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The Tragedy of Private Forestry

The Tragedy of Private Forestry

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Published by Stefan Steen Jensen
Abstract
This thesis addresses one of the most pressing issues in contemporary natural resource management: the
drivers behind deforestation of privately held natural forests. Uganda is one of the hotspots for deforestation.
Despite having a well-crafted policy and institutional framework for curbing deforestation, the country’s
private forests, which make up around 70% of the combined forest cover, are predicted to be extinct
in 20 years.
The empirical data for this thesis was primarily collected at household-level in Kibaale in Western Uganda.
Interviews with representatives from different levels of government together with experts and different
stakeholders furthermore make up the empirical foundation of the thesis. We apply a complex multifactor
theoretical framework for analyzing the data. The framework breaks down the drivers of deforestation into
three interconnected factors; the historical drivers, the proximate drivers, and the underlying drivers.
The first part of the analysis applies a historical analytical approach to study the shifts in and discourses of
land-use practices from the colonial period until the present. It is argued that land-use practices changed
drastically with colonialization. This happened on the basis of a discourse of exploitation where agriculture
is commercialized and profit ultimately is valued over conservation at the detriment of private forests. Consequently,
in today’s Uganda, cash-cropping often takes prominence over forest conservation at the expense
of the private forests.
The second part identifies how the loss of forest cover is directly impacted by a high demand for arable
land prompted by soaring poverty and rampant population growth. Conversely, often-mentioned explanations
of deforestation (e.g. wood extraction and infrastructure expansion) only play a cameo role.
The third and last part explains that the proximate drivers are not so much causes of deforestation as
mechanisms by which the true underlying causes are transformed into actions that degrade the environment.
It is argued that the underlying driver of deforestation is an inability of relevant institutions to implement
the country’s otherwise well-crafted policy framework for conservation of private natural forests.
The policies are not being implemented due to a low priority of the forestry sector in the International Financial
Institutions and the central government, and the forestry institutions are therefore underresourced
and unable to fulfill their mandates. Consequently, alternative livelihood options, to substitute
harmful agricultural practices with sustainable livelihood options, are not being offered. The institutions are
therefore not able to turn the negative trends at the proximate level. The negative consequences are accelerated
by an unwillingness to deal with the soaring population growth and a continuing promotion of cash
cropping.
On a final note, the thesis forwards two general recommendations concerning the necessary actions that
need to be taken to ensure the survival and sustainability of this vital resource.
Abstract
This thesis addresses one of the most pressing issues in contemporary natural resource management: the
drivers behind deforestation of privately held natural forests. Uganda is one of the hotspots for deforestation.
Despite having a well-crafted policy and institutional framework for curbing deforestation, the country’s
private forests, which make up around 70% of the combined forest cover, are predicted to be extinct
in 20 years.
The empirical data for this thesis was primarily collected at household-level in Kibaale in Western Uganda.
Interviews with representatives from different levels of government together with experts and different
stakeholders furthermore make up the empirical foundation of the thesis. We apply a complex multifactor
theoretical framework for analyzing the data. The framework breaks down the drivers of deforestation into
three interconnected factors; the historical drivers, the proximate drivers, and the underlying drivers.
The first part of the analysis applies a historical analytical approach to study the shifts in and discourses of
land-use practices from the colonial period until the present. It is argued that land-use practices changed
drastically with colonialization. This happened on the basis of a discourse of exploitation where agriculture
is commercialized and profit ultimately is valued over conservation at the detriment of private forests. Consequently,
in today’s Uganda, cash-cropping often takes prominence over forest conservation at the expense
of the private forests.
The second part identifies how the loss of forest cover is directly impacted by a high demand for arable
land prompted by soaring poverty and rampant population growth. Conversely, often-mentioned explanations
of deforestation (e.g. wood extraction and infrastructure expansion) only play a cameo role.
The third and last part explains that the proximate drivers are not so much causes of deforestation as
mechanisms by which the true underlying causes are transformed into actions that degrade the environment.
It is argued that the underlying driver of deforestation is an inability of relevant institutions to implement
the country’s otherwise well-crafted policy framework for conservation of private natural forests.
The policies are not being implemented due to a low priority of the forestry sector in the International Financial
Institutions and the central government, and the forestry institutions are therefore underresourced
and unable to fulfill their mandates. Consequently, alternative livelihood options, to substitute
harmful agricultural practices with sustainable livelihood options, are not being offered. The institutions are
therefore not able to turn the negative trends at the proximate level. The negative consequences are accelerated
by an unwillingness to deal with the soaring population growth and a continuing promotion of cash
cropping.
On a final note, the thesis forwards two general recommendations concerning the necessary actions that
need to be taken to ensure the survival and sustainability of this vital resource.

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Published by: Stefan Steen Jensen on Aug 30, 2012
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Source: Based on loss of forest cover from 1990 - 2005 (Auditor General Uganda 2010:16)

A vast majority of Uganda’s biodiversity is found in the Albertine Rift Valley, which some of Kibaale’s forests

are a part of. The Valley is globally acknowledged as a major center of diversity and endemic species and
ranks first out of the 119 distinct terrestrial eco-regions of continental Africa in terms of endemic species of
birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians and second in terms of globally threatened species. The private
forest areas in the Albertine Rift Valley therefore have important conservation values; not just on their spe-
cies content, but because they provide linkages, or corridors, between other larger forests, allowing con-
nectivity which is important for species dispersal and gene flow between larger forests. The massive defor-
estation in Kibaale does, however, threaten the existence of this corridor. Should the corridor collapse, it
could have dramatic consequences for the unique flora and fauna of the Albertine Rift Valley (WWF 2006:3;
Richard 2011).

Kibaale’s deforestation occurs against a backdrop of national reforms and what by many scholars is
acknowledged as a well-crafted policy framework (Akello 2007; Turyahabwe and Banana 2008; Mugalula
2010; Kahangirwe 2011). This framework has seen new institutions instigated and relatively strong legisla-
tion to prevent illegal logging and provide the rural population with training in forest conservation and
management (GoU 2001; 2002; 2003). Despite these efforts, recent estimates found that the deforestation
rate in Uganda had increased from 6,000 to 6,700 hectares per month in recent years, and the deforesta-
tion rate does therefore not seem to have peaked yet (Ogwal 2011). One of the major challenges Kibaale is
facing is an explosive population growth in the poor rural areas. Uganda’s population growth rate of 3.4%
per annum places it among the countries with the highest population growth in the world (Green 2006a:1).
In addition, Kibaale ranks among the districts in Uganda with the highest population growth amounting to
5.9% annually (Wittek and Armstrong 2009:105), which causes Kibaale’s population to double approximate-
ly every 12 years. Because farming constitutes the only livelihood option for 90% of Kibaale’s population
(KDLG 2011a:7), farmland is in high demand, and people are being pushed into hitherto untouched forested
areas to find new arable land.

This thesis is devoted to uncovering why Kibaale, despite Uganda’s well-crafted institutional and policy
framework, is experiencing continuing deforestation of its private natural forests and what the underlying
drivers are. Meyer and Turner note that uncovering the possible human driving forces of deforestation is “a
formidable task” (1992:52) and Babigumira, Müller et al. find that

4

“there is surprisingly limited convergence on the basic question: “what drives deforestation?””

(2008:63)

Along these lines, we find that many well-established theoretical frameworks concerning deforestation are
based on too simplistic information and employ very narrow approaches to explain deforestation such as
attributing it to single factor causations of e.g. population growth. Other frameworks adopt a world-wide
applicability, but thereby lose their explanatory powers of specific cases such as ours, because local natural
resource management represents empirical contexts far too dynamic and diverse to warrant such compre-
hensive theories (Rudel and Roper 1996:62; Mather, Needle et al. 1998:1992). To do justice to the exten-
sive empirical data we derived from our far-reaching fieldwork in Kibaale and interviews with local and
national-level stakeholders, we therefore endeavor to rethink a matrix of other frameworks and develop a
framework with explanatory powers in the specific case of Kibaale. The crux of our framework is that the
loss of forest cover is directly impacted by rapid population growth, which in turn creates an increasing
demand for farmland to the detriment of the private natural forests. It is, however, made clear that these
are not so much causes of deforestation as mechanisms by which the true underlying causes are trans-
formed into actions that degrade the environment. The underlying causes in this case being poor imple-
mentation of the otherwise well-crafted institutional and policy framework for forestry management. Both
the proximate and underlying causes are contingent on the historical experience of changes in power rela-
tions and discourses within the policy setting in Uganda. We therefore include a historical perspective to
understand the emergence of the proximate and underlying causes.

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