Research ArticleAGRICULTURE

Formalizing land rights can reduce forest loss: Experimental evidence from Benin

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Science Advances  26 Jun 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 26, eabb6914
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abb6914

Abstract

Many countries are formalizing customary land rights systems with the aim of improving agricultural productivity and facilitating community forest management. This paper evaluates the impact on tree cover loss of the first randomized control trial of such a program. Around 70,000 landholdings were demarcated and registered in randomly chosen villages in Benin, a country with a high rate of deforestation driven by demand for agricultural land. We estimate that the program reduced the area of forest loss in treated villages, with no evidence of anticipatory deforestation or negative spillovers to other areas. Surveys indicate that possible mechanisms include an increase in tenure security and an improvement in the effectiveness of community forest management. Overall, our results suggest that formalizing customary land rights in rural areas can be an effective way to reduce forest loss while improving agricultural investments.

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