Table 1 Commonly assumed or observed social-ecological relationships in local, agricultural, developing world contexts.

We emphasize that none of these assumptions are “right” or “wrong” but will apply in some cases and not in others, or offer a different level of explanation for the same relationship. This literature review is intended to be representative rather than exhaustive. We use some of these assumptions to build multidimensional poverty trap models.

RelationshipAssumption/observationUse in models
Poverty and environmental
Poor people degrade the environment: Poor people are heavily resource-
dependent; they have no other option than to exploit and degrade natural
resources (37, 77). This relationship is empirically observed (26, 78).
Subsistence trap model
(Fig. 3, C to E)
Poor people do not degrade the environment: No evidence for causal relationship
between poverty and biodiversity loss (79, 80). Poor people are often those
with strong traditions of agricultural practice, which creates and maintains
biodiversity and other features of agricultural landscapes (31, 32, 81).
Medium or large landholders can be the primary perpetrators
of deforestation (82). See also justification for intensification degrades.
Intensification trap model
[Figs. 2 (D to I)
and 3 (A and B)]
Poor people degrade the environment but this is due to political and
socioeconomic relations: Environmental degradation by the poor
is caused by consumption patterns of the rich. Poverty itself is
politically and historically caused (for example, colonialism) (35, 77).
Conventional agricultural
intensification and
environmental degradation
Intensification degrades: Conventional agricultural intensification
degrades the environment (83, 84).
Intensification trap model
[Figs. 2 (D to I) and 3 (A and B)]
Environmental effects of intensification are not considered:
Short-term productivity gains outweigh possible long-term
effects on the environment (85, 86).
By omission of natural capital,
conventional poverty trap model
(Fig. 2, A to C)
Sustainable intensification and
environmental degradation
Sustainable intensification works: Sustainable intensification can
produce more output from the same area of land while
reducing negative environmental impacts (66, 87, 88).
Subsistence trap model
(Fig. 3, C to E)
Sustainable intensification can have unintended consequences: “In practice
[sustainable intensification] can mean business-as-usual intensive
farming with slight modifications to try and tackle the growing
environmental crises caused by industrial agriculture (89).”
Economic development and
environmental degradation
Environmental Kuznets curve holds: Industrialization initially
increases environmental degradation, until some point where
technology improves and degradation decreases (90, 91).
Environmental Kuznets curve does not hold: The curve is generally not supported
by empirical evidence; it assumes an industrial development trajectory;
it does not consider effects on finite global resources (92, 93).
Traditional knowledge and
environmental conservation
Traditional knowledge and practice conserve the environment: Traditional
knowledge and practices have coevolved with the environment in some
landscapes. Local or indigenous peoples often have a relationship with
natural resources that enable sustainable management (17, 32, 41, 94).
Intensification trap model with
cultural capital [Figs. 2 (G to I)
and 3 (A and B)]
People should decouple from agricultural land to conserve the environment:
Intensive development and technology are necessary to achieve
sustainable development. Humans should be decoupled from
the land through rapid urbanization (95).