Shifting cultivation and forest pressure in Cameroon


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Shifting cultivation is often blamed as a principal cause of deforestation in tropical Africa. It is claimed that the practice is unsustainable because shortened fallow lengths result in soils too degraded to support forest vegetation. The decline in fallow lengths is often attributed to increases in population density and greater market participation. The conventional wisdom makes several claims that are as yet unsubstantiated. This article investigates whether there is evidence to support two of these claims in southern Cameroon. First, using both cross-sectional and panel data, I find that there is indeed a robust negative association between fallow lengths and population density in the study area and weaker evidence for a negative relationship between fallow lengths and market participation. Second, a stochastic frontier production function approach is used to investigate the marginal contribution of fallow to output. Results indicate that fallow lengths are not low enough to be affecting yields and therefore do not appear to be resulting in declines in soil fertility. Thus overall, while some of the assumptions of the conventional wisdom appear to be true, there is little evidence to support its dramatic conclusion that shifting cultivators are causing deforestation in the forested region of Cameroon.