• Away from blogging


    In the next three weeks I’ll be taking a break from blogging. Thank you to those, who visited this site in the last few months, and see you in September with (hopefully) a fresh, renewed look on things.

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  • Can policies slow down deforestation?


    Disentangling the effect of specific large scale policies from other changing parameters of the environment, including things such as prices in directly or indirectly related markets or behavior of economic agents, is a challenging task. Since the mid-2000s, the deforestation rate in the Brazilian Amazon has plummeted and this declining trend is showing no sign of reversal yet, as shown in this Nature News entry:

    The numbers just keep going down: deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has fallen 23% over the past year, according to an initial — and highly uncertain — analysis released Thursday by the Brazilian government.
    Although the preliminary figures are based on coarse satellite data that are also subject to huge variability owing to cloud cover, they serve as an initial indicator that deforestation is likely to hit a fourth consecutive record low in the season that ran from August 2011 through July 2012. The latest official figures, released in December, show deforestation dropping to 6,238 square kilometres last year.
    Just as a thought experiment: if these numbers were to hold up, it would represent a 75% drop below Brazil’s official baseline of 19,500 square kilometres annually (the average from 1996–2005).

    A recent paper by Assunção, Gandour and Rocha, precisely tries to determine the share of the reduction in deforestation attributable to the policies enacted since 2005.

    The main issue is to factor in the effect of fluctuations in agricultural prices. For example, I have witnessed on several occasion in the past few years in Paraguay the fact that rising soybean prices generate strong incentives to clear idle forested land for cultivation. The higher the price, the more incentives are generated to go for one time gains by planting even on intermediate quality or smaller parcels, which at the margin is likely to increase deforestation. Once these price effects are taken into account, the paper finds that new policies (these included “the strengthening of command and control strategies; the extensive expansion of protected territory; and the adoption of conditional credit policies”) accounted for about half of the observed reduction.

    Deforestation and biomass decay have accounted for approximately 17% of global greenhouse gas emissions (IPCC, 2007). This raises concerns about the extent of forest clearings in the Amazon, the planet’s largest rainforest tract. The region has long been the world’s most active agricultural frontier in terms of forest loss and CO2 emissions. In Brazil, the conversion of forest areas in the Amazon biome has contributed nearly half of the country’s total net CO2 emissions (MCT, 2010).
    Identifying whether the deforestation slow-down was due to economic circumstances or resulted from conservation policies introduced during that period could provide critical input for policymakers in Brazil and in other countries. We assess the contribution of Brazil’s policies to decreased deforestation rates by using regression techniques to disentangle the impacts of the policies from those of other potential explanatory factors, such as agricultural price cycles and other possible drivers of deforestation.
    Yet, the deforestation rate in the Brazilian Amazon experienced a substantial decrease during the second half of the 2000s, from a peak of 27,000 km2 in 2004 to 7,000 km2 in 2009. Two alternative explanations for this stand out. On the one hand, falling agricultural prices may have inhibited the clearing of forest areas for the expansion of farmland. On the other hand, conservation policies introduced after two policy turning points in 2004 and 2008 may have contributed to the curbing of deforestation. Indeed, Figure 1 shows that the adoption of policies following these turning points coincide with sharp subsequent decreases in the deforestation rate.
    Our analysis shows that approximately half of the deforestation that was avoided in the Amazon in the 2005 through 2009 period can be attributed to conservation policies introduced in the second half of the 2000s.

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  • A view on the mobile revolution


    The graph below is reproduced from the publicsphere blog at the World Bank development blogs. I don’t think we’ve seen anything similar for any other technology in world history (note that the horizontal scale spans a decade, not a century!).

    More on the implications this explosion in access to mobiles phones has had in developing countries in this report.

    With some 6 billion mobile subscriptions in use worldwide, around three-quarters of the world’s inhabitants now have access to a mobile phone. Mobiles are arguably the most ubiquitous modern technology: in some developing countries, more people have access to a mobile phone than to a bank account, electricity, or even clean water.Mobile communications now offer major opportunities to advance human development—from providing basic access to education or health information to making cash payments to stimulating citizen involvement in democratic processes.
    The developing world is “more mobile” than the developed world. In the developed world, mobile communications have added value to legacy communication systems and have supplemented and expanded existing information flows. However, the developing world is following a different, “mobile first” development trajectory. Many mobile innovations—such as multi-SIM card phones, low-value recharges, and mobile payments—have originated in poorer countries and are spreading from there. New mobile applications that are designed locally and rooted in the realities of the developing world will be much better suited to addressing development challenges than applications transplanted from elsewhere. In particular, locally developed applications can address developing-country concerns such as digital literacy and affordability.

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  • What can sport do for favelas?


    I am just coming back from Rio de Janeiro. On the way to the airport the expressway crossing some of Rio’s more famous favelas was some years ago isolated from nearby houses, often barely a few meters from the road, by a long plastiglass-like wall. From places to places, some pieces have been removed, to allow street vendors to jump directly onto the road and walk the constant traffic to offer a variety of goods to drivers. My Brazilian friend was telling me that a controversy erupted about the real purpose of the walling. While officially it was meant to protect residents from the noise and other nuisances, some claimed its real purpose was to prevent incoming tourist from having too much of a view on poverty-ridden favelas. As the 2014 football worldcup in Brazil, which final will be played at the Maracana stadium lower down the expressway, and the 2016 olympic games in Rio approach, more infrastructure work and neighborhood remodeling will take place, and this type of controversies is likely to be repeated again and again.

    Actually, it’s becoming a classic of big sport events, and not only in emerging countries for that matter, as this recent Guardian article shows in the case of the upcoming 2012 London Olympics.

    Two years ago, the football world cup in South Africa also generated its share of complaints and discussions about poverty cleansing and misdirected investments (see examples here and here).

    I guess the deeper question here is the real development impact that such huge events may have on developing host countries, and especially on the poorest part of their population (not mentioning of course that these same people are being priced out of most events anyway, see an example here in the Maracana case). The media often carry a kind of informal consensus that if managed cleverly, these may generate some additional aggregate growth, which would subsequently trickle down on the poor, to which you should add the benefit of new available infrastructure such as public transportation or sport facilities.

    I just have two problems with this. First, I have yet to see a convincing study establishing the much acclaimed growth effect. Second, the kind and modality of investments often required by such events are unlikely to fit the more fundamental development needs of local populations and urbanizations. To continue on the Brazilian example, I was also told on the way that a $30 million cycling track build in 2007 for the Panamerican games, ended up not suiting the olympics standards, and is now being scrapped to build a new one. Here again, the problem is that although it looks to me as a rather exciting research area, I don’t know of any good study providing convincing answers to put in front of the rather dispiriting anecdotal evidence building up games after games, and cups after cups.

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  • La esclavitud en Latinoamérica


    Cifras y hechos poco conocidos sobre este fenómeno, del cual equivocadamente muchas veces se habla como un hecho del pasado, en el blog Eco Americano de Alejandro Rebossio.

    Una denuncia este miércoles contra la esposa del alcalde de Buenos Aires, el conservador Mauricio Macri, por presunto trabajo esclavo en un negocio familiar actualiza el debate sobre cómo puede ser que semejantes condiciones de sometimiento subsistan en Latinoamérica. El mes pasado, un informe de la Organización Internacional del Trabajo (OIT) denunciaba que 1,8 millones de latinoamericanos son esclavos. Representan el 9% del total mundial. La región solo es superada en cantidad de esclavos por Asia-Pacífico y África.
    En Latinoamérica, campesinos e indígenas son víctimas del trabajo forzoso. Brasil es uno de los países más afectados por este flagelo. Entre 1995 y 2011 unos 41.000 brasileños fueron liberados de la esclavitud en inspecciones del Ministerio de Trabajo. Recientemente la Cámara de Diputados aprobó una ley para confiscar las tierras de explotadores laborales, pero aún falta la sanción del Senado.
    También se denuncia trabajo esclavo en Perú, Bolivia, Colombia, México, Paraguay y Cuba.

    En Paraguay, recientemente se reportaba el caso de cientos de niños, algunos de apenas cuatro años de edad, trabajando en las olerías de la zonas de Tobatí, Vallemí y Concepción. Ver la información y el video en esta nota de Ultima Hora, y el audio de la entonces ministra de la Secretaría de la Niñez y Adolescencia, Liz Torres, en el sitio de Radio Viva.

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  • Citation cartel


    I had heard of a number of different cartels, between commercial firms, public procurement suppliers, or drug providers. But this is apparently the first journal citation-cartel, which aims at boosting impact factors through systematic cross-citations!

    More research journals than ever are boosting their impact factors by self-citation.
    That’s a substantial increase on previous years: 34 journals were excluded from the 2010 lists, compared to only 26 in 2009, 20 in 2008 and just 9 in 2007.
    Almost all of those banned are excluded because of excessive self-citation, although three journals — Cell Transplantation, Medical Science Monitor and The Scientific World Journal — apparently worked together to cite each other and thus raise impact factors. That “cartel” was originally reported by Phil Davis on The Scholarly Kitchen, and he has today posted a follow-up article on that ban. McVeigh says that this incident, which she calls “an anomaly in citation stacking”, is the only one of its kind that she has found.

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