The Impact of Remittances on Deforestation in Sub-Saharan Africa

© Greenpeace 2010 Ardiles Rante

By Alexandra Tapsoba

Alexandra Tapsoba, currently interning for the IOM’s Migration, Environment and Climate Change Team, is conducting a research within the framework of her post graduate studies at Clermont-Ferrand University on a little known topic: the correlation between remittances and deforestation in Sub-Saharan African countries. Remittances are known to be an important source of income for these countries and are often understood as a positive force that can contribute to national and local development[1].   Remittances can also be used to reduce food insecurity in the beneficiary communities, notably by supporting agricultural activities. However, it is important to look into adverse effects of these monetary transfers.

The research project entitled “The Impact of Remittances on Deforestation in Sub-Saharan Africa”, currently conducted within the framework of the CERDI[2] School of Economics in Clermont-Ferrand,  brings to light little known aspects of remittances. While remittances can provide beneficiaries with the possibility to access food or support agricultural activities[3], little is known or understood as regards the costs of these transfers on the environment.

Using econometric tools applied to data[4] originating from a panel of 47 countries of Sub-Saharan Africa from 1990 to 2010, this study looks at the connection between remittances and deforestation and reveals that these transfers often have a significant impact on deforestation.

For instance, the development of agriculture requires the acquisition of additional lands and access to available forest lands can be facilitated by remittances. Besides deforestation for agricultural purposes, the majority of developing countries’ households use firewood for cooking and other domestic tasks, leading to the continuous depletion of forest resources. Again, remittances can enable an easier access to natural resources. These hypothesizes have been thoroughly examined and confirmed by this academic work.

Further research should be conducted and disseminated, as it is crucial that policy makers understand and take into account the potentially destructive effects of remittances on deforestation. This will be essential to promote a more efficient use of remittances to support environmentally friendly activities.  

Lifting barriers such as bureaucratic and institutional hurdles, as well as favoring access to new technologies, investments in green activities and better information for Diasporas sending remittances and for the receiving communities, can also contribute to limiting the negative impact of remittances on deforestation.


[1] Due to the complexity of the transfer circuits, assessing the global amount of remittances is not easy. Yet, the World Bank estimates that from 1990 to 2005, remittances increased from $31.1 billion to $ 194.7 billion. As a matter of comparison, this represents twice the global amount dedicated to Official Development Assistance. [1] RATHA D. (2005), “Workers’ remittances: an important and stable source of external development finance”, in Mainbo S., Ratha R., Remittances: development impact and future prospects, Washington, World Bank, 19-52[1]

[2] Centre d’Etudes et de Recherche en Développement International, Université de Clermont-Ferrand, France.

[3] For instance, a study conducted by USAID[3] in 2005 in cooperation with the government of Niger in 2005 found that remittances are mainly used to meet food needs and support agriculture USAID, U. S. (2011), “ RAPPORT SPECIAL La migration au Niger”.

[4] FAOSTAT, World Bank (World Development Indicators), International Country Risk Guide (obtained at CERDI)