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UW Researchers: Worldwide Ag Land Degradation Holds Back Developing Countries

May 25, 2016
man standiing in front of trees
UW economist Ed Barbier has published an article detailing the impact of degraded agricultural lands on the economies of developing nations. (UW Photo)

The number of people living on degraded agricultural land worldwide grew by 12.4 percent to about 1.5 billion between 2000 and 2010, according to a study by University of Wyoming researchers.

The vast majority of those people live in developing countries, and they are largely excluded from the benefits of those nations’ economic expansion, concluded Ed Barbier, the John S. Bugas Professor of Economics and Finance in the UW College of Business, and former UW graduate student Jake Hochard, who now teaches at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C.

Barbier’s and Hochard’s paper, “Does Land Degradation Increase Poverty in Developing Countries,” was published this month in PLOS One, a peer-reviewed, open-access scientific journal of the Public Library of Science.

“Our findings suggest that there is a critical need to ensure that more rural people have improving, rather than degrading, agricultural land, especially in the remote regions of developing countries,” the researchers wrote. “This could be accomplished through a rural development strategy that invests in the enhancement of the livelihoods of agricultural households and market access in remote areas, improves agricultural land wherever possible and, if necessary, encourages out-migration of households on the (degraded) land that is beyond improvement.”

Such a strategy is an urgent priority, given that degraded agricultural land is increasing significantly worldwide, they concluded. Such lands can be salvaged by measures such as soil improvement, diversified planting and better irrigation.

Barbier and Hochard compared satellite data on farmland productivity, rural population distribution and changes in income growth and poverty levels between 2000 and 2012 from 83 developing countries.

“Our finding that this growing problem is also preventing poverty reduction in developing countries should add to current concerns about the increasing vulnerability of the poor and their economic livelihoods to climate change,” the researchers wrote.

Widely published in natural resource and development economics as well as the interface between economics and ecology, Barbier has served as a consultant and policy analyst for a variety of national, international and nongovernmental agencies, including many United Nations organizations and the World Bank. He has written more than 200 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters, written or edited 22 books, and published in popular journals.

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