Unravelling the link between global rubber price and tropical deforestation in Cambodia

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Tropical forests continue to undergo a rapid transformation. The expansion of rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) plantations has been reported as a major driver of forest loss, linked to a boom in market demand. Distant commodity markets have spurred a surge of large-scale economic land concessions granted throughout tropical Southeast Asia. Using satellite imagery, we show the impact of rubber tree plantations on Cambodian forest cover and analyse how annual forest-to-rubber conversion rates relate to global rubber prices from 2001 to 2015. We found that 23.5 ± 1.8% of national forest cover was cleared in this period, with 23.2 ± 3.6% of cleared forest converted to rubber plantations. Annual forest-to-rubber conversion rates closely correlated with global rubber prices, with a time lag of 8–9 months (Pearson’s r = 0.93). Our results reveal a strong link between global commodity markets and tropical forest loss, particularly in countries with land policies geared towards rapid development.

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Fig. 1: Annual forest disturbance map for Cambodia using MODIS 250-m 16-day time series.
Fig. 2: Annual forest clearance rates for Cambodia from 2001 to 2015.
Fig. 3: Forest-to-rubber conversion rates for Cambodia and correlation to rubber market prices from 2001 to 2015.

Data availability

The satellite image datasets analysed during the current study are available online from the following sources: https://espa.cr.usgs.gov/ (Landsat imagery), https://search.earthdata.nasa.gov/search (MODIS imagery) and https://scihub.copernicus.eu/dhus/#/home (Sentinel-2 imagery). Code relating to the processing of the data are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.


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This research has been part of the research project entitled Impacts of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation and Enhancing Carbon Stocks (I-REDD+). I-REDD+ is funded by the European Community’s Seventh Framework Research Programme (grant no. 265286). More information can be found at http://www.iredd.dk/. This research contributes to the Global Land Programme (https://glp.earth/) and the Landsat Science Team (https://landsat.usgs.gov/2018-2023-science-team).

Author information

K.G., R.F., D.P. and P.H. planned and designed the study. K.G. and R.F. conducted the analyses with support from D.P. and P.H. K.G. drafted the manuscript with contributions by all authors. O.M. contributed to writing the manuscript.

Correspondence to Kenneth Grogan.

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Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Figures 1–6, Supplementary Tables 1 and 2 and Supplementary References.

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