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Myths shape deforestation interventions, hindering progress

In a study published in Global Sustainability, researchers identify five persistent myths in forest governance and outline the evidence in how myths are misleading or present only an incomplete picture of deforestation problems. Photo: CFOR/Flickr

Story highlights

  • Deforestation persists despite international efforts to curb it
  • Initiatives to tackle forest- and land-use problems tend to adopt conventional approaches based on a belief in myths about forest governance
  • Unearthing the myths can open up debate on more sustainable and equitable ways forward

Researchers debunk five illusions about forests and forest management. With it comes the hope for change

MYTHBUSTING: Actions to halt deforestation are high on the international sustainability agenda. There is an ever increasing number of efforts and initiatives with broad engagement of stakeholders, working hard to protect forests globally. Yet the trees keep being felled.

Despite the limited success of their predecessors, new initiatives to protect forests tend to adopt the same conventional approaches: focusing on establishing and protecting private property rights, creating markets and mobilizing private finance.

They keep failing to effectively – and equitably – get at the underlying drivers of deforestation.

Beliefs rather than facts

In a study published in Global Sustainability, centre researcher Grace Wong and colleagues identify five myths about forests and forest management.

Myths draw their power from beliefs rather than from facts, making them difficult to debunk. But they are powerful and taken-for-granted narratives that shape a lot of our action around deforestation.

Grace Wong, co-author

The authors argue that unearthing the myths around forest management can help break the spell of believing in them and open up the debate to find new ways of addressing deforestation.

Presenting an incomplete picture

They identify five persistent myths in forest governance and outline the evidence in how myths are misleading or present only an incomplete picture of the problem:

  • states manage forests independently for societal benefit
  • sustainable forest management is threatened by small-scale farmers and people seeking a living on the forest margins
  • markets are the solution to deforestation and forest degradation
  • what is counted – through valuation – counts
  • sustainable forest governance initiatives currently ‘include’ local communities in decision-making

These myths are associated with a set of lock-ins with effects that include a lack of transparency, a delegation of the burden of responsibility, persistence of dominant economic perspectives, undervaluation of complexity, and inequality between experts and non-experts or locals and outsiders.

Exposing the myths open debates

Brockhaus, a co-author from University of Helsinki, points out that “Myths not only limit an understanding of the underlying causes of deforestation, but also policy and societal perspectives of what would be possible – and radically needed – responses”.

Wong concludes: “By exposing and better understanding these myths and what makes them so persistent, we can expose complexities and open up debate on more sustainable and equitable ways forward. This provides a basis to make the social and political changes needed to better manage and protect forests globally.”

Link to publication

Published: 2020-06-29


Delabre, I., Boyd, E., Brockhaus, M., Carton, W. et. al. 2020. Unearthing the myths of global sustainable forest governance. Global Sustainability, Volume 3, 2020, e16. DOI:

Link to publication

For more information about the publication, contact co-author Grace Wong:

Grace Wong's research focuses on ecosystem services, poverty and equity within complex social-ecological systems.


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