Community forestry is when “communities have the right to manage the forest resources upon which they depend, with a view to improving their living conditions.”
Recognising, securing, and enforcing forest communities’ rights is the most effective and inclusive way to preserve, restore and enhance forests. Specific emphasis must be put on supporting those often denied power, especially women, and Indigenous Peoples.
How does community forestry work?
The first step in community forestry is ensuring local peoples’ legal rights to their land is recognised and secure and that they are able to manage their forests in a way that benefits both them and the forest’s long-term health. The approach also supports local communities to continue their traditions and culture. Community forestry therefore works by looking for ways for people and nature to thrive and grow together.
Community forestry should always start by thinking about what works in the local context, but donors and NGOs can help spread best practice by:
Outlining the economic, social, climate and environmental benefits of community forestry, to allow civil society and local communities to advocate for sustainable alternatives to the harmful large-scale industrial production model.
Collecting different countries’ experiences of community forestry, to help develop new models in other countries.
Connecting people working on community forestry in different countries, to enable them to learn directly from each other.
To ensure the successful implementation of community forestry the following elements should be achieved:
effective and inclusive community structures;
equitable access to benefits and clear incentives;
enhanced capacities (including technical, management, and communication);
adoption of publicly financed national programmes.
What examples are there of good community forestry?
Good community forestry depends on a combination of factors including strong laws and trade agreements supported by communities and civil society organisations; and the inclusion of women and Indigenous Peoples in the management of land and forests. Good examples of community forestry and forest management include:
Three community stories from Liberia showcasing small-scale forest management and why it is different from Liberia’s formalised laws and processes. It concludes that land laws need to support existing community forestry projects.
This film which explains the challenges Cameroon experienced in establishing community forestry as well it could overcome them. It offers alternatives to the types of logging that rarely lead to sustainable community development.
What are the advantages of community forestry?
Community-managed forests, when promoted by government policy and protected by secure community tenure rights, can help provide income, produce food, and protect the environment for future generations. Despite this, industrial scale logging and plantations are often presented as the only way to pull countries out of poverty, despite the fact that they destroy forests and the livelihoods of forest-dependent people.
One example of this is the Boca Pariamanu community in Peru. When the Indigenous community had their right to land recognised, they were able to support themselves by selling Brazil nuts foraged in the forest. They were also able to better preserve their heritage and identity, such as by practicing their traditional medicine and sharing it with the younger generations. At the same time, they protected the forest from exploitation and deforestation.
What are the challenges of community forestry?
Although community forestry has been successful in regions such as Asia and Latin America, it has yielded uneven results in West and Central Africa. Local communities are not yet able to directly benefit from forest management. Although there is hope that things may change with the implementation of the Brazzaville roadmap for participatory forestry, at present problems include:
Uneven political support;
Absent or poor legal frameworks and community awareness;
Lack of technical and administrative capacity;
Unsecure land tenure;
The persistence of top-down approaches.
Adopting community forestry is not always a smooth process. For example, despite being introduced in the Congo Basin around twenty years ago, communities are still not benefitting directly from the forests. There are hopes, however, that as community forestry becomes more established in the region, these initial problems will be ironed out.
Fern’s community forestry discussion document