Forests and conflict

Illegal forestry activities and poor governance in tropical forested regions are two factors which can encourage violent conflict. Widespread violence in turn makes forestry and conservation policies in forested areas less effective.

The scope of the problem

There are currently violent conflicts in forested regions in Colombia, Côte D'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, Indonesia, Liberia, Mexico, Myanmar, Nepal, Philippines, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Sudan, and Uganda.

In the past twenty years there have also been violent conflicts in the forested regions of Angola, Burundi, Cambodia, Central African Republic, Guatemala, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Peru, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Surinam. Together these countries account for about 40 percent of the world's tropical forest and over half of all tropical forest outside Brazil.

Timber incomes have financed violent conflict in Cambodia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia, Liberia, Myanmar, Sierre Leone, and other countries. While Illicit drugs are widespread in the forested regions of Bolivia, Colombia, Laos, Myanmar, and Peru.

Why is violence particularly widespread in forested regions?

Many impoverished ethnic minorities live in forested areas and governments have historically neglected these regions and their people. As a result property rights are often poorly developed. Consequently local populations have limited allegiance to governments and look to other groups to perform traditional government functions.
Outside intervention, particularly when it is profit-driven, can also cause local resentment and later conflict. Governments have failed to recognize local people's claims to rights over forests. Timber, mineral, petroleum, and tree crop booms and resettlement efforts attract outside groups to forested regions. These groups often enter into conflict with the local people or with each other.

Deforestation and forest degradation often increase in post-war situations

Postwar situations can be particularly devastating for forested areas. Wars often protect forests, discouraging investors and leaving people afraid to go into the forest. But when the conflict ends, governments may try to appease former insurgents and provide patronage to demobilized governments forces by allowing them to extract timber and convert forested land for agriculture.

After conflict refugees and displaced people return to areas of forest abandoned during war, and new people enter into forested areas where it was previously too dangerous to live. It is also a fact that demobilized armed people with limited employment opportunities often become involved in illegal forestry activities, which the weak governments emerging from conflict situations have limited ability to control.

CIFOR's role

CIFOR encourages: