Production of commodities for global markets is an increasingly important factor of tropical deforestation, taking over smallholders subsistence farming. Measures to reduce deforestation and convert shifting cultivation systems towards permanent crops have recently been strengthened in several countries. But these changes have variable environmental and social impacts, including on ethnic minorities. In Vietnam, although a forest transition - i.e. shift from shrinking to expanding forest cover - occurred at the national scale, deforestation fronts and agricultural colonization for commodity crops - a.o. coffee - still dominated the Central Highlands plateaus. Previous studies suggested that the dominant land use changes in that region were on the one hand the acquisition and conversion of agricultural lands to perennial crops for external markets by capital-endowed Kinh households - the majority ethnic group in Vietnam - and on the other hand the corresponding displacement of poor households of ethnic minorities relying on shifting cultivation towards the forest margins. This study tested this hypothesis by using remote sensing to analyze land use and cover changes and deforestation trajectories in the coffee-growing area in Dak Lak and Dak Nong provinces over 2000-2010. Land use changes were linked with socioeconomic dynamics using secondary statistics and spatial modelling. Net deforestation reached -0.31%y-1 of the total area between 2000 and 2010. Deforestation was indeed mainly directly caused by shifting cultivation for annual crops, but this was partly driven indirectly by expansion of coffee and other perennial crops over agricultural lands. Displacement of shifting cultivation into the forest margins, pushed by market crops expansion, was the spatial manifestation of the marginalization of local ethnic minorities and poor migrants, pushed by capital-endowed migrants. This marginalization is a long-standing process rooted in the colonization and development strategy for the highlands followed since colonial times. Over the late 2000s, rapid deforestation was strongly reducing the benefits of national-scale forest recovery, and might shift the country back to net losses of natural forest. Implications for policies that may affect deforestation are discussed.
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