By Sharon Atieno

Though forests contribute significantly to multiple ecosystems, destruction of forests due to deforestation and degradation (D&D) has remained a challenge throughout the world especially in Africa regardless of efforts geared towards curbing the menace. A new study has revealed that there is no “one size fits all” solution to control D&D.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the rate at which indigenous forests in Africa are being cut down is double the world’s deforestation average at a rate of more than 4 million hectares annually. It is estimated that by 2030, if nothing is done to change the deforestation and degradation problem, almost 30 percent of forest cover will disappear.

The researchers of the study highlighted three main typologies of D&D: smallholding farmers, large-scale commercial agriculture and natural factors such as fire, insect attack and landslides.

According to the UN Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) framework, half of deforestation in tropical areas is caused by livelihood activities such as shifting cultivation by resource poor communities and smallholders. Africa is home to the largest proportion of forest dependent subsistence smallholder farmers in the world.

Putting focus on smallholder farmers, the researchers applied behavioral science approach. The findings from the two case studies: Menangesha Suba Forest in Ethiopia and Maasai Mau Forest in Kenya, reveal that contextual factors such as sociodemographic, production factors constraint, as well as policies and governance issues with some influences of routine practices such as wood extraction for fuel wood and construction forced smallholder farmers to engage in D&D.

“In the past, the search for solutions to curb deforestation largely focused on technical solutions without unearthing the underlying behavioral logic of smallholders as it relates to deforestation. Such an approach misses its target widely,” stated Lalisa Duguma, the lead author of the paper and a researcher at World Agroforestry in a statement.

Discovery from the study indicates that though most factors were intrinsic to smallholders’ contexts, the extent of D&D was greatly increased by factors external to the communities living close to the forested area such as urban and peri-urban population and lack of access to non-wood alternatives.

The two case studies showed that the search for solutions to the D&D problem in the two countries was limited to repression such as limiting the access and use rights of the small holder farmers and sometimes ignoring them in forest management. Thus, the researchers recommend the implementation of both structural and informational strategies.

With regards to informational studies, local communities should be made to realize the collective benefits of forests as opposed to benefits accrued from cutting them down thereby, improving the community’s sense of cooperation to protect and reduce the extent of D&D. It further recommends that informational strategies should also be directed to stakeholders such as forest managers for them to understand the role of local communities’ involvement in forest management.

The recommendations note the importance of engaging smallholder farmers in the search for solutions as well as collaboration among different stake holders as key in minimizing weak links for illegal loggers and increasing community monitoring frequency. Other suggestions include the need for incentives to enable communities take positive action, crafting rules and regulations as well as empowering local institutions that enforce the policy provisions to address policies and institutional issues.

Furthermore, the researchers recommend that REDD+ (countries’ efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) should use the typologies of D&D and the context in which they occur to identify targeted measures that could effectively enhance curbing the loss of forests.

“With REDD+ moving into implementation after the Paris agreement,’ said Peter Minang, a co-author and leader of the Landscapes Governance research unit at World Agroforestry in a press release, “a search for innovative ways of understanding the drivers of deforestation and finding corresponding relevant solutions is critical to save forests.”  Contact: