Forest dynamics in the Latin American tropics now take directions that no one would have predicted a decade ago. Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has dropped by over 80 percent, a pattern mimicked elsewhere in Amazonia, and is down by more than a third in Central America. Forest resurgence – increasing forest cover in inhabited landscapes or abandoned lands – is also expanding. In Latin America, woodland cover is increasing, at least for now, more than it is being lost. These dramatic shifts suggest quite profound and rapid transformations of agrarian worlds, and imply that previous models of understanding small-farmer dynamics merit significant review centering less on field agriculture and more on emergent forest regimes, and in many ways a new, increasingly globalized economic and policy landscape that emphasizes woodlands. This paper analyzes changing deforestation drivers and the implications of forest recovery and wooded landscapes emerging through social pressure, social policy, new government agencies, governance, institutions, ideologies, markets, migration and ‘neo-liberalization’ of nature. These changes include an expanded, but still constrained, arena for new social movements and civil society. These point to significant structural changes, changes in tropical natures, and require reframing of the ‘peasant question’ and the functions of rurality in the twenty-first century in light of forest dynamics.
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