Sustainably expanding tropical agriculture: Preventing perverse market outcomes from high-yielding crops

Felix Lim

Converting rainforests to farmland is a major driver of the global extinction crisis that is threatening species across the planet. And it is likely to worsen as pressure to meet demands for food from a rising global population grows.

Improving agricultural technology is the typical approach to improving crop yields since it reduces the need for land clearing. However, the emergence of high-yielding crops in the tropics could perversely increase the rate of deforestation there. This is because improving crop yields may, simultaneously, make agriculture more profitable and raise demand by lowering market prices, making it more likely that land will be cleared for agriculture.

This project combines economic theory with models that project how land use will change in favour of crop expansion, and the impact this will have on biodiversity. This will help us understand the potential impacts of high-yield agricultural technologies and practices. The aim is to develop an economic model to explain how new agricultural technologies affect distribution and production of crops, market prices, and ultimately, land-use and deforestation. The project will predict which areas are vulnerable to agricultural expansion, and the resulting impacts on biodiversity and the environment. It will consider various scenarios based on improved yields, and market and government regulations.


Every week our Scholars meet for Journal Club to discuss a publication from a multidisciplinary point of view. Felix took the lead to examine ‘Agricultural intensification escalates future conservation costs‘. And Felix wrote a blog about the conclusions of the Grantham Scholars on this paper. Read: Agricultural intensification and deforestation.


Dr David Edwards

Department of Animal and Plant Sciences