Can USAID work with the private sector to reduce the rate of deforestation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)? Can this be done at a large scale to increase rural incomes equitably?
In the DRC, forest-positive investment in rural incomes is challenging because much of the country’s rural economy and livelihoods depend on the extraction of forest products, including clearing land for farms, hunting wildlife, and harvesting wood for construction and fuel. Businesses based in urban centers that might provide alternatives to exploiting the forest’s wealth are discouraged from investing in the infrastructure and institutions necessary to process, transform, or otherwise add value to markets and their products by burdensome regulations, high and unpredictable taxes, instability, and insecurity. When economic actors—businesses, individuals, and households—confront a high-risk, unstable context, they often channel their earnings into multiple diverse pursuits, keeping their capital mobile, spreading it across a portfolio of activities, or using it to satisfy the more immediate needs of their family and friends.
Furthermore, social and institutional barriers also constrain rural producers, entrepreneurs, and businesses from investing in growth. Peers use social pressures to impede individuals from advancing too far above their perceived social station. Common leveling tactics include accusations of sorcery, crime, or collusion with undesirable individuals. Some businesses limit their own growth and remain unobtrusive to avoid the attention of more powerful individuals who may exploit them for payment. Social and economic elites also erect various barriers against newcomers.
Therefore, uncertainty and mistrust among actors creates a focus on short-term gains, working against cooperation and encouraging cash transactions. People target the best price now rather than building lasting networks of relationships. Small and informal actors in many sectors work in weak networks that are ineffective at accessing new markets, spurring improvements in infrastructure, generating innovations, or connecting with service providers like financial institutions.
This pattern of economic behavior also does nothing to mitigate the depletion of forest resources. While extractive strategies maximize short-term gains, medium- or long-term investments are necessary to erect governance structures, align stakeholder incentives, and strengthen capacity to manage shared resources sustainably. In the current DRC business context, extractive pressures conflict with and strain efforts toward establishing the institutions necessary for sustainable resource management.
These challenges are not unique to the DRC. Many countries with extensive tropical forests struggle to protect their forests, promote their sustainable management, and mitigate deforestation and forest degradation. The private sector—local smallholders, small and medium enterprises, and international conglomerates—will continue to play a part in the search for solutions.
This is the first installment of two blog posts that discuss findings from ProLand’s recent Assessment of Private Sector Approaches to Achieving Conservation Objectives in CARPE – USAID/DRC of current barriers to achieving these outcomes. Read the second installment to learn about the team’s recommended strategies for overcoming these barriers.
Dr. David Miller has over 25 years of experience contributing to the fields of international agricultural development, natural resources management, and environment. Currently, Dr. Miller serves as ACDI/VOCA’s Senior Climate Change Advisor. As Technical Advisor to the African and Latin American Resilience to Climate Change (ARCC) program from 2012 to 2015, Dr. Miller lead teams of experts in the implementation of over 20 climate change vulnerability assessments in Africa. Dr. Miller also currently serves part time as the Sustainable Agriculture Intensification Specialist on the USAID ProLand project. Previously, as an international development consultant, Dr. Miller employed a variety of research methods to design, implement, and evaluate a wide range of development activities and programs.