Lurking in the law books and policy annals of many countries around the world, subsidies aimed at helping farmers produce food more efficiently often end up leading to the loss of forests, according to a report released by the United Nations earlier this month.

“Agriculture,” said the report’s author, Gabrielle Kissinger, “is the largest driver of forest clearing worldwide,” responsible for perhaps 80 percent of deforestation.

“When we look to the growing agricultural production footprint in the future, based on the need to feed a growing population with increased per capita consumption, the picture is not good for forests,” added Kissinger, founder and director of Lexeme Consulting in Vancouver.

The policy brief, published by an initiative that brings together the UN’s environment, agriculture and development agencies, warns that misguided government subsidies for agriculture and other activities, valued at $200 billion, undermine many efforts to protect forests. Rather than encouraging bumper yields and improving farmers’ efficiency, tax concessions, in-kind subsidies that allow privileged access to land, and subsidized fertilizer and weed killer often miss the mark, Kissinger found. Instead, they end up underwriting the expansion of agriculture into standing forests.

“The negative impact of subsidies on forest cover is often caused by outdated and incoherent policies,” said Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), in a press release. “Any government-led effort to bolster agricultural productivity should account for the broader implications of such schemes.”

This report was originally published in Mongobay and republished by an agreement to share content.

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