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Trade, Poverty, and the Environment

Contact Information

  • Owen Cylke
    Senior Program Officer
    Macroeconomics for Sustainable Development
    World Wildlife Fund
    1250 24th ST, NW
    Washington, DC 20037

Lead Institution

WWF’s Macroeconomics Programme Office (MPO)

Project Description

Launched in 2002, the trade assessment project will be working through 2007 with partners in Chile, China, India, Madagascar, Mexico, South Africa, and Viet Nam, to identify impacts of trade liberalization on rural

poverty and the environment (particularly land and water) but also to work with business, civil society, governments, and international bodies to minimize the adverse impacts and to assure the maximum contribution of global trade to rural livelihood and sustainability goals. The project is divided in two stages. The principal focus of the first stage is on analysis, undertaken by research teams in each of the participant countries, complemented by research and policy activities at the WWF-World Bank coordination unit in Washington, D.C. The principal focus of the second stage is on communication and outreach to be carried out by the WWF Network and WWF-MPO. The goals of the project are to develop knowledge, mechanisms, and platforms for business, civil society, governments, and international organizations to:

  • identify trade polices, rules, and related institutional and management interventions that can better

    achieve human development and sustainability goals;
  • better understand the trade-offs involved—for the environment and the rural poor—in decisions

    concerning trade policy and rules; and
  • align institutional, management, and policy options with the level of governance where they can be most effective.

These goals are drawn directly from the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) framework for assessment. Our intent is to:

  • establish an open dialog with business, civil society, government, and international agencies;

  • develop an analytic understanding of impacts, opportunities, and options from a combination of

    country-based case studies and the international literature and debate; and
  • promote institutional, management, and policy options emerging from the work—through advocacy, capacity-building, and partnerships—at all scales, from the local to the international, and within the organizations engaged and supporting the project itself

The focus on case studies is based on the hypothesis that to identify the impacts and opportunities associated with trade liberalization we need to go beyond national averages and look at real people in real places. The case study countries are Chile: conversion of the Valdivian Forest to plantation and industrial production; China: intensification of agricultural production in the Central Yangtze; India: conversion of forest land and mangroves for aquaculture in West Bengal; Madagascar: conversion of forest areas to sisal and maize production in the Spiny Forest; Mexico: expansion of cattle ranching and related agricultural products in the Chihuahuan desert areas; South Africa: conversion of commercial agriculture to export; Viet Nam: expansion of coffee, rice and shrimp production in Truong Son Mountains. Further information may be found at:

Project Regional Components

The first project component to become associated with the MA is in India. It was undertaken by the Institute of Economic Growth at Delhi University. The related outreach program is the responsibility of WWF India. The Principal Investigator and Project Leader is Dr. Kanchan Chopra (kc@ieg.ernet.in); the Co-Project Investigator is Dr. Pushpam Kumar (pl@ieg.ernet.id). Dr. Sejal Worah, Programme Director, WWF India, is the contact person for Communications & Outreach (sworah@wwfindia.net). The case study addressed the Sunderbans region of West Bengal, India. It is located at the apex of the Bay of Bengal, and is characterized by sandy beaches, mud flats, coastal dunes estuaries, creeks, inlets, and mangrove swamps. It is also home to national parks, tiger reserves, and other wildlife sanctuaries. The region is under ecological threat from a growing aquaculture industry.

The case study addressed the following principle issues: the conditions in the coastal and marine ecosystem prior to acceleration of aquaculture for export; the associated level of well-being of different groups as a consequence of ecosystem services provided by the system; the plausible future changes in health, livelihood, and security made available to different groups in the region; the implication of these changes for disruption in the capability of the ecosystem to provide the level of services provided in the base-year; and recommendations to enhance the well-being and conserve the ecosystem (examining the trade-offs and synergies set in motion by different responses, strategies, and policy interventions).p>

ThThe second project component to become associated with the MA is in China. It was undertaken by the Asian International Rivers Center at Yunnan University in Kunming, Yunnan. The related outreach program is the responsibility of WWF China. The Principal Investigator and Project Leader is Dr. Damihg He (hedaming@public.km.yn.cn); the Co-Project Investigator is Dr. Jiang Liu (8504175@sohu.com). Ms Wu Yusong, Policy Officer, WWF China and MPO, is the contact person for Communications & Outreach (wuyusong@wwfchina.org).

This study presents the case of one such area, Pingbian County, located in Yunnan Province along China’s southern border with Vietnam. Pingbian is remote, is 99 percent mountainous, and of its 147,047 people in 2004, 90 percent are farmers and 62 percent belong to ethnic minorities. As eastern China began liberalizing trade in 1978, Pingbian was struggling to achieve food security in a subsistence economy. Pingbian and other impoverished mountain areas are dependent on the services provided by ecosystems, such as clean drinking water, soil for growing crops, and regulation of natural disasters. The direct impacts of trade on Pingbian’s economy, landscape, and people are difficult to trace. Instead, the Pingbian case is a story of how rural communities anticipate and adjust to ongoing economic, environmental, and social change.

For Pingbian, and many rural communities throughout the world, the transition from subsistence living into integrated global marketplace will draw from ecosystem services. Agricultural production, collection of non-timber forest products, ecotourism, and water for drinking and irrigation have provided the backbone of Pingbian’s achievement of food security and will continue to support the transition into commercial agriculture. Livelihoods, well-being, and the global supply of ecosystem services will be shaped by the ability of these local communities to conserve ecosystems. Without functioning ecosystems, poor, rural communities and biodiversity are exposed to increasing risks of drought, floods, disease, and other major shocks. These shocks are buffered by ecosystems, which in combination with free trade, provide greater potential for improving the quality of life for the rural poor. 

© 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment