Community forestry: A key strategy for securing sustainable livelihoods and environmental protection

Yam Malla1



According to FAO (2008), demand for food is forecast to double by 2050 as population increases, affluence grows, and people’s dietary choices change. If national governments and other concerned national and international institutions take a more proactive role now, they will be better positioned to meet this challenge and to withstand the more severe climatic changes likely to affect the region in the years to come (Johnston et al., 2010). One of the keys to securing livelihoods lies in the sustainable use and management of natural resources (land, water, crops, grass, herbs, shrubs, trees, forests, animals, fish, etc.). Innovative approaches, such as community forestry, are playing an important role in addressing livelihood challenges - especially rural livelihoods - facing Asia and the Pacific region. This paper examines the contributions that community forestry can make to sustainable livelihoods and environmental protection in Asia and the Pacific region. It first provides a brief overview of the issues facing people and forests in the region. This is followed by a description of the ways in which forest tenure, access and use pattern are changing as community forestry expands in the region. It then provides examples of community forestry innovations and the ways they are contributing to sustainable livelihoods and environmental protection. The final section provides some recommendations for future action.
Box 1: Terminologies The term “food security’ refers to physical, social and economic access by all people, at all times to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life (FAO, 2008). Food insecurity results from a lack of access to food – because of a lack of availability or purchasing power, inappropriate distribution or inadequate utilization at the household level. Livelihoods, of which food security is a key element, are sustainable when they are: resilient in the face of external shocks and stresses; are not dependent on external support (or if they are, this support should itself


Executive Director, RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests, Bangkok.

be economically and institutionally sustainable); maintain the long-term productivity of the natural resource base; and do not undermine the livelihoods of others or compromise the livelihood options open to others (Carney, 1998). In examining contributions to sustainable livelihoods, the “forests” refers to “all resources that can produce forest products. These can capture woodland, scrubland, bush fallow, farm bush and trees on farms as well as forests” (Arnold, 1998); and “forest communities” refers to individual households, groups and indigenous peoples that depend on forest resources for living. Different terms are used to describe modalities involving the engagement of local people and communities in the management of forests. Some examples include community forestry in Australia, Cambodia, Nepal, Thailand and Viet Nam; joint forest management (JFM) in India; village forestry (VF) in Lao PDR; social forestry (SF) and CF in Indonesia; and community-based forest management (CBFM) in the Philippines. Each of these terms has its own specific local connotations and considerable differences occur in their characterization, especially in the level of authority and responsibility of different groups in forest management decision-making. The term community forestry is used in a generic sense to denote the many types of modality where forest people have a major role in forest management decision-making.


Issues facing the people and forests in Asia and the Pacific region

Pressures on the region’s forest resources have increased significantly in recent decades. High rates of population and economic growth, combined with rapid urbanization continue to increase demand for forest products and agricultural land. At the same time, millions of rural people continue to live in and around forests, depending on them, wholly or in part, as a significant livelihood resource. The region is home to some two-thirds of the developing world’s 1.4 billion people living below the poverty line (less than US$1.25 a day), with the majority living in rural areas (IFAD, 2003) and depending on forest resources to some degree. Furthermore, 70 percent of the world’s indigenous and minority peoples – who are amongst the poorest of the poor - are located in Asia and the Pacific region (Hall and Patrimos, 2010), mainly in the forested areas of China, India and Viet Nam (Sunderlin, 2005). Isolation, inaccessibility and social exclusion continue to make it difficult for forestry and other development programmes to reach out to forest communities. Social exclusion “is mostly viewed as a direct consequence of poverty, both stemming from discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity and gender, and unequal access to services" (UN-DESA, 2009) as well as the ways outside aid funds are mobilized (Khadka, 2009). Indigenous people, ethnic minority groups and hill tribes in Southeast Asia, and scheduled tribes, scheduled castes and the dalits - a group of people traditionally regarded as untouchable and who have been marginalized and excluded for generations - in South Asia are all groups that have historically suffered social exclusion. Exclusion of women in some societies may be related to their marital, health or employment status, as well as the social structure. Creating conditions that allow excluded women and men to demand change, and influence the priorities of forest institutions are vital if forestry programmes are to empower poorer forest-dependent people more effectively.


Forest resources
According to FAO (2009), about 734 million hectares of the region was forested in 2005. Although the process of deforestation in some countries has been reversed, the region as a whole continues to face widespread problems of deforestation and forest degradation - between 2000 and 2005 about 3.7 million hectares were lost annually, with the largest share (42 percent between 1990 and 2000) through direct conversion to permanent agriculture. Forest loss is likely to continue in most countries in the region in the next decade given continued rapid economic growth through industrialization and with natural resources, including agriculture and forests, remaining the main source of people’s livelihoods. Industrial production and consumption of roundwood, sawnwood, wood-based panels and paper and paperboard in 2005 were recorded at 546 and 607 million cubic metres respectively, and these are all projected to continue to rise with China and India accounting for much of the growth. Net imports to the advanced industrialized economies, such as Japan have declined, but those to China and India have increased greatly as a result of increases in domestic demand and declines in domestic supplies caused by logging bans (FAO, 2009). Forests make a significant contribution to the energy requirements of the region, with three-quarters of the wood produced in the region being burned as fuel (FAO, 2009). In addition, the region’s forests provide a range of other forest products, including food, medicines, fibres, gums, resins, cosmetics, and handicrafts. Most of these are used by rural households for subsistence. Some 150 non-wood forest products are traded from Asia and the Pacific (FAO, 2009). Increasing demand has led to both intensive collection and rapid depletion of these products. Environmental service functions of the forests remain a priority forestry agenda of the Asia-Pacific countries. Many countries have a long history of protected area management systems and several governments have imposed logging or log export bans - although the control of illegal encroachment remains a challenge. Increasing water scarcity is affecting many countries’ key sectors including agriculture and industry and has resulted in increased public allocations for watershed management (Dillaha et al., 2007, cited in FAO, 2009). The climate change related forest initiatives, including reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD),2 holds potential for helping to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change and to adapt to climate change.

Forest management
Perceptions of the ways in which forest resources should or could be managed have changed over the last several decades, partly because of the narrow focus of a pro-industrialization forestry model, and partly as a response to demands arising from the broader socio-economic changes in Asia and the
In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that reducing deforestation would have a large and rapid effect on reducing global carbon emissions. Emissions from deforestation in the late 1990s were estimated to be 5.8 Gt CO2 (gigatons of carbon dioxide) a year, about 20 percent of the global total. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) 13th Conference of the Parties in Bali, December 2007, then adopted the Bali Action Plan, which launched a formal process to support reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD). This has resulted in the development of mechanisms, such as the UN-REDD, through which forests can be credited as carbon sinks and national governments can be provided with incentives to leave their forests intact.


Pacific region, and the world more generally. Demand for changes in the traditional pro-industrial forest management model has been coming from a number of different directions. One demand for change comes from those who are concerned about the loss of forest biodiversity and the need to maintain the forest ecosystems. This group, which views people living in and around the forests as a threat, has emphasized the need to bring more forests under protected area management systems such as national parks, wildlife reserves, etc. Some 50 to70 million hectares of Asia-Pacific’s forests are recorded as being inside legally declared protected areas (FAO, 2001); however, in reality, (as shown by Molner et al., 2004) much larger forest areas - both administered by government authorities and community and indigenous people’s ownership - are under some sort of protected area management system. Another direction is a shift in the control and management of forests from state authorities to local communities, using community forestry or similar models. As opposed to the protected area management regime, community forestry is rooted in the belief of an “inclusive” and participatory approach to forest management. It views local people, especially those who live in and around the forests, as central (rather than a threat) to the existence of the forest, and a key to its sustainable use and management. This has led to policy reforms allowing the transfer of forest management to local communities. Consequently, over the last three decades or so, a considerable portion of state controlled forest has been designated for protection and management by local communities. Meanwhile, the pro-industrialization model of forestry - generally referred to as ‘production forestry’, which had taken a low profile during the 1990s – has resurfaced as economic growth through industrialization and urban affluence have both stimulated forest product markets. Government forest administrations continue to provide licenses to private companies for logging in large tracts of the most productive and commercially important forest areas, including plantations. Although some firms take sustainable forest management seriously and employ good practices such as reduced impact logging and forest certification, there are still many that severely degrade the forest.

Forest tenure and ownership
Asia and the Pacific region and the world more generally have been experiencing forest tenure transitions involving a range of forest tenure models. According to a recent study (Sunderlin et al., 2008), community or private ownership of forests in 2008 was recorded at 182 million hectares, which accounts for 27 percent of the total forest area. The forest area under private ownership is substantial in some countries, especially in Australia, China, Japan, Nepal and Papua New Guinea; whereas in other countries – especially Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam – most forest remains under state control.

Box 2: Land and forest tenure systems Tenure systems define who can use what resources for how long, and under what conditions (FAO, 2002). Customary tenure systems are determined at the local level and are often based on oral agreements, whereas statutory tenure systems are applied by governments and are codified in state law. From the customary tenure point of view, people who live in and around forests think that they own the resource. However, if the forest is viewed from the statutory tenure point of view – which is determined by the state - the government owns and controls most of the land, although it is possible in some countries the government may have transferred ownership and access rights to some communities, individuals and firms.


This paper focuses mostly on statutory tenure partly because it is the official view that shapes policy and its implementation and partly because it is possible to measure recent change which in turn could have profound consequences for the ways different stakeholders may respond to changes and for the ways forest resources are used and managed.

It is in this broad context of poverty and livelihood challenges that this paper attempts to analyze community forestry’s contributions.


Community forestry policy, law and use rights: innovative regulatory frameworks

Originally initiated in a few tropical and subtropical developing countries that were experiencing rapid deforestation, state sponsored community forestry has become a major form of forestry in many countries, and is spreading rapidly in both the developing and developed and tropical and temperate nations (Arnold, 2001; Gilmour et al., 2005; Burch, 2008; Mcdermott and Schrekenberg, 2009; Larson et al., 2010). In Asia and the Pacific region some 147 million hectares of forests are under community and indigenous people’s ownership. Similarly, some 25 million hectares of state forest are designated for use by local and indigenous communities. When compared with the 2002 figures reported by White and Martin (2002), the amount of state forest handed over to local communities has increased by more than 50 percent. The initial success of community forestry in some countries, such as India, Nepal and the Philippines, in recovering deforested or degraded forestlands has led to the adoption of a similar approach by other countries in the region. Today, a number of Asia-Pacific countries have either revised, or are revising their national forest policies, with provision for community forestry (Table 1). Crucial elements of a community forestry regulatory framework include: the policy and law with secured tenure, use rights and benefits; guidelines and institutional arrangements for field implementation, processes and approaches, and capabilities and capacity. Frequently, one of the limiting factors is the gap between recognizing these important elements in a policy document and their realization in actual practice. It is with regard to the realization and transformation aspects of the tenure, use rights and benefits that the experience of community forestry has most to contribute to determining a forest-based livelihood strategy.


Table 1. Selected Asian countries with community forestry regulatory frameworks
Country Cambodia Community Forestry (CF) Policy, Law and Guidelines People and Forest

2002 - CF Policy; 2003 - CF Law; 2005 – Guidelines for Field 176 groups Implementation Prakas 143 789 ha Mid-1980s - collective forest reforms – allocation to households; 8 provincial collectives – 2003 – The No 9 Policy – allocate collective forests (not land) to allocated to households households for use in many ways, including individual (69.14%); partnership China households, partnership among and between households, village (2.92%); village cluster cluster, contract to outsider and collective; 2006 – New (5.56%); contract Countryside Development Initiative (NCDI) (4.54%) India. 1970s – Social Forestry (SF); 1989 – Joint forest management JFM – 84 632 groups (JFM) to involve locals in state forests; amended forest act in 17 331 955 million ha 1991; 2006 – Passed tribal (forest) act. 1997 - Hak Pengelolaan Hutan Kemasyarakatan (HPHKM) 158 000 ha leased out to License for communities to manage/use forests; 2003 - SF local communities. Indonesia regulations; 2007 – HKM (community forestry); MoF In 2009 – HKM 200 000 Regulation No. 37; 2014 target – 2 million ha; 2008 – Hutan ha In 2000 – HD 5 000 ha Desa (Village Forest); MoF Regulation No. 49 2005 – 20 year national forest strategy - provision for village Pilot projects testing forestry; a law for non-timber forest products (NTFPs) Village Forestry Lao PDR recognizes “customary use”. Each household can extract up to 5 cubic metres of timber. 1.2 million ha (25% of 1976 – CF in National Forest Plan; 1977 - Forest Act 1961 total) & 14 000 forest amended to hand over forest to village councils; 1978. 1997 a Nepal user groups with 1.6 national workshop resolution to handover forests to actual million households (35% users; 1989 - 20 year master plan – with highest priority for CF; of total) 1993 – new forest act; 1995 implementation guidelines. Early 1980s - SF programmes; 1987- Forest Stewardship 5 503 groups (690 687 households ) Philippines Certificates for communities; 1986 – Amended the constitution to facilitate the cancelation of many timber license agreements 5.97 million ha (TLAs); only 13 TLAs remaining covering 543 939 ha; 1995 Executive Order 263; 1997 - Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA) Early 1980s – Govt. officially recognized CF as a way for 5 300 villages (0.7%); sustainable forest management; 1997 - National constitution 196 990 ha forests Thailand (decentralization act) recognizes people’s “rights” to forests; (1.16% of total). 2007 - after long conflicts between groups for and against CF for over 15 years, passed a CF Bill. Early 1990s - since mid-1990 – several field projects; 2003 – CF 2 348 000 hectares 1 203 community groups law, for forest allocation to local communities (i) forests legally Viet Nam owned by communities and (ii) community-based forest management (CBFM) - forests owned by state but managed by local communities. Source: Cambodia (Heng & Sokhun, 2005); China (Xu et al, 2010); India (Saigal et al, 2005); Indonesia (Hindra, 2005 & Yurdi Yasmi, personal communication); Lao PDR (Phanthanousy & Sayakoummane, 2005); Nepal (Kanel et al, 2005); Philippines (Pulhin et al, 2005); Thailand (Wichawulinpong, 2005); Viet Nam (Ngai et al, 2005; Poffenberger, 2006)

Forest tenure and use rights
For a policy on tenure and use rights to be effective, it must be backed up by a law or regulatory framework and a guideline for execution. It is the forest users groups’ constitution and site specific management plan that helps to transform the concept of use rights into reality. In addition to clearly stating the forest and user boundaries, the forest users constitution and management plan specifies rules of what can be used and what not, by whom, when and how, as well as sanctions for breaching the rules. It is these types of legal documents that the forest users find to be the most empowering. Table 2 and Table 3 provide information on bundles of forest use rights.


Table 2. Bundle of local people’s rights to forests
Rights To Cambodia China India Indonesia Philippines Nepal Viet Nam No Yes Group Yes Yes No ?

Own forest land Own forests Group or households Allocate to households Sell products in market Lease to outsider Cash income

No Yes Group ? ? No ?

No Yes Group Yes Yes Yes ?

No Yes Group ? Yes No Vary

No Yes Group ? Yes No ?

Yes Yes Group ? Yes No 100

No Yes Group ? Yes No 100%

Table 3. Rights to self-governance, management and use of community forest in Nepal
Right to self-governance • Can form a group as per their willingness, capacity and customary rights and register as independent self-governing group. • Forest or forest user boundaries based on the actual users and can transcend local administrative boundaries. • As long as the forest is well protected and managed, the government forest authority will not interfere. • Can elect, select or change executive committee any time. • Can form own rules and sanctions for breaching rules. • Can amend the users constitution any time. • • • • • • • • • • Source: Adapted from Pokharel et al. (2008) Rights to forest management and utilization No limit to forest area or users numbers for handover. Can grow cash crops together with forests. Can mortgage standing forest products for loans. Can utilize income for any purpose, but 25% of the income must be spent on forest development and management. Can freely fix prices and market forest products. Can set up own forest enterprise / industry. Can seek support from any organization. Can raise funds through different forestry and nonforestry enterprises with no requirement to share the raised fund with the government. Can invest in any areas, persons or development activities. Can hire and fire own forest watchers.


Practical and dynamic innovations: impact of community forestry on livelihoods and environment

A number of agencies, including Care International, the UK Department for International Development (DFID), Oxfam and UNDP have developed frameworks to guide sustainable rural livelihoods development (see Carney et al., 1999 for an overview of these different frameworks). The DFID livelihoods framework has been widely accepted and is used here as an example for discussion. According to the framework, five forms of livelihood capital or assets are crucial. These are: • • • • • Natural capital - including natural resources land, water, crops, forests and trees, fisheries. Financial capital - including financial resources in various forms, including savings, supplies of credit or regular remittances or pensions and other various income opportunities. Physical capital - including the basic infrastructure, such as transport, shelter, water, energy and communications, schools, health clinics, as well as the production equipment and means. Human capital - including knowledge, skills and ability to work and health. Social capital - including social resources such as networks, membership of groups, relationships of trust, access to wider institutions in society.


These five types of capital operate in the context of vulnerability outside the concerned person’s control. The most important contribution of the livelihoods framework is the way it breaks down capital (or productive assets) into a number of distinctive capital types. Thus natural resources such as forests can be an asset, as can other forms of capital. But it is the way they interact and the transforming processes that are put in place, that turn these types of capital into useful elements of a sustainable livelihood strategy. There is also evidence of many other innovations resulting from field implementation of community forestry programmes which cut across or go beyond these five types of capital. An overview of these will also be made at the end of this section. Information on examples of community forestry innovation presented in this section draws heavily on lessons from Nepal. This is partly because information on community forestry work and its impacts in Nepal is readily available. However, examples from other parts of the region, where available, are also included. In most countries, tangible benefits from community forestry have barely started to flow because of the considerable lag time between the establishment of effective community forestry regimes and the commencement of their utilization.

Contribution to natural (environmental) capital
Although no comprehensive, nationwide information on the condition of forest or the environmental outcomes is available in any country, several specific case studies as well as general observations suggest that there have been improvements in forest conditions or natural/environmental capital. These include better forest condition (stocking, diversity of tree species, wildlife, etc.), forest land use change and the enhancement of biodiversity following the initiation of community forestry. This includes decreased incidence of forest fire, illegal harvesting of forest products and encroachment, increased control of grazing, higher tree density in formerly degraded forestlands, increased species diversity, return of wild animals and birds, regeneration of important tree species (Dougill et al., 2001, Dangal, 2002; Dev et al.; 2003, Yadav et al., 2003, cited in Ojha et al., 2009). In the Philippines’ Alcoy community forest site in Cebu (Central Visyas) local communities were able to conserve of valuable habitats of the endemic life found in the area, including 122 species of birds, 27 species of mammals and 27 species of reptiles and amphibians (Fenandez et al., 2004; cited in Lasco and Pulhin, 2006). Similar outcomes have been documented in Central America where Braye et al. (2001) compared deforestation in 19 community forests and 11 protected areas and found that deforestation rates were higher in protected areas than in community forests where local people were using the forests to support their livelihoods. Gautam et al., (2003) analyzed land use changes in a watershed covering 15 335 hectares, where the government of Nepal has been implementing community forestry since the mid-1970s by comparing satellite imagery from 1976, 1989 and 2000. The study found that the number of forest patches declined over time (from 395 in 1976 to 323 in 1989 and to 175 in 2000) whereas the average patch area increased over the same period. This was attributed to the merger of previously isolated small forest patches as previously degraded areas regenerated or replaced with plantations under the community forestry programme. Indeed, whole hillsides have been reforested under community forestry plantations in many hill districts that are now generating employment and income (Dangal, 2002; Singh, 2005).


In Pred Nai village, in Trat Province of Thailand, a mangrove forest that provided a means of livelihoods for several villagers was destroyed following a logging concession. The concessionaire over-harvested the mangrove and prohibited villagers from harvesting crabs. Concerned community members successfully formed a group to stop the logging and shrimp farming. A gate was destroyed and commercial logging was halted. Both seafood production and biodiversity was enhanced significantly as a result of the rehabilitation and protection of the mangrove forest (for more detailed information, see Kaewmahanin et al, 2003, cited in Fisher et al., 2005). Similarly, in Cambodia, following the destruction of forest along the northeast shores of the Tonle Sap (Great Lake), local communities started to protect the flood pulse forest. As a result, the forest now provides a critical habitat for biodiversity conservation, including 200 different species of fish, many of which are endemic (Evans et al., 2004, cited in Poffenberger, 2006). In addition to improving the forest condition, community forestry has also been able to bear all costs associated with the protection and management of forests. Indeed, some 30 to 40 percent of the community forest income is reported to be reinvested in their forest resource maintenance and regeneration (Ojha et al, 2009). Statz and Tumbahangphe (2004) document cases where many people are patrolling the forest everyday, in contrast to the very occasional visits by government rangers to state forests and the brief visits by contractors only when harvesting is allowed. This is a complete turn around from the situation of the 1970s and 1980s when almost all of the community forestry work was supported by outside donors who funded field projects and employed forest watchers to protect forests (Gautam and Roach, 1987).

Contribution to financial (cash and non-cash) capital
Secure tenure and rights to forests means guaranteed access to and availability of food. To many forest-dependent people, forests are the most significant means of livelihood. Forest regulations have denied their rights to the forests. However, following the security of rights to the forests through community forestry, these community members have become managers of the resource. Well managed community forests provide seasonal foods, particularly nutritious supplements to people’s diets as well as safety nets. In some societies, such as Nepal, parts of India and Bangladesh forests are integral parts of the agricultural production systems. Leaves and twigs from the forest are used as fodder and bedding materials for farm animals. The mix of animal dung and used bedding materials in turn then serve as a very important source of fertilizer to produce food crops. This forest-livestockagriculture linkage is so critical in the rural mountainous areas where chemical fertilizers are not easily available, or where it is available and the prices are too high. Cash income generated from the sale of forest products and services and shared amongst community members can be used to purchase food. For example, in Lao PDR, villages in Oudomrxay province faced food deficits for part of the year. Following the support of an International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) project, villagers were able to collect and market bamboo shoots in an organized manner and earned an average income per family of US$130, which was four times more than the year before. In addition, several hundred dollars were earned for a village development fund. In the context of rural income in Lao PDR this income is very significant for the poor household. The development of rice banks to poor households to solve their food deficit problems has had a positive impact on forest conservation by reducing the hunting level during the food deficit period (previously the villagers sold wildlife to buy rice). The project has also assisted the poor households to negotiate with the village authorities to allocate a part of the forest to them (Foppes and Ketphanh, 2000, cited in Gilmour et al., 2005).


In some countries, community forestry has started to generate significant cash income. For example, following the three decades of field planning and implementation, community forestry in Nepal is reported to have reached the stage of generating substantial cash income. According to Kanel and Niraula (2004), a rapid assessment of 1 288 forest user groups from 12 hills and Terai (lowland) districts was conducted and extrapolated to all forest user groups (FUGs) in the country. The results indicated that the total annual cash income from the sale of forest products from the community forests was NRs747 millions (more than US$10 million). This is almost 42 percent of the annual budget of the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation. Now, 100 percent of the cash income goes to FUG accounts. When the cash equivalent of forest products consumed by households for subsistence is added, the total annual income generated from community forestry was estimated at NRs1.8 billion (or US$24 million). FUGs are using funds to initiate credit schemes and community forest enterprises. For example, in DFID-supported Livelihoods and Forestry Programme districts, some 426 FUGs have initiated credit schemes (revolving funds) involving over 8 000 households (Chapagain et al., 2009). In Parbat district, west Nepal, 312 FUGs implemented savings and credit schemes through which they mobilized more than NRs5.8 million (US$74 935) (Luintel et al., 2009). For example, a FUG, Toirpani, in Myagdi district, west Nepal was reported to have sold in a single season some NRs4.0 million (US$53 500) worth of Timur (Xanthoxylum armatum) – a highly valued medicinal plant used by pharmaceutical and ayurvedic industries for a range of products including pesticides and insecticides. Up till that time, because of the lack of a market, the Timur was not valued much and was wasted. But now the people in the village have even set up nurseries to produce Timur seedlings for planting in community forests and private marginal farmlands (Ojha et al., 2009). Community forestry has also been criticized over the years. For example, in Nepal, in the initial stage, community forestry – especially afforestation activity - imposed restrictions on grazing animals necessitating the villagers to stall-feed their farm animals. This affected some households, especially smaller landholders. However, following the protection, most plantation areas started to produce more grass which could be hand cut and fed to animals.3 More recently, community forestry also received much criticism for local elites dominating the process and capturing most benefits. For example, in the above study by Kanel and Niraula (2004), only 3 percent of the NRs747 million (US$10 million) was targeted towards specific pro-poor activities. Consequently, the 2004 national community forestry workshop passed a resolution to allocate at least 25 percent of the community forestry income for supporting the poorer households. More recently, there has been mounting evidence of community forestry becoming more pro-poor with the poorest household members gaining more from community forestry work. More FUGs are reported to have set aside an increasing portion of the FUG income to support income generating and other activities of the poorer households. For example, in 2007/2008, NRs14.4 million (US$193 550)

Earlier there had been reports about community forestry programmes having adverse affects in some areas where mountain people used pack animals to carry food from the lowland areas (Gerry Gill, personal communication). Although this is partly true where community forestry groups banned grazing, more often than not the mountain people used pack animals during the dry season when much of the agricultural land remained fallow. They used the fallow agriculture land to feed and rest their pack animals during the night time. The concerned landowners provided feed (rice and millet straw) in return for the dung (fertilizer) they received from the animals. However, over the last 10 to 15 years, with more hill and lowland districts having been linked through motor roads, the tradition of using pack animals for transport of grains has been disappearing rapidly.



or 18 percent of the total income generated by 4 500 groups in 15 LFP districts were allocated for poverty alleviation related activities (Chapagain, 2009). Similarly, an increasing number of the marginalized groups (dalit, ethnic and minority groups) have access to opportunities for paid employment. Over 80 percent of the jobs related to forest and nursery management work were taken by members of the poorer households (LFP, cited in Ojha et al., 2009). Pro-poor mechanisms for the distribution of forest products have started to impact positively on household livelihoods. Some FUGs have decided to provide forest products to poorer households at subsidized rates and at no cost to households headed by women and to extremely poor households. Bhattarai (2009) found that some FUGs have moved from the system of equal distribution of forest products to all members, to an equitable distribution system that provides forest products at subsidized rates to the more vulnerable household members. Timber is sold at NRs65 or 50 percent of the actual market price to users from designated poor households and at no cost to the homeless members. Some FUGs have allowed poorer household members to collect fuelwood from the community forests, pay certain fees to the FUGs and sell the fuelwood in a nearby market at a much higher price. The poorer household women and men are making as much as NRs130 (US$1.75) per load after paying the FUG’s fees (Bhattarai, 2009). As fuelwood selling is considered to be a low grade job, this arrangement suits to both poorer households and the local elites. Many FUGs are reported to have used a portion of the income to support school fees of the children from poorer households. For example, in a mid-west district, supported by LFPs, more than 100 children from poorer households are provided with scholarships to attend schools (LFP unpublished report, cited in Ojha et al, 2009). In Parbat district, 312 FUGs, through their savings and credit schemes supported some 2 100 members of the dalit and conflict-affected households (Luintel et al., 2009). Similarly, a total of 14 213 households in Rapti district of the mid-west region benefited from community forestry based microenterprises, and 94 percent of them were from a poor or marginalized group (Luitel et al., 2009). Nevertheless, as pointed out by Bampton and Cammaert (2006), more can still be done to understand complete community forestry economies within and between households and communities that encourage policy changes that lead to a more equitable distribution of benefits. Finally, community forestry has started to make its way into supporting forest-based small and medium enterprises. In Nepal, many FUGs are reported to have already started financing forestry enterprises such as saw mills and other forest products processing industries. This has allowed the forest users to sell processed goods at a much higher price in the market and at the same time generate employment opportunities within the villages (Singh, 2005; Ghan Shyam Pandey, Chairman, Federations of Community Forest Users, Nepal, personal communication). This is a big shift from the situation in the early 1990s when selling forest products from community forests was not permitted (Malla, 1992, 1993).

Contribution to physical capital
Following the community forestry programme, a range of village development activities was reported to have been funded using community forestry income. No doubt, the FUG members see these as very important for enhancing their livelihoods. As for the financial capital – such as credit schemes decision-making on investing in physical infrastructure has increasingly been pro-poor. For example, according to Chapagain and Banjade (2009), 167 FUGs spent part of their income in supporting drinking water schemes and 68 percent of the 12 480 households were from the poor household categories. Similarly, 41 FUGs used some of their income for irrigation schemes involving 7 217


households, 65 percent of these represented poor household groups. As much as 82 percent of the 177 households (in 26 FUGs) that were involved in constructing and selling improved cooking stoves were from marginalized groups. Members from poorer households seem to support investments in other schemes such as roads and health schemes as the former improve their accessibility to markets and wage labour, and the latter save them from going to a city-based clinic where treatment would be much costlier. Moreover, the presence of these physical facilities which the villagers funded from their own community forestry fund gives them the confidence and raises the importance and value of the forests.

Contribution to human capital
District forest offices, field programmes, NGOs and civil society organizations have provisions for capacity building of forest users and include in annual work plans various training programmes. These activities help to strengthen forest users’ knowledge and skills. In addition, support to literacy classes for women and men, provision of scholarships for children from poorer households to attend schools will go a long way to build the capacity of poorer household members and the funding of physical infrastructure and teachers in schools serves all. Similarly, creating job opportunities relating to both forestry and non-forestry work within the village provides opportunities for developing diverse skills. In addition, the increased efforts towards making the programme more pro-poor and gender sensitive is definitely a sign of positive development which will go a long way to addressing rural social issues, minimizing the rural-urban gap and rural out-migration while tackling the issue of inequity within a village. There is also a need to look at contributions to human capital more broadly. Today, Nepal’s community forestry programme involves some 9 million people – nearly one-third of the country’s total population – in protecting and managing forest resources. The actively functioning 14 000 FUGs across the country mean that there at least 140 000 committee members (assuming at least ten members per committee). Similarly, in India, 84 632 actively operating forest committees mean that there are at least 846 320 members. These represent at least 15 and 8 times more than the entire government forestry staff in Nepal and India respectively. These committee members meet regularly, visit their forests and review their forest situations. Each FUG has a general assembly at least once a year and makes important decisions. Assuming that a FUG holds one general assembly a year, we are talking about 8 million people. And supposing that a FUG committee meets once in three months and for an average of two hours each, we are talking about 1 120 000 and 6 770 560 person-hours of committee members, in Nepal and India respectively, each year devoted to forest management work. Through constant interactions with general forest users as well as with forestry field staff from the government field offices and local NGOs, community members get to learn more about technical and social aspects of forest management and at the same time act as a bridge between fellow forest users and forestry department staff. As they gain experience they become more skilled and efficient at handling social and technical issues facing their community forests.

Contribution to social capital
Community forestry seems to have contributed to social capital by bringing different groups and individuals together and making them work as a reasonably cohesive entity. Although responsibility and authority is actually vested in the group, the group is made up of different interest groups and people - women, men, children, young and old, with varied means and sources of livelihoods. Each of these interest groups or individuals views the forest from the perspective of their own specific interest. The way in which these varied interests are addressed and managed is fundamental to the success and


failure of community forestry programmes. For this, a common understanding of the process for decision-making within the group is important, so is the need to clarify roles, responsibilities and authorities of general users, forest committee officials, and the government forest department officials. Increasingly, more women, dalits and ethnic people are being elected as members of the forest committees. In Nepal, for example, an analysis of the composition of 11 FUGs by Luitel and Timsina (2009) revealed that out of a total of 77 members, only 15 were women. Over time the ratio changed to 24:80 and then to 43:68 at the present time. Similarly, between 2003 and 2008, the overall representation of the dalits increased from 6 to 12 percent, that of ethnic minorities increased from 32 to 44 percent and that of women from 21 to 36 percent. Furthermore, general assemblies use open forums making ways for the previously excluded and marginalized households to participate. Initially, because of a long history of exclusion, and the lack of opportunities to be a part of the social interactions it takes time to open up and to actively participate in discussions. However, once familiar with the system and process, they gradually feel more comfortable and able to participate in discussions. Community forestry’s contribution to the formation of social capital can be further judged by ways it has helped develop the network of forest users within and out of the country. The Federation of Community Forest Users of Nepal (FECOFUN), the Community Forestry Assembly in Thailand, and the Forest Users Association of India are just a few of the many examples. Furthermore, through their representatives, forest users are linked with the various government and non-government forestry and non-forestry organizations at the district and provincial as well as national levels. This way forest users are able to build solidarity and safeguard their use rights to forests and other general interests. An important example of community forestry strengthening social cohesion is found in Nepal, where forest users were able to withstand the demand for donations from the Maoist insurgents during the years of armed conflict. In fact, forest user groups were the only grassroots level institutions that kept functioning during this time. Similarly, there have been occasions when the Nepal government attempted to curtail some of the rights that community forestry law had vested in them. Forest users, through their federations, were able to successfully challenge the government decision. Today, Nepal’s forest users are aiming to include their use rights in the new constitution. More recently, there have been moves towards forming alliances and a coalition at the regional and global levels to gain wider support for community forestry. For example, FECOFUN from Nepal, ACICAFOC from Costa Rica and similar associations in Africa and Europe initiated and formed a global alliance for community forestry (GACF). FECOFUN serves as a focal institution for Asia.

Contributions to broader development objectives
The above examples show that community forestry cuts across all the five types of livelihood capital. It is also one of the rare innovations that have been able to translate many of the general social development philosophies that have emerged in recent decades into actions on the ground, including the concept and process of rural development, decentralization and devolution, people participation and governance systems. Community forestry has contributed to rural social processes of change by its different ways of doing things and by treating rural forest people as the real agents of change (rather than continuing to regard them as ignorant laggards who resist change). It is able to diversify its spheres and generate diverse


livelihood opportunities, and can help address a host of rural-urban issues including the widening rural-urban gulf and rural out-migration. In terms of the decentralization and devolution of power, there could not be a better example than community forestry. The ways in which local community members are protecting and regenerating forest resources are there for all to see, and without having the power and authority it would not have been possible for them to keep outside powerful interest groups out of their forests. As for a contribution to the concept of “people’s participation”, community forestry has been able to innovate a variety of participatory approaches and methods that can effectively engage forest people, especially the socially disadvantaged or excluded members, in forest management activities. Some participatory techniques, such as social and resource mapping, wellbeing ranking, etc. that community forestry helped to develop amongst the forest people are reported to be equally relevant for other sectors. On governance, especially forest governance, community forestry has been very innovative in terms of developing decision-making systems that are open, transparent and accountable. Systems such as the forest users assembly for making decisions, for committee members to present reports at the general assembly and seek approval before taking any actions, and provision for mandatorily including women, ethnic minority and dalit members in the committees, etc. are all signs of good governance. Some community forest groups have even introduced public auditing systems to avoid misuse of their community forest income by committee members (Maksha Ram Maharjan, personal communication).


Lessons learned and future actions

Community forestry is one of the most significant policy innovations that have emerged from the natural resource sector in the past three decades. Overall, community forestry has demonstrated ways for reaching the most isolated and remote places in the rural areas, and that it is possible to engage poor women, men, tribal, ethnic minorities and dalits. One of the main drivers of community forestry’s innovation and dynamism lies in its innate flexibility, and an action-research-learning approach making it possible to allow constant innovation and adjustment as community forestry develops. As well as helping to meet sustainable livelihood goals (all five types of capital, including natural or environmental capital) community forestry has proven to be one of the most practical and inclusive strategies and is appreciated by all concerned stakeholders, including villagers, village leaders, NGOs, civil society organizations, and forest and other government institutions. If properly planned and executed, community forestry programmes can reach poorer people in remote and isolated places, and improve the livelihoods of the poorest of the poor, e.g. dalits and ethnic minority groups that are still being neglected. There are still areas where improvements are needed in terms of planning and monitoring actual livelihoods outcomes. For example, to what extent have individual households within a FUG and individual members within a household been able to benefit from community forest work. Nevertheless, the community forestry programme in Nepal has been able to penetrate the rural hinterlands and reach out to the people that were previously excluded. Some recent forest and climate change related initiatives – such as payment for environmental services (PES), clean development mechanisms (CDM), reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation plus (REDD+), are important and must help reduce carbon emissions. However, these are more likely to be successful if they build on, rather than conflict with, the interests of forest people (Wollenberg and Springate-Beginski, 2010).


In terms of attracting forest communities to a community forestry programme and having their meaningful participation in forest management lead to sustainable livelihoods improvements, the following actions should be considered: • Several studies and reports have suggested the need for supporting regulatory frameworks including policy, law, and guidelines – for community forestry programmes. For example, the proceedings of the First Regional Community Forestry Forum, organized by RECOFTC, provide an overview of the regulatory frameworks for community forestry in Asia (Gilmour et al., 2005). Although tenure and use rights are fundamental to the success of community forestry, having these stated in the policy and legal documents alone does not automatically translate into action on the ground. This needs to be supported by a simple guideline for field implementation as well as appropriate institutional arrangements. Moreover, it is the simple management plan that actually helps to realize and transform the tenure and use rights into action. It is the management plan that defines resource and users boundaries that the users can relate to easily and simple rules and regulations that they can understand and implement. More often than not government community forestry programmes include laudable goals of poverty alleviation and sustainable forest management. However, the general tendency of most government forest authorities is to retain the well stocked and productive forests and handover only the degraded forests to local communities. This has proven to be more of an approach of keeping people in poverty, rather than helping to get them out of poverty. For meaningful engagement of poor local people in forest management, it is important to handover the existing productive forests so that the people below the poverty line start to get benefits reasonably quickly, without having to wait for the land to be rehabilitated with trees. In order for communities to benefit more from community forests, they must not be tangled in red-tape with complicated procedures and high transaction costs. As Gilmour et al (2005) explain, community forestry policy should be enabling rather than enforcing. Thus, it should enable rural communities to improve their own livelihoods and the condition of the forests in their vicinity by removing any constraints that inhibit them from doing so. Government agencies should adopt a supportive and facilitative role to assist communities in these efforts. Therefore, avoid overregulation (particularly in the early stages) so that the partners in implementation (generally government officials and community members) are capable of implementing the policies. Although a robust strategy as it is, much could be done to make community forestry even more effective. Although there is growing evidence of becoming increasingly pro-poor, it is still unclear to what extent the interests of the poorer household members are actually addressed. At present, apart from China which has introduced a system for household allocation, most countries have vested forest rights in the group. There is a need for a more explicit strategy and guide to ensure that the poorer household members’ interests are considered within each FUG right at the beginning of the management planning. This includes setting clear targets and processes to execute, as well as monitoring implementation and outcomes. Finally, and more importantly, community forestry development requires support at initial stages, especially when working with deforested lands or degraded forests. Over time as the resource develops and people become more skilled in its management, community forestry can be selfsustaining and support livelihoods. Without this initial support, community forestry in countries such as Nepal, India and the Philippines would probably have not progressed so rapidly. Furthermore, for community forestry to advance, a country needs to have its own critical mass of community forestry expertise. Some countries which have introduced community forestry more recently seriously lack the necessary expertise and skills required for capturing the new approach to forestry and to transform it into action. Without an appropriate support mechanism, tangible


benefits may take too long to accrue. Countries with advanced community forestry will also need support to deal with second and third generation issues – especially those relating to the equitable sharing of the benefits and for ways to enhance the management of forest resources as the productive natural capital.


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