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The Afterlives of Degraded Tropical Forests

New Value for Conservation and Development

Jenny E. Goldstein

An extensive body of research in the natural and social sciences has assessed the social, economic, and ecological causes of tropical forest degradation and forests' subsequent reduction in value. This article, however, takes the afterlives of degraded forests as its point of departure to ask how they are being reconsidered as valuable through conservation and development potential. Through a critical review of recent biophysical and social science literature on tropical forest degradation, this article first assesses the definitional and methodological foundations of tropical forest degradation. It then suggests that recent scholarship on the reincorporation of waste and wasteland into capitalist circuits of production offers one route to consider the value of degraded forests. Finally, this article reviews some of the ways in which these tropical forests are being considered economically and/or ecologically valuable through current conservation and developmental trajectories.

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Ariela Zycherman

The expansion and intensification of agriculture is a major driver of deforestation in tropical forests and for global climate change. However, over the past decade Brazil has significantly reduced its deforestation rates while simultaneously increasing its agricultural production, particularly cattle and soy. While, the scholarly literature primarily attributes this success to environmental policy and global economic trends, recent ethnographic depictions of cattle ranchers and soy farmers offer deeper insight into how these political and economic processes are experienced on the ground. Examples demonstrate that policy and markets provide a framework for soy farming and ranching, but emerging forms of identity and new cultural values shape their practices. This article argues that to understand the full picture of why Brazil’s deforestation rates have dropped while the agricultural industry has flourished, the culture of producers must be present in the analysis.