Poverty & Environment Network (PEN) study


Prof. Brian Belcher participated in meetings during the first week of October at the World Bank in Washington D.C., where the results of a large comparative study on the role of forest and environmental income in rural livelihoods were presented and discussed.

Belcher was part of the core team of scientists that developed and implemented the Poverty and Environment Network (PEN), a collaborative effort coordinated through the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). In the most comprehensive study of its kind, 33 PEN partners (mainly PhD students) and their teams collected household surveys, collecting income and asset data every 3 months over a year for each case study. The full data set includes 33 cases and more than 8,300 households in 333 villages in 24 developing countries for a total of more than 15 million data cells!

Five papers from the PEN study, along with six related articles, have recently been published in a special issue of World Development edited by Sven Wunder, Arild Angelsen, and Brian Belcher. An overview paper by the three editors is available here. 

The paper examining environmental income in detail is available here.

Some of the overall PEN findings are:

  • Income from natural forests and other natural areas accounted for 28 percent of total household income, nearly as much as crops.
  • State forests generated more income than private or community forests.
  • Men generated at least as much income from forests as women do, contradicting long-held assumptions.
  • Forests were less important than previously believed as “safety nets” in response to shocks and as gap fillers between seasonal harvests.
  • While the most destitute of poor farmers are often blamed for deforestation, they played only a modest role in forest clearing.

The PEN study helps draw attention to the importance of environmental income in rural livelihoods, something that is invisible in most national and international statistics. The discussion at the October meeting focused on the need for more and better data; one of the key outcomes of the PEN study is an effort led by the Program on Forests at the World Bank and by UN-FAO to develop a “forest module”, containing key forest and environmental income questions, to be incorporated in the World Bank’s Living Standards Measurement Surveys. This would dramatically improve the breadth and depth of data available.

Other outcomes are the wide use of the PEN method, presented in a freely downloadable book, and new research just beginning as the dataset has been made publicly available.