Poor land use practices coupled with governance lapses and climate change are fueling degradation of forest ecosystems in Africa, says a study released in Nairobi on Monday.
The study titled "deforestation and forest degradation as an environmental behavior: unpacking realities shaping community actions" found that subsistence farming contributes heavily to depletion of an ecosystem that is key to provision of food, clean water and energy to millions of people in Africa.
Researchers from Nairobi-based World Agroforestry center (ICRAF), ASB partnership for the tropical forest margins, Africa Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS), Ethiopian Environment and Forest Research Institute and the Norwegian Institute for Bio economy Research, conducted the study in forested areas of Menagesha Suba in Ethiopia and Maasai Mau in Kenya.
"We applied behavioral science theories to understand the in-depth contexts among smallholders in relation to deforestation and forest degradation," said Lalisa Duguma, a researcher at World Agroforestry Centre.
"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," he added.
The study found that smallholder farmers were encroaching on forests to extract firewood or timber for construction against a backdrop of weak enforcement of laws.
According to the study, sub-Saharan Africa is home to the largest proportion of forest dependent small-holder farmers in the world yet over-exploitation of this resource had worsened hunger and poverty in the region.
Researchers agreed that innovative policy and legal interventions are key to halt depletion of African forests and boost the continent's sustainability agenda. "A search for innovative ways of understanding the drivers of deforestation and finding corresponding relevant solutions is critical to save forests," said Peter Minang, a co-author of the study.