Content: Drivers of deforestation and forest degradation

Drivers of deforestation and forest degradation

Forest degradation

Human activities that drive forest degradation include overgrazing, demand for fuel wood and charcoal, excessive logging and human-induced fires. Natural causes of degradation include insect pests, storm damage and natural fires.


The main driver of deforestation in the tropics is demand for land on which to grow crops or raise livestock. Other significant drivers of deforestation are mining, infrastructure development, urban expansion and logging.

In Africa, where population growth is high and agricultural productivity is low, subsistence farming remains the main cause of deforestation. However, commercial agriculture is playing an increasingly important role in deforestation there and it is already the main driver of deforestation in other tropical regions.

The steady growth of middle-income countries and the increasing demand for oil crops as fossil fuels become less affordable mean that global commodity markets will increasingly drive deforestation. Much of this deforestation can be attributed to just a few commodities: beef and leather, soya, palm oil, sugar, cacao, timber, pulp and paper.

Demand for such commodities has the potential to undermine the long-term viability of national REDD+ programmes. REDD+ incentives may, for instance, be unable to match the rising revenues that could accrue from alternatives to keeping forests intact, such as clearing land to grow oil crops.


REDD+ efforts so far have focused on promoting reforms in tropical countries, with a strong bias towards supply-side measures in the country of production of these commodities. In parallel to such reforms, demand-side interventions in consumer countries are also required, to build greater market share for sustainably produced commodities.

Two ways this could improve are through:

  • Greater engagement between REDD+ and private sector actors in the main commodity chains that drive deforestation and forest degradation
  • Consumer countries taking policy measures to reduce the impact of their consumption on tropical deforestation through trade

The FLEGT approach is the most ambitious attempt at tackling a driver of deforestation, illegal logging, with both supply- and demand-side measures around a specific commodity: timber and timber products. But timber is a relatively minor driver of deforestation, when compared with agriculture. The extension of similar approaches to other commodities has potential to tackle other drivers of deforestation.