What do we (not) know on forest management institutions in sub-Saharan Africa? A regional comparative review

Jude Ndzifon Kimengsi, Raphael Owusu, Ida N.S. Djenontin, Jürgen Pretzsch, Lukas Giessen, Gertrud Buchenrieder, Mariève Pouliot, Ana Nicole Acosta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


With growing concerns linked to the (un)sustainable management of forest resources, the role of institutions as mediators increasingly gains relevance in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). This is particularly so, as formal and informal institutions virtually compete for dominance – a yet-to-be-resolved colonial hangover. A large body of scientific knowledge exists on the role of institutions in regulating forest access, use, and management in SSA, albeit fragmented. Sub-regional variations in research on this subject further nuances our understanding of the breadth of conceptual and methodological issues in this field. This raises a central question: How can we advance knowledge on forest management institutions in SSA to enhance forest governance amidst the critical role of forests in addressing current global environmental challenges? We contribute answers to such interrogation by systematically reviewing more than three decades of scientific literature on institutions in forest use and management. Through a structured review of 100 empirical articles (involving 374 cases studies), and guided by the socio-ecological co-evolution framework, we derived two lessons. First, the conceptualization of forest-linked institutions is more skewed towards institutions as processes, than as structures. Second, the major determinants of institutional compliance are economic, ecological, political, socio-cultural, demographic, and geographical in nature. However, the weight of each determining factor varies in specific sub-regions. For instance, in East Africa, economic, ecological, socio-cultural, and geographic factors dominate while economic, demographic, and political factors dominate in Central Africa. Therefore, in crafting forest institutions in SSA, sub-regional disparities in factors that influence compliance (or otherwise) should be critically considered and addressed to improve effectiveness. Methodologically, qualitative approaches (e.g., key informant interviews and focus group discussions), conducted within short time spans, have been prioritized. However, observed knowledge fragmentation on the subject, including inconsistencies or mismatches, calls for combined, long term qualitative analyses with quantitative ones, in a robust mixed-methods approach. Future research should prioritize this methodological approach, with a focus on sub-regional, country-level specificities, to better inform understanding of forest-linked institutional dynamics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105931
JournalLand Use Policy
StatePublished - Mar 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Forestry
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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