Many forests under community use in tropical countries become degraded and lose carbon stocks as a result of agricultural activities such as shifting cultivation and cattle grazing, although these processes rarely result in deforestation. A better understanding of processes specifically causing forest degradation may be of interest to policy makers concerned with the design of programs to conserve forests, for example under international policy on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+). On the basis of data from a farmer survey carried out in the western Pacific area of Mexico, this study uses a cross-sectional regression model to identify the variables that explain variations between groups of farmers in the amounts of land temporarily cleared for shifting cultivation, which results in decreasing the density of forest biomass. We found that, contrary to common perception about shifting cultivation, within each community, many farmers, both richer and poorer, carry out shifting cultivation. Moreover, it is the wealthier farmers that are making more temporary clearances for such activities when compared with those with less resources. We conclude that, for effectiveness in the design of national programs for REDD+, intra-community differences in farmer status should be taken into account. Moreover, REDD+ interventions should consider the impacts of this program on farmers without rights to land.
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