Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) Toolbox

Reducing Deforestation

This module is intended for forest and land managers and stakeholders in all sectors involved in joint efforts to reduce deforestation. It provides specific guidance on the analysis of deforestation drivers and how to address them at different scales, and what forest managers can do within their spheres of influence and control. Readers may find it helpful to read this module in conjunction with the Reducing Forest Degradation module

Reducing deforestation contributes to SDGs:

Deforestation and its impacts

Deforestation is the long-term or permanent conversion of forest to other land uses, such as agriculture, pasture, water reservoirs, infrastructure and urban areas. The term deforestation does not apply to areas where the trees have been removed as a result of harvesting or logging and the forest is expected to regenerate (either naturally or with the aid of silvicultural measures), but it does apply to situations in which logging is followed by the conversion of the logged-over forest to other land uses.

Deforestation can have huge impacts – at the local to global scale – on societies and the environment. Globally, deforestation and forest degradation contribute about one-fifth of total greenhouse gas emissions. Other environmental impacts of deforestation include damage to and the fragmentation of habitat and the resultant loss of biodiversity; the disruption of water cycles; soil erosion; and desertification.

Deforestation can have severe socioeconomic consequences: for example, it can threaten the livelihoods, cultures and survival of people who depend on forests, including indigenous peoples; weaken local and national economies; trigger social conflicts over natural resources; increase the impact of natural disasters; and cause population displacements.

Although, in many places (especially some developing countries), the rate of deforestation is worrisome, some studies suggest that deforestation may often be part of a process in which declines in forest cover are followed by periods of forest-cover gains. Such “forest transitions” have been found to occur in countries with two sometimes-overlapping circumstances: 1) economic development leading to the abandonment of agricultural lands and the spontaneous regeneration of forests; and 2) a scarcity of forest products, leading to the active planting of trees instead of crops or pasture grasses. The conditions under which forest transitions occur vary, and in some places such transitions have not occurred at all. The forest transition theory highlights the importance of considering the drivers of both deforestation and forest restoration.

The role of SFM and forest managers in reducing deforestation

The role of SFM and forest managers in reducing deforestation

Deforestation is a major concern for forest users and managers because it threatens their livelihoods. Deforestation not only leads to a reduction of available forest, it may also have adverse effects on the productivity, biodiversity and health of nearby remaining forests.

Drivers of deforestation exist both inside and outside the forest sector and may have local, national or global dimensions. It is often better addressed at several scales and through cross-sectoral approaches that encompass all land uses in a landscape. Although forest managers have a role to play, most deforestation drivers – particularly underlying socioeconomic and political drivers – are outside their sphere of influence and control.

Forest managers can contribute to curbing deforestation by raising awareness of the roles of forests in landscapes and the negative impacts that deforestation can have on other land uses. For example, deforestation can lead to reductions in water quality and quantity, with consequent impacts on agricultural productivity and on other downstream water users.

Forest managers and other stakeholders can help reduce deforestation by demonstrating that forests can be a viable land-use option, with benefits for other land uses, when sustainable forest management (SFM) is applied as part of a landscape approach (and a suitable enabling policy environment exists). They can do this by, for example, exploring the sustainable use and commercialization of diverse forest products and services; assessing market opportunities and the development of forest enterprises; fostering wider recognition of the full value of forests and their environmental services; seeking opportunities for payments for forest environmental services; contributing to the diversification of rural livelihoods; and promoting the dissemination of experiences – particularly successful and exemplary cases in which forests are important sources of livelihoods.

In addition to promoting forests as a viable land use, other actions that can be taken to address deforestation include:

  • reinforcing and expanding forest protected areas; and
  • adopting agroforestry, afforestation and reforestation and sustainably managing existing planted forests to meet demand for wood, thereby reducing pressure on natural forests.

Most deforestation drivers need to be addressed beyond the forest sector – nationally and, where possible, globally. REDD+*, for example, is part of ongoing international efforts to reduce deforestation and its associated greenhouse gas emissions, particularly in developing countries.

* REDD+: reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries.