Rights-based solutions to deforestation align their approach with the rights of individual forest dwellers, in particular their rights to social and economic development.

By these principles, forest protection is pursued not solely for environmental reasons but also as a vital strategy for human poverty reduction. For example, the practice of agro-forestry, which involves preservation of trees to support arable and livestock farming, can transform prospects for local food security, especially in dryland forest regions.

Likewise, the pressure on forest inventory arising from uncontrolled wood fuel and charcoal production can be relieved by a strategic plan for the sustainable energy needs of all members of a community.

An established illustration of the rights-based approach is known as community forest management in which state control over land has been transferred to local forest communities. Countries such as Mexico and Nepal can demonstrate long traditions of this model.

A 2014 report by the World Resources Institute concluded that forests managed by communities in the Brazilian Amazon recorded deforestation rates which were 11 times lower than in neighbouring areas.

The premise of community forest management is that a combination of small-scale timber and non-timber enterprises, underpinned by traditional knowledge and skills, can generate sufficient livelihoods to merge the interests of the community with sustaining the forest environment. And such an inherently long term model depends on secure tenure of land.

Unfortunately, most tropical forests are owned by the state and typically perceived as a potential source of national revenue, as though devoid of human presence. Forest peoples lack the security of legal tenure, their traditional livelihoods too easily brushed aside by powerful state-supported individuals or corporations, their land-grabbing fuelled by the kickbacks of timber concessions or infrastructure development.

An important milestone to address this injustice was the 2007 adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). It commits governments to respect the right of indigenous peoples to determine their own development strategies and to own land which they have traditionally occupied. It further stipulates that “no relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned.”

Whilst there are many indigenous groups who do not live in forest regions, there is sufficient overlap between indigenous and forest peoples for UNDRIP to be a key point of reference in formulating solutions to deforestation.

A further encouraging response to the land-grabbing controversy is the approval by the UN Committee on Food Security of Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests. The Guidelines suggest ways in which undocumented traditional land tenure should be recognised by governments and investors, respecting principles of human rights, gender sensitivities and sustainable development.

These measures have brought gradual improvement, even in countries with a tradition of total state control, with over 30% of forests in developing countries now controlled by indigenous and forest peoples.


more Forests briefings (updated April 2018)
Importance of Tropical Forests
Deforestation and Forest Degradation
Tropical Forests and Climate Change
Causes of Deforestation
Sustainable Development Goal for Deforestation
Consumer Solutions to Deforestation
Market-based Solutions to Deforestation
Source material and useful links