In this study, we examine to what extent and in what ways institutional change drives forest change in West Africa. The focus is on forests outside protected areas. The West African rainforest and forest zones are habitat for various endangered plant and animal species but are also crucial for forest-dependent livelihoods. Yet, forest fragmentation is widespread in the region and forests remain under threat of conversion to agriculture and other land uses. While the important roles of formal and informal institutions are widely acknowledged, we do not know which institutions have changed over time, which ones have persisted and why, which institutional gaps remain and with what consequences for forests and their sustainable use. What roles did informal and formal institutions play in the past, what roles are they playing now? We use a qualitative approach to examine data collected in nine agriculture-forest landscapes in Togo, Benin, Cameroon and Nigeria. Framing institutions as both structures and processes, we examine changes in authorities and decision-making, rules and norms, other historical drivers and their consequences for forests and the sustainable use of forest resources.
Chinwe Ifejika Speranza is a Professor of Geography and Sustainable Development at the Institute of Geography, University of Bern, Switzerland. She heads the research unit on land systems and sustainable land management. Her research aims to advance understanding of the interactions between land use and management, natural resources and ecosystem functioning, and how to foster sustainability in land systems.