Semester research: The effects of agriculture on India’s forest cover

One giant poster

I spent the semester conducting a statistical analysis to explain variation across Indian states in forest cover change from 2000 to 2009. After a preliminary literature review, looking at deforestation across the world, I compiled a database of more than 200 relevant variables. From that I computed and tested more than 100 variables (averages, percentage change, raw change, etc.) before narrowing my regression to several key indicators of an individual Indian state’s economic reliance on agriculture and the presence of alternative lifestyles and livelihoods.

This culminated in a series of univariate, bivariate and multivariate analyses; I presented the research in a spring quantitative analysis symposium at American University. The poster is viewable here.

The ultimate conclusion from the research: Agricultural output value is strongly and negatively associated with forest expansion, coinciding with slow forest cover growth or even powering forest cover loss. In the alternative, a number other variables — all of which represent diversity in economic opportunity, livelihoods and lifestyles — have positive associations with forest cover growth. This all appears in several models of an OLS regression.

I’ve written a draft paper of the analysis that needs to be refined, edited and combined with an introduction, abstract and the results of my literature review — a summer project to be sure.

Anyone who wants some heavier reading can read that draft here. I’d welcome any and all feedback, even from complete strangers. (Forgive the writing. This was done in pieces and certainly is repetitive in phrasing.)

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As I continue to build my statistical model of India’s forests and potential drivers of deforestation, I can’t help but be enamored by bamboo. I need land and I need to plant.

(This bamboo comes from an old growth stand in Madagascar when I was there in 2009. The photo doesn’t do justice to the monstrous size of this thicket. The creaking in the breeze was unnerving.)

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Jangal hei

Jangal = jungle

After net gains for several years, India’s forest cover is in decline. The full data is available now from the Forest Survey of India in its newly released State of the Forest Report 2011.

The government writes off any major backsliding, saying the reduction is due to shifting cultivation patterns in the rural northeast, plantation harvesting and Naxal rebels cutting trees. That last one is a dubious.

More likely, there are many factors at play in a complex dynamic that varies state by state. I’m in the process of designing a statistical research project looking for explanation among a number of variables, biological, economic, political and social.

The photo above comes from tropical forest in the Andaman Islands.

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