: Actors perspectives on deforestation and Environmental Justice
Besides the three themes described above, the project has benefitted from the collaboration with an independently funded researcher, who has been looking at the problem of deforestation in the region of Salta from an Environmental Justice (EJ) perspective.

Theme 5: The impact of deforestation on indigenous peoples
The aboriginal people of the Chaco Saltenho are possibly those who are being mostly affected by deforestation in the region. The loss of natural forests and their conversion to agriculture, a process that has occurred in different phases over the past four centuries, implies the end of the world for indigenous peoples. The consequences include the impairment of cultural and social reproduction, expulsions and the impossibility of economic reproduction. The project aims at recompiling in a systematic way the available knowledge, based on extensive fieldwork carried out in the past by one of the researchers.

Theme 6: Comparative analysis of the implementation of the forest law in the Chaco ecoregion
The Chaco ecoregion in Argentina spans across twelve different provinces. Each of the provinces has implemented the national forest law in quite a different way. To this day a systematic analysis of the reasons behind such a heterogeneous implementation, whose consequences in terms of protection of the remaining forests are of paramount importance, does not exist.
The first year of the project was dedicated to a preliminary understanding of the institutional context (i.e. the Forest Law in the province of Salta), the type of conflicts related to deforestation and land use cover change in the region, the actors involved in the institutional processes and in the conflicts, their motivations, interests and concerns.

A more intense fieldwork phase took place in the second year of the project, which resulted in several important achievements in terms of understanding of the context and the problem at hand. From the institutional point of view, several important policy fora, relevant to the implementation and the reform of the forest law in Salta, were studied through mixed methods. In practice, these methods included both using Social Network Analysis (SNA) to study the core beliefs of the various institutional actors and their relationships, and qualitative research methods to obtain an understanding of the actors’ discourses and policy orientation.
A second important aspect that has been studied pertains to the identification of sustainable land management practices (SLMPs) among small-scale farmers and the drivers and barriers to their adoption. Such practices include the implantation of various forms of pasture within the forests, the fencing of pasture fields, the sale of young veal calves and so on.
A third important aspect studied during the second year of the project looks at the perceptions of deforestation of the various stakeholders (namely small-scale producers, large-scale producers, indigenous peoples, government and NGOs) by applying the framework of Environmental Justice. Q-methodology has been deployed to carry out this part of the study.
Another part of the fieldwork has concentrated in building rapport with the indigenous communities to be able to understand their views on deforestation. This part of the project has then been further developed by looking at the narratives of the indigenous peoples, building on the extensive ethnographic fieldwork of one of the team members..
In the last year of the project, the team has also been looking at the implementation of the Argentinian forest law beyond the province of Salta, focusing on the whole Chaco ecoregion. The region, encompassing twelve provinces, is characterised by high heterogeneity in the way the forest law is being implemented. The team therefore undertook a comparative analysis to obtain a systematic understanding of such heterogeneity. In doing so the team developed a new theoretical perspective, which merges the socio-ecological systems (SES) approach with process ecology and historical materialism and relies on qualitative comparative analysis to understand how different configurations of underlying factors lead to different institutional outcomes.
Lastly, some of the research efforts of the team have been devoted to characterising important drivers of deforestation in the broader Latin American region. This work has resulted in some important publications. The most prominent, published in Nature Sustainability, focuses on the role of wealth concentration among the super-rich in driving investment flows in agriculture in the Global South and thus promoting deforestation.
One of the most important results obtained so far, relate to the characterization of the governance structure associated with the implementation of the forest law in the province of Salta.
Another important result relates to the identification and systematic description of various SLMPs which could be adopted by small-scale farmers and reduce the intensity of the and conflicts in the region.
An additional important result pertains to the characterization of the perceptions of the various actors in the region with respect to deforestation and the loss of natural habitat.
Finally, the result relates to the extraction of narratives of indigenous peoples with respect to the impact of deforestation on their social, cultural and economic reproduction.