Indigenous communities, land use, and tropical deforestation – INCLUDE

Photo: Zhanli Sun

Tropical deforestation releases massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, making it a major contributor to climate change. The main cause of deforestation is agricultural expansion, followed by extraction of commodities. The INCLUDE project examines deforestation in the dry Chaco of the Argentine province of Salta.

Encompassing over six million hectares of forest, the Chaco Salteño belongs to the Great American Chaco, the second-largest tropical forest on the American continent after the Amazon. Chaco Salteño also exhibits one of the fastest deforestation rates in the world: between 1970 and 2015, an area of forest about the size of two football pitches was cut down every minute, on average.

Deforestation of the Chaco Salteño through 2015. Source:

The region is home to considerable ethnic and cultural diversity, including criollos (small-scale livestock farmers of European descent) and indigenous peoples.

Actors and their influence on developments

The research project examines the following three themes:

  1. Governance structures and land use policy in the province of Salta
  2. Sustainable land management practices among small-scale livestock farmers
  3. Deforestation narratives: Indigenous peoples’ perspectives

Governance structures and land use policy in the province of Salta

Ten years after the introduction of a new forest law, the INCLUDE project examines the governance structures that were created to implement sustainable forest management. The main project objective here is:

  • To identify the relevant networks of stakeholders from state agencies, civil society, the private sector, universities, NGOs, and forest communities, as well as
  • To determine how the different stakeholders who make up the collaborative governance system influence policy implementation, forest management, and land use change.

Sustainable land management practices among small-scale livestock farmers

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. Marginal land areas, formally owned by absentee landowners, suddenly gained in value. The 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.

In this context, the project investigates

  • Whether and how different agricultural practices help to reduce conflicts between criollos and other forest users, such as indigenous communities
  • How formal land tenure impacts the introduction of specific land/forest management practices designed to reduce land/forest degradation and improve economic viability
  • What major obstacles prevent smallholders from obtaining land titles.
Filmed and edited by David Pire and Rodrigo Montani

Deforestation narratives: Indigenous peoples’ 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 contradictions add to tensions within the community.

In this context, the project examines

  • The complex ways in which local indigenous peoples are caught up in larger socio-economic processes (especially agricultural expansion) and
  • How dominant ideologies and ideas crystalize among indigenous forest inhabitants, and how these in turn influence land and forest use.
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