Environmental Conservation

Economic crisis, small-scale agriculture, and forest cover change in southern Cameroon

W.D. SUNDERLIN a1c1, O. NDOYE a2, H. BIKIÉ a3, N. LAPORTE a4, B. MERTENS a1 and J. POKAM a5
a1 Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), PO Box 6596 JKPWB, Jakarta 10065, Indonesia
a2 CIFOR, c/o IITA Humid Forest Station, BP 2008 Yaoundé, Cameroon
a3 Global Forest Watch, World Resources Institute, c/o WWF, BP 6776 Yaoundé, Cameroon
a4 Department of Geography, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland 20742–8225, USA
a5 National Institute of Cartography, BP 157 Yaoundé, Cameroon


The rate of forest cover loss in the humid tropics of Cameroon is one of the highest in Central Africa. The aim of the large-scale, two-year research project described here was to understand the effect of the country's economic crisis and policy change on small-scale agricultural systems and land-clearing practices. Hypotheses were tested through surveys of more than 5000 households in 125 villages, and through time-series remote sensing analysis at two sites. The principal findings are that: (1) the rate of deforestation increased significantly in the decade after the 1986 onset of the crisis, as compared to the decade prior to the crisis; (2) the main proximate causes of this change were sudden rural population growth and a shift from production of cocoa and coffee to plantain and other food crops; and (3) the main underlying causes were macroeconomic shocks and structural adjustment policies that led to rural population growth and farming system changes. The implication of this study is that it is necessary to understand and anticipate the undesirable consequences of macroeconomic shocks and adjustment policies for forest cover. Such policies, even though they are often not formulated with natural resource consequences in mind, are often of greater relevance to the fate of forests than forest policy.

(Received November 5 1999)
(Accepted July 14 2000)

Key Words: deforestation; agriculture; economic crisis; structural adjustment; Cameroon; Africa.

c1 Correspondence: Dr William D. Sunderlin Tel: +62 251 622 622 Fax: +62 251 622 100 e-mail: w.sunderlin@cgiar.org