Sustainable forestry enterprises will flourish if governments place greater trust in local people

At the 2014 IUFRO World Forestry Congress in Salt Lake City, Utah, Martin Greijmans, Senior Program Officer at RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests, will present preliminary research findings that shed light on the factors that contribute toward a successful community forestry enterprise business model. Martin argues that one key factor is that governments must put greater trust in the abilities of local people.  

Enhancing local peoples’ livelihoods through community forest enterprises has been both promoted and obstructed by NGOs, civil societies and governments alike. Proponents support the notion that local people have the capacity to sustainably manage forests; opponents reject the notion.

Supporters of community forestry believe that allowing communities to develop their own forest management plans for food security and/or income generation will ensure sustainable practices as the communities depend on successful forest management in the long-term. These supporters argue that communities have the incentive to sustainably maintain forests to ensure their livelihoods; that is, letting forests degrade would ruin their future livelihoods, and that would go against self-interest. Opponents, however, stress that local people simply do not plan for the future and thus risk forest degradation.

These two opposing views both consider peoples’ ability. Supporters of forest management by local people trust community resilience and thus provide services to help strengthen local people’s resilience further by identifying communities’ needs through participatory methods. Opponents, on the other hand, develop strict regulations and introduce untested practices, which are foreign to forest users.

The latter approach is indeed tempting: governing authorities can make decisions from the top down without needing to adhere to the time-consuming approach of the participatory process, which includes local people in decision-making.

New research conducted by RECOFTC in the Asia and the Pacific region has shown, however, that sustainable practices are both inherent to community forestry enterprises and vital for communities to sustain and enhance their livelihoods. In other words, communities cannot allow forests to degrade if they want to even maintain their basic needs.

It is thus in the interest of governments to take the more challenging approach to forest management. Local people must be allowed to take part in decision-making, and their capacities will have to be developed.

If governments follow this approach, not only will their goal of sustainable forest management be satisfied, but local people’s livelihoods will be enhanced as well.

To read Martin’s working paper, “Fundamentals of viable community forestry business models,” click here.

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