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  • Can DRC’s community forests alleviate poverty?

Can DRC’s community forests alleviate poverty?

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Woman carrying wood, Yangambi, DRC. Photo by A. Fassio/CIFOR
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Community forestry is an attractive endeavor in the quest to reduce poverty. Multiple countries with tropical forests have placed it at the heart of their rural development strategies, giving local communities the rights to directly manage forests and decide how land will be used.

Underpinning community forestry is the proven belief that local people are best placed to manage the resources on which they rely. Done sustainably, poverty can be alleviated, social mobility enhanced, and the ecological protection of the forest achieved.

But between theory and practice, lies a disconnect.

A new study shows that the benefits don’t always materialize. Community elites are most likely to reap the rewards from such models, risking disillusionment among rural communities. Such is the case of multiple community forest initiatives across Central Africa, found researchers from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the University of Kisangani (UNIKIS).

Scientists found that two community forest pilot sites in northeast Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), failed to produce an increase in people’s real income. “Our research shows that the business case for community forests in DRC remains weak,” said Guillaume Lescuyer, lead author of the study. “In both of our pilot sites, we saw a negative financial turnover over five years. All the productive activities that we analyzed – including logging, hunting and firewood collection – either result in losses or a very low profit.” The researchers therefore advise that community forestry is unlikely to develop into a profitable model in the DRC, unless people are convinced that it will increase their financial and physical capital.

Though financial impact is just one factor to consider when assessing community forests, it is arguably the biggest deciding factor for communities to maintain or discard the model.

The findings from the DRC come at a crucial moment when the Congolese authorities are backing community forestry, implementing several legal and administrative entities. “In 2002 the national forestry law adopted the concept of ‘local community forest’, but it lacked detail until 2016,” explained Ignace Muganguzi, co-author of the study.

“Recently this law has been complimented by a series of decrees that are opening a legal pathway to formalize community forests of up to 50,000 hectares.”

The Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development has also created a sub-department devoted to community forestry, while there is a new government-wide National Strategy for Community Forestry aimed at promoting this model.

Read also: Setting the stage for agroforestry expansion in Eastern Congo

A man cuts down a tree to produce charcoal, Yangambi, DRC. Photo by A. Fassio/CIFOR

Financial failures

Despite the recent rise of community forestry in the DRC, one of the barriers that persists is the exorbitant costs required to set up a community forest. In the selected case studies, USD 100,000 to USD 160,000 is needed to comply with regulations. These fees cover necessary coordination meetings and committees, the creation of boundary lines and maps, baseline studies, and other formal procedures. “The start-up cost is just too high to make this model viable,” stated Lescuyer.

Beyond these expenses, lies high costs of formalizing local economic activities to comply with regulatory requirements. “The payment of all the approvals, taxes and permits that are required to carry out activities such as hunting, chain-sawing, or gathering non-timber forest products, in a legal manner, often prevents small producers from making a profit,” added Lescuyer.

To address these issues, the researchers make two recommendations.

First, new community forest projects should focus on the productive uses of forest resources, creating a business case with financial forecasts. “Short and medium-term livelihood outcomes need to be quantitatively measured, and to continue supporting these projects there should be strong evidence of a significant economic impact,” said Lescuyer. The study shows that to date, no community forest in the DRC has conducted such analyses.

Second, legal constraints should be simplified to reduce the cost of creating and managing community forests. Furthermore, local institutional processes should be streamlined to facilitate operations. “If national regulations continue the same, people might even favor illegal practices to cover these costs,” warned Muganguzi.

A question of ownership

This new research underlines finance as a major obstacle to the success of community forestry in the DRC: the lack of ownership by local populations.

The researchers argue that in most cases, community forestry emerges as a top-down initiative. Because of expensive administrative costs, the creation of community forests is out of reach for local communities, making them dependent on external actors. These days, many initiatives in the DRC are thus subsidized by international funds and run by local or international NGOs. “One of the problems with this situation is that the intervening agencies tend to impose their normative values and sophisticated management tools,” explained Lescuyer. “A bottom-up approach that takes into consideration local realities of communities would be more appropriate. It could lead to more functional systems than those brought in from outside.”

A regional problem

Community forestry became a booming trend among political and technical circles across Central Africa in the 1990s. Cameroon rose as the early-adopter, being the first country in the region to enshrine it in law. The government created formal community forests as early as 1998, which allowed village associations to legally harvest, process, and trade forest resources within an area of up to 5,000 hectares.

Girls carry vegetables, Yangambi, DRC. Photo by A. Fassio/CIFOR

However, the limited financial impact on rural livelihoods, as well as the complicated administrative procedures, have hindered any extensions. At present, only about one percent of Cameroon’s forests is managed by the communities.

“In Cameroon, engagement in community forestry has also been very low, mainly because of the lack of belief that it will raise their standard of living,” explained Lescuyer. “Likewise, in this case the costs of setting up a community forest is too elevated.”

What’s more, previous research unearthed multiple cases where community forests in Cameroon were exploited through subcontracts with logging companies. Mostly medium-sized and informal, they paid cut-rate rents that did not trickle down to improve collective standards of living; the reality of job creation reflected by very low salaries.

Other studies have concluded that revenues from logging are seldom equally distributed- local political, economic and military elites reaping the lion share of profits.

“The failure of community forestry in Cameroon is worrying because the model has been replicated for about 15 years across Central African countries, especially in Gabon, the DRC, and Central African Republic,” said Lescuyer.

Read also: Addressing equity in community forestry: lessons from 20 years of implementation in Cameroon

The essence of community forestry

While CIFOR and UNIKIS’ research focuses on the financial returns of community forests and their impact on livelihoods, the authors acknowledge that there are benefits beyond monetary gains.

Community forests protect biodiversity, which in turn supports food security; they both mitigate and facilitate adaptation to climate change, sucking carbon from the air and retaining natural barriers against intense weather events; they are an important tool for recognizing customary rights; they help secure land tenure and facilitate long-term investment by the involved communities.

“Of course there are other long-term benefits,” recognized Lescuyer, “but so far there aren’t enough examples from Central Africa to say that community forestry can improve the well-being of people without increasing their revenues.”

Lescuyer agrees, believing that the purpose of increasing income should be at the core of community forestry, especially in rural areas where development options are limited. “It is time to ensure that the tens of millions of dollars devoted to supporting this model actually ends to alleviate poverty,” he concluded.

By Ahtziri Gonzalez, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News.

This research was supported by the REFORCO and FORETS projects and funded by the European Union.

This work is also part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), the world’s largest research for development program to enhance the role of forests, trees and agroforestry in sustainable development and food security and to address climate change. CIFOR leads FTA in partnership with Bioversity International, CATIE, CIRAD, ICRAF, INBAR and TBI. FTA’s work is supported by the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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  • Addressing equity in community forestry: lessons from 20 years of implementation in Cameroon

Addressing equity in community forestry: lessons from 20 years of implementation in Cameroon

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A community forestry approach was adopted by Cameroon as a strategy to promote the sustainable management of forests, participation by local communities in forest management, and poverty alleviation. However, results have been moderate and community forestry has largely failed in achieving its initial goals. Our work, based on existing literature, uses the three inter-related dimensions of equity: distributive, procedural, and contextual to highlight the main equity challenges encountered in implementing the community forestry approach over the past 20 years in Cameroon. The main constraints to distributive equity identified include: the absence of clear benefit-sharing mechanisms and rents capture by elites, insecure tenure, and limited use rights of forest resources. Regarding the procedural dimension, we observed an exclusion of vulnerable groups, especially women, and a lack of information flow and transparency in decision-making processes. Finally, for contextual equity, the main constraints are unfair laws and regulations that give more advantages to the state and logging companies than to the local population. Moreover, poor community capacities and high transaction costs in the process of obtaining and exploiting community forests are additional constraints to contextual equity. The authors recommend a few measures to improve community forestry contribution to socioeconomic development, equity in benefit sharing, and sustainable management of forest resources. These include the need: (1) to promote transparency in community forests management with fair and gender-based policies that consider socioeconomic differences existing within and between forest communities; (2) to strengthen local community members financial and technical capacities and increase their representation and participation in decision-making structures; and (3) to set up mechanisms that guarantee existing policies are fully implemented.

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  • Gender and formalization of native communities in the Peruvian Amazon

Gender and formalization of native communities in the Peruvian Amazon

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  • Indigenous women are affected not only by the tenure security of their collective land but also by their status as women; hence, both national law and community norms are of paramount importance.
  • Peruvian law protects women and promotes equity in general terms, but not specifically in laws regarding land tenure or for native communities.
  • Interviews with government officials responsible for formalizing land in Peru demonstrate less awareness of genderrelated concerns than similar officials in Uganda, Indonesia and Nepal.
  • Household survey results show important gender differences in forest use, forest management and decision-making, and in perceptions on the fairness of rules, tenure security and drivers of insecurity related to titling and formalization processes.
  • Ways forward include capacity building for women to better participate in formalization processes as well as gender awareness for mainstreaming women’s perspectives; gender training and reflection for government, indigenous federations and communities; and greater articulation between government officials and communities, with the support of NGOs and women’s organizations and federations.

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  • Social forestry impacts local livelihoods in Indonesia

Social forestry impacts local livelihoods in Indonesia

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Women cross the Way Bulak River in Lampung, Indonesia, as they carry resin from damar tree areas to their village. Photo by Ulet Ifansasti/CIFOR
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In a two-part series, the Center for International Forestry Research’s (CIFOR) Forests News examines ongoing research from Lampung province, Indonesia, as part of the Global Comparative Study on Forest Tenure Reform (GCS-Tenure).

The first article, Why social forestry: Keeping the coffee, looks at the village of Tri Budi Syukur in Lampung, Sumatra, which developed from a destroyed landscape to profitable plantations, showing the benefits of social forestry schemes.

Having implemented versions of social forestry schemes for nearly two decades, Lampung is the pioneer province for social forestry in Indonesia, and Tri Budi Syukur has been its flagship village.

Between 2014 and 2017, the GCS-Tenure team measured the impact of social forestry on local livelihoods, using three indicators: income from coffee bean harvest, family food security, and initiative to invest in land recovery. Livelihoods and the landscape were found to be thriving hand-in-hand, largely due to the institution of social forestry.

Watch: Why social forestry: Keeping the coffee

One of the key lessons learned in Tri Budi Syukur was that despite local capabilities, outside support is still needed. Whereas once the government and villagers were pitted against one another, success has grown since they began working together.

The second article, Why social forestry: Securing the sap, addresses how tenure security from forestry schemes can help communities stabilize their economies and reduce conflict.

In Pahmungan village, Lampung, people have used damar trees and the sap they produce as their main source of income for more than a century. However, the land has been a place of contention, as governmental changes to land status have clashed against customary tenure practices.

Watch: Why social forestry: Securing the sap

Without proper land rights, the community lacks bargaining power to set the price of damar sap and keep it from fluctuating, putting not only local livelihoods but also the forest at risk, as it can lead to the felling of trees for extra cash.

Outside help is beginning to step in. Local environmental NGO Watala Lampung not only helps the community manage repong damar sustainably, but it helps educate villagers on the benefits of social forestry and provides platforms for government engagement, to promote the importance of repong damar.

In looking at these tenure insecurity issues, scientists found that implementation of social forestry schemes could be the answer to the latent challenges.

Read more: FTA at the Asia-Pacific Rainforest Summit 2018

These articles were written by Nabiha Shahab and first appeared on CIFOR’s Forests News

For more information on the topic, please contact Tuti Herawati at or Esther Mwangi at

This work is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

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  • New children's book teaches the sustainable traditions of West Timorese honey hunters

New children’s book teaches the sustainable traditions of West Timorese honey hunters

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Isak Fobia, leader of the Olin-Fobia community, is responsible for guiding the honey harvesting ceremony. Photo by Nanang Sujana/CIFOR
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Isak Fobia, leader of the Olin-Fobia community, is responsible for guiding the honey harvesting ceremony. Photo by Nanang Sujana/CIFOR

As part of the Kanoppi research project, a new book about honey harvesting in West Timor, Indonesia, aims in part to contribute to policy recommendations that increase the comparative advantages of small-scale forestry management practices. 

Kanoppi is a combined effort between the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).

Scientist Ani Adiwinata Nawir initially traveled to West Timor to study the forests of Mutis-Timau, curious to see how communities used forests to help their livelihoods while keeping their beautiful landscape in tact. During her stay, she became fascinated with the Olin-Fobia community and their annual tradition of harvesting wild honey from the nearby Mount Mutis Nature Reserve.

She found that their tradition was not only sweet, but also an excellent example of community-based landscape management. Developed into a fair-trade product with help of the World Wildlife Fund in Indonesia, the harvested “Mt. Mutis” honey had become commercially successful around Indonesia, bringing income to the community without involving the felling of trees.

But the story doesn’t end there. After speaking with colleagues from CIFOR, an idea emerged: to create a children’s book that tells the tale of the honey hunters.

Watch: Secrets of the Mutis Honey Hunters (video)

“We observed a knowledge gap between older and younger generations,” says Ani. “Local wisdom and traditions aren’t always being passed on. We thought a book would help keep these traditions alive and motivate young people to learn more about forest conservation.”

She contacted Indonesian children’s book author Johanna Ernawati, who has long been interested in the traditions and origins of Indonesians living in remote parts of the archipelago, like Papua and Timor. She agreed to write the book, Secrets of the Mutis Honey Hunters, which was recently published in English and Indonesian.

Read more: Secrets of the Mutis Honey Hunters (book)

“This was a great opportunity for me to help educate Indonesians about their origin, their ancestry and the uniqueness of Indonesian forest culture,” says Ernawati.

The author used scientific research to inform her writing and also travelled to West Timor to visit the Olin-Fobia community and gather more information – and inspiration.

“The community is fascinating. They are truly sons and daughters of nature. They care about Mother Earth, about animals, the forest and family,” she says. “They know the forest is the source of life for their community, providing water, medicine, and prosperity from the sale of honey.”

Their forest knowledge, she learned, is based on legends and folk tales of the Mutis forest that have been passed down from generation to generation. Children are taught at an early age about the forests’ importance and why they need to preserve it.

The book is now being distributed to schools and government agencies tasked with educating children about the environment, in hopes for more children to understand the same.

A single tree can host more than 100 hives. Photo by Nanang Sujana/CIFOR


Secrets of the Mutis Honey Hunters tells the tale of brother-and-sister twins from Bonleu Village in the Mutis Valley. On their twelfth birthday, the twins’ father gives them a special gift: they’re allowed to join the village adults and go honey hunting in the forest.

Bapak Tobe, the village elder, leads a traditional Naketi ceremony for everyone to ask forgiveness of one another, as honey hunters must be pure of heart. The twins then venture into the forest and experience the ancient tradition of honey harvesting.

Readers experience this adventure through colorful images and playful text, which draw upon the research of Ani and fellow experts to teach about the Olin-Fobia culture and landscape.

“We included facts about their traditional houses, flora and fauna, the history of the local people and also how honey is made,” says Budhy Kristanty, a CIFOR communications officer who helped develop the project. “It’s a creative way to educate children.”

The team hopes that the book will be translated into Spanish and French, and a short animated video of the book, shown above, has also been produced.

“We hope other organizations will be inspired by the book to do similar projects,” says Ani. “In Indonesia, we need more efforts to educate younger generations, since they will be the ones to preserve the remaining forests.”

Ani says she and her team have received a significant number of requests from various institutions for the book – as well as good feedback from its audience.

“Our kids usually enjoy playtime the most, but today I started playing the animated video, and they all stopped playing and gathered around to watch,” says a teacher from Madania School in the West Java city of Bogor.

“Then the children all sat down, and I read the book to them. They were all so excited and wanted to hear it again and again.”

By Suzanna Dayne, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News.

For more information on this topic, please contact Ani Adiwinata Nawir at

This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

This research was supported by USAID and the UK Department for International Development (DFID).

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  • Forest ecosystem services and the pillars of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness

Forest ecosystem services and the pillars of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness

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In the eastern Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan, culture, society, economy and environment are linked in the development framework of Gross National Happiness (GNH). In this literature review, we highlight the relationships between forests and Bhutan’s development framework and current priorities, identifying plausible causal pathways. Due to the mountainous nature of this country, our particular interest is in the impacts of upstream forest activity on downstream stakeholders.

Our hypothetical framework identifies specific causal pathways between forests and the four pillars of GNH (environmental conservation, cultural preservation, equitable socioeconomic development and good governance), and evidence was sought in the published literature to test the hypothesis. While conceptual support for many linkages between forests and each of the pillars was found in the literature, evidential support specifically for Bhutan is limited. The strongest evidence is found for the role of forests in socioeconomic development and good governance, particularly through the community forestry program.

To develop incentive programs for forest conservation and restoration, such as payment for ecosystem services and pay-for-performance donor funding, the evidence base needs to be expanded for causal pathways between upstream forest condition and downstream security, particularly for services such as water regulation. The evidence should inform public policy and forest management strategies and practices.

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  • Social Forestry – why and for whom? A comparison of policies in Vietnam and Indonesia

Social Forestry – why and for whom? A comparison of policies in Vietnam and Indonesia

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Community forestry or social forestry (henceforth referred collectively as SF) programs have become new modes of forest management empowering local managers and hence, allowing integration of diverse local practices and support of local livelihoods. Implementation of these initiatives, however, face multiple challenges. State-prescribed community programs, for example, will remain isolated efforts if changes in the overall economic and social governance frameworks, including the devolution of rights to local users is lacking. Financial sustainability of these measures remains often uncertain and equity issues inherent to groups and communities formed for SF, can be exacerbated.

In this article, we pose the question: Whose interests do SF policies serve? The effectiveness of SF would depend on the motivations and aims for a decentralization of forest governance to the community. In order to understand the underlying motivations behind the governments’ push for SF, we examine national policies in Vietnam and Indonesia, changes in their policies over time and the shift in discourses influencing how SF has evolved. Vietnam and Indonesia are at different sides of the spectrum in democratic ambitions and forest abundance, and present an intriguing comparison in the recent regional push towards SF in Southeast Asia. We discuss the different interpretations of SF in these two countries and how SF programs are implemented. Our results show that governments, influenced by global discourse, are attempting to regulate SF through formal definitions and regulations. Communities on the other hand, might resist by adopting, adapting or rejecting formal schemes. In this tension, SF, in general adopted to serve the interest of local people, in practice SF has not fulfilled its promise.

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  • Eyes on the livelihoods of peatland communities

Eyes on the livelihoods of peatland communities

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A road runs through an oil palm plantation in Indonesia. Photo by Ryan Woo/CIFOR
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FTA scientist Atiek Widayati of ICRAF speaks during the “People and peat: Livelihoods in context” science discussion at the Global Landscapes Forum in Jakarta. Photo by CIFOR

Global market demands and ecological conditions force ground-level change – and collaboration.

It’s not just the types of trees that grow in the forests – and, in some cases, the orangutans or Probiscis monkeys that live in them – or the way the rivers wind like thread through islands of wild green that make each peatland landscape unique. Each peatland ecosystem also derives its identity from the people that call it home.

Despite their oft-remote locales, these communities are directly impacted by changes in the global market. Demands for chewing gum in Japan, for instance, can change how a farmer in Central Kalimantan chooses to use his plot of land, and an uptick in natural body creams can fatten the wallets of smallholders in Sumatra.

This ever-evolving relationship between peatland communities and their means of income was the focus of the People and peat: Livelihoods in context science discussion at the Global Landscapes Forum: Peatlands Matter event on May 18 in Jakarta. Five panelists from across different sectors, including FTA researchers, sat down to share ground-level changes they’ve witnessed, and brainstorm ways communities may be able to better thrive in the future.

Read also: FTA seeks to influence debate at GLF on peatlands


Due to years of exploitation, the peatland forests of Sumatra’s Tanjung Jabung Barat (more simply known as Tanjabar) district were completely degraded at the start of the millennium.

They were no longer sustainable for agriculture, and the farming communities who had long lived there were struggling. This led the Forest District Office of Tanjabar (currently known as Forest Management Unit of Tanjabar) to take action in 2009, beginning restoration efforts by planting some 500 hectares of the Bram Itam peat forest reserve using jelutung trees.

A farmer shows coffee beans after harvesting in Indonesia. Photo by Yusuf Ahmad/ICRAF

While the forest was being given a facelift, farmers began using surrounding areas to diversify their land nurseries by planting a variety of other trees for rubber, coffee, betel nuts, oil palm, coconut, galangal, ginger, and pineapple. It was better for the land and their income too.

In other villages, such as Senyerang (in northwest Tanjabar), farmers had begun domesticating jelutung trees as well, as the trees’ sap was very profitable for its use in latex and gums.


However, the Bram Itam peat swamp forest reserve was also prone to illegal logging, as well as migrants coming in and converting land to estate crops that sucked moisture from the ground. Again, the local government stepped in and offered a solution, allowing local farmers to harvest oil palm from previously protected, reforested areas for a period of time, so they could continue to economically sustain themselves without breaking the peace with the new influx of land dwellers.

“A profitability study conducted by the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF) showed that the tree-based agroforestry systems on the Tanjabar peatlands provided weekly and monthly income for farmers,” said Hesti Lestari Tata, a scientist at FOERDIA, the Research, Development, and Innovation Agency within the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry.

This story can be seen as a lesson: in the same way different types of crops are needed to sustain the environment and the economy, there’s a pressing need for different groups of stakeholders to work together in order to profit from these landscapes.

“The typology of peatlands needs to be addressed from the beginning,” said Ingrid Öborn, Southeast Asia regional coordinator for ICRAF. “This takes in the complexity of peatlands – depth, maturity, and water conditions, as well as socio-economic and land governance conditions. Conflict areas and non-conflict areas need to be documented. This can be the starting point for learning and upscaling the lessons to other areas.”

This begins with open communication and negotiations between different groups of stakeholders in each area, coupled with more formal principles, such as free prior informed consent (FPIC), which holds that communities have the right to decline proposed projects that affect the land they own, use, or occupy.

“There should be a trade-off between ecological and environmental needs versus social and economic needs,” said Tata. “How can we balance the two?”


Along with being constantly changing social landscapes, peatlands are also constantly shifting based on what commodities the world wants and needs at any given time.

A road runs through an oil palm plantation in Indonesia. Photo by Ryan Woo/CIFOR

“Usually, the market is the main driver of the domestication of peatlands,” said Tata. Some local crops have long been in demand: in Sumatra’s Tanjabar district, betel nuts and Liberica coffee brought to Indonesia from Africa in the late 19th century; in Riau, sago, which is ground into starch; and everywhere, oil palm.

However, not every peatland has the right conditions to grow these crops, and communities must work within the inherent confines of their landscapes.

“Coffee and betel nuts are suitable to be planted on shallow peat that’s either hemic [partially decomposed] or sapric [decomposed],” Tata explained. “Jelutung can be domesticated almost anywhere. But the market first has to be established to secure the value chain.”

This has particularly been witnessed in regards to jelutung. In Central Kalimantan and the Jambi province of Sumatra, farmers used to enjoy a high demand and valuable price for their jelutung sap.

Read also: Agroforestry on peatlands: combining productive and protective functions as part of restoration

However, a recent plummet in the market left some communities floundering for an alternative. According to Aulia Perdana, a marketing specialist from ICRAF, only one company – PT. Sampit – is currently trying to source jelutung from Indonesia, to be sold to chewing gum manufacturers in Singapore and Japan.

As a forward-thinking marketer, Perdana is always considering what other options are available and could be profitable in the future. Right now, he says these could include rattan; decorative or ornamental fish that can be cultivated in peatland waters; bark of the gemor tree, used in incense and the increasingly-popular natural insect repellents; and the nypa palms, whose sugar-rich sap can be tapped for up to 50 years and serves as a natural buffer for the habitats of aquatic fauna.

Fisheries, too, are being increasingly incorporated in peatland areas, and the panelists agreed that a mix of fishing and agriculture is quite beneficial to the overall sustainability of the landscape – healthy land and water conditions lead to increased productivity of both. But again, this requires an intentional dialogue between different stakeholders.

“We need to get farmers and fisheries to be together responsible for managing land and water,” said Ibu Titi, who works in the South Sumatra provincial government. There needs to be a strong interaction between the two to monitor water pH levels, fish, trees, and crops all at the same time.”

“I think we need more collaboration between researchers, trade organizations, and farmers,” said Aulia. “That’s the best way forward to develop the market – growing local markets in a collaborative and participatory way.”

By Gabrielle Lipton, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

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  • Estate Crops More Attractive than Community Forests in West Kalimantan, Indonesia

Estate Crops More Attractive than Community Forests in West Kalimantan, Indonesia

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Authors: Langston, J.D.; Riggs, R.A.; Sururi, Y.; Sunderland, T.C.H.; Munawir, M.

Smallholder farmers and indigenous communities must cope with the opportunities and threats presented by rapidly spreading estate crops in the frontier of the agricultural market economy. Smallholder communities are subject to considerable speculation by outsiders, yet large-scale agriculture presents tradeoffs that they must navigate. We initiated a study in Sintang, West Kalimantan in 2012 and have returned annually for the last four years, building the baselines for a longer-term landscape approach to reconciling conservation and development tradeoffs in situ. Here, the stakeholders are heterogeneous, yet the land cover of the landscape is on a trajectory towards homogenous mono-cropping systems, primarily either palm oil or rubber. In one village on the frontier of the agricultural market economy, natural forests remain managed by the indigenous and local community but economics further intrude on forest use decisions. Conservation values are declining and the future of the forest is uncertain. As such, the community is ultimately attracted to more economically attractive uses of the land for local development oil palm or rubber mono-crop farms. We identify poverty as a threat to community-managed conservation success in the face of economic pressures to convert forest to intensive agriculture. We provide evidence that lucrative alternatives will challenge community-managed forests when prosperity seems achievable. To alleviate this trend, we identify formalized traditional management and landscape governance solutions to nurture a more sustainable landscape transition.

Publication Year: 2017

ISSN: 2073-445X

Source: Land 6(1): 12

DOI: 10.3390/land6010012

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  • Guinea pig or pioneer: Translating global environmental objectives through to local actions in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia’s REDD+ pilot province

Guinea pig or pioneer: Translating global environmental objectives through to local actions in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia’s REDD+ pilot province

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Authors: Sanders, A.J.P.; da Silva Hyldmo, H.; Prasti H., R.D.; Ford, R.M.; Larson, A.M.; Keenan, R.J.

Many difficulties have arisen from top-down approaches to the design and implementation of global environmental initiatives. The concept of translation and other analytical features of Actor-Network Theory (ANT) can offer a way of conceptualising these difficulties and their practical effects. By translation, we refer to what happens in-between the formulation of international goals and the results of implementation, and more specifically, relations and negotiations within this broader process. We examine several aspects of translation in the case of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), a prominent global environmental initiative. Using an ethnographic approach, we explore local responses in Central Kalimantan province, Indonesia, to REDD+ ideas and goals that originate at international and national levels. Following selection in 2010 as the official REDD+ pilot province, Central Kalimantan became a site for the convergence of actors and projects with varied sources of funding. The study identifies a central tension that emerged between an initial vision of Central Kalimantan as a pioneer, and local concerns about being used as an experimental subject or ‘guinea pig’ for the testing of externally designed schemes. Results show that greater flexibility in the design of programs and initiatives is needed, to provide space for local inputs. Implementation should pay attention to how local actors are included in planning processes that inform decision-making at higher jurisdictional levels. To bring about intended changes in land use, programs like REDD+ need to extend beyond a focus on short-term projects and targets, to instead emphasise long-term investments and forms of collective action that support learning.

Source: CIFOR Publications

Publication Year: 2017

ISSN: 0959-3780

Source: Global Environmental Change 42: 68-81

DOI: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2016.12.003

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  • Incentives and Constraints of Community and Smallholder Forestry

Incentives and Constraints of Community and Smallholder Forestry

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Authors: de Jong, W.; Galloway, G.; Katila, P.; Pacheco, P.

This editorial introduces the special issue: Incentives and constraints of community and smallholder forestry. The special issue contains nine papers, listed in a table in the main text. The editorial reviews briefly some key elements of our current understanding of community and smallholder forestry. The editorial also briefly introduces the nine papers of the special issue and points out how they link to the debate among academics and specialists on community and smallholder forestry. Finally, the editorial highlights the new elements that the nine papers contribute to our understanding of community and smallholder forestry, before it concludes at the end.

Publication Year: 2016

ISSN: 1999-4907

Source: Forests 7(9): 209

DOI: 10.3390/f7090209

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  • Challenges for women’s participation in communal forests: Experience from Nicaragua’s indigenous territories

Challenges for women’s participation in communal forests: Experience from Nicaragua’s indigenous territories

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FTA communications

This paper analyzes sex-differentiated use, decision-making and perceptions regarding communal forests in indigenous communities of Nicaragua’s Atlantic coast. Methods include a survey, focus groups, participant observation and adaptive collaborative management processes over a two-year period. Results revealed that while a higher percentage of men than women participate in the harvest of eight forest products, women participate substantially in product sales and have some control over income. A majority of men and women believe that women participate in decision-making, but that participation was of low efficacy. Women face significant obstacles to effective participation in forest decision-making in the community: weak community organization, pressure by spouses, difficulty organizing among themselves and informal sanctions. Improving meaningful participation of women in decision-making requires addressing challenges and obstacles at multiple levels; obstacles at the communal level, where the future of the forests will be decided, cannot be overcome without attention to the household.

Source: CIFOR Publication

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  • Community forestry and forest stewardship

Community forestry and forest stewardship

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FTA communications

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  • Community forestry in Central Africa: Has it been a success?

Community forestry in Central Africa: Has it been a success?

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Kagwene landscape in Cameroon. Photo: Terry Sunderland/CIFOR

By Fai Collins and Raphael Tsanga, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

Democratization across much of Africa in the early 1990s not only affected political institutions, but also had repercussions for natural resource governance. Participatory management has since become the standard for measuring a state’s progress toward sustainable natural resource management (and in particular, forest management), due to its inclusive nature and its status as the preferred approach for non-governmental organizations and the international donor community.

However, new research from CIFOR and FAO, under the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, shows that participatory methods such as community forestry have received mixed reviews — and mixed success — in Central Africa. Forest management agents in the region are ambivalent about the effectiveness of the participatory method. Some feel that participatory management has the potential to contribute to sustainable forestry management in Central Africa, to create jobs in rural areas and to fight against poverty. Others feel that participatory management is too complex and ill-adapted to the residential populations’ modes of action and traditions.

In a new book, titled ‘Inclusive management of the Congo Basin forests: From participation to power-sharing’, 30 experts explore the literature and present their personal experiences in community forestry in Central Africa (available only in French).

In one example, research conducted in Cameroon shows how community forestry is still far from reaching its targets despite the various types of support that the country has received from technical and financial partners. Factors found to prevent optimal results from community forestry operations include: unadapted regulations, complex administrative procedures for acquiring forest land and high exploitation costs.

A model for the future?

Planting Gnetum in Minwoho, Cameroon. Participatory approaches to forestry have had mixed success in Central Africa, research shows. Photo: Ollivier Girard/CIFOR
Planting Gnetum in Minwoho, Cameroon. Participatory approaches to forestry have had mixed success in Central Africa, research shows. Photo: Ollivier Girard/CIFOR

In community forestry, participatory management seeks to give village populations access to a forestry sector that has long been monopolized by multinationals, and in doing so restore equitable access to revenue. This model, called the ‘community forestry model’, in theory is meant to compensate for the shortcomings of industrial logging concessions with regard to participation and poverty eradication in rural areas, although there have been improvements in the development of communities neighboring forest concessions that are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

In its present form, the ‘Cameroon model’ of community forestry, which is being adopted in Democratic Republic of Congo, is not a profitable model for the local population and has become an avenue for fraudulent timber exploitation. Furthermore, the initial concept has been reoriented to ensure that it benefits the political and the administrative elite, who often pay the operating costs.

In terms of income or environment, it would appear that local populations are not benefiting much from community forestry operations.

Although communal forestry is still in its infancy with very little control over its potential, it is emerging as a model for the future in Central Africa, as part of a global development for rural entities and for sustainable forestry management, which is attracting the attention of technical and financial partners.

Says Raphaël Tsanga, one of the book’s authors: “Communal forestry in Central Africa is an opportunity for forestry management that reconciles the development needs of local communities and the objective of sustainability of resources.”

Gnetum market in Cameroon. Photo: Ollivier Girard/CIFOR
Gnetum market in Cameroon. Photo: Ollivier Girard/CIFOR

In the Central African context, decentralization of forestry management entails: (i) involving local participants in the equitable redistribution of forest-generated revenue; (ii) involving local and indigenous populations in the management of industrial concessions, and, (iii) transferring responsibility for the management of certain forestlands to local communities and decentralized entities.

On this subject, Tsanga says: “The notion of communal forestry is appealing, not only because of the related opportunities for local development, but even more so because the international economic setting and the sub-regional dynamics are amenable to global discourse on climate change and the potential role that the sub-state public entities can play in the implementation of processes such as REDD+.”

Toward local forestry

The main challenge that communal forestry in Central Africa will have to face is the matter of legitimacy. There seems to be a clash between two incompatible approaches to the meaning of decentralized forestry management, namely a ‘community-based’ definition stemming from the local community, countered by a ‘state-based’ concept that is founded on decentralized territorial units.

The first option favors social forestry rooted in local mores, but without any major impact on the standard of living, or on the state of natural resources. Its financial added value is not clear. On the other hand, this scenario has strong political and symbolic value, since it formally recognizes the role of the community in the use and planned development of rural spaces.

In the second approach, rural zone development is part of a formal decentralization process that institutes a legal entity that is expected to stand for and implement the collective interest. Here, community forestry is seen as a link in this process, even if it means relegating local customary rules and institutions to second place.

Communal forestry has long been the ‘poor cousin’ of inclusive management in Central Africa, except in Cameroon. In other countries in the region, it is limited to being mentioned in legal and regulatory texts but is not implemented (Congo, CAR, Chad) or is expressed in a legal framework that is ill-adapted (Rwanda, Burundi) or inconsistent (DRC).

There are several factors that explain the limited effectiveness of communal forestry: (i) reforms to the forestry sector in Central Africa in the mid-1990s favored industrial concessions and community forests, (ii) the development of communal forests was never a fundamental challenge or stake for Central African states or for technical and financial partners, and, (iii) in countries like Cameroon where decisive experiments have been carried out, the relatively high cost of the forest acquisition process has prevented many decentralized territorial units from adopting this management system independently.

At the end of the day, communal forestry operations are carried out at different speeds, using different methods from country to country.

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  • Unpacking migration and gender in Nepal’s community forests

Unpacking migration and gender in Nepal’s community forests

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Photo: Anne Larson/CIFOR
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By Kate Evans, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

Photo: Anne Larson/CIFOR
Photo: Anne Larson/CIFOR

The importance of migration to rural livelihoods in Nepal is not being recognized in forestry policy or by donors – and nor is the diversity of women’s experience, argues a chapter of a new book by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

Thirty percent of Nepal’s GDP comes from remittances – the second highest proportion in the world. Around half a million people, or eight percent of Nepal’s total population, applied for a permit to work abroad in 2014 – 94 percent of them were men – and that does not include the many unregistered migrants or those who migrated within the country.

Despite this, Nepal’s recent Forest Sector Strategy (2012-2022) mentions migration just once.

“Nepal is considered a global model for mobilizing local communities to manage forests collectively – but by not addressing migration, the policy ignores how people are increasingly living their lives,” says Bimbika Sijapati Basnett, a CIFOR scientist, co-editor of the new book Gender and Forests, and author of the Nepal study, which forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

Nepal is well known for its widespread adoption of community forestry, where responsibility for managing forests is devolved to the people who live around them. But as international and circular migration for employment purposes becomes more common – and male-dominated – who actually lives there is in constant flux.

Photo: Anne Larson/CIFOR
Photo: Anne Larson/CIFOR

“There’s a very static and stationary understanding of people’s relations to forests,” Sijapati Basnett says. “Many households throughout the country have someone who’s gone abroad. So in that context you would expect that the forestry policy would acknowledge that – if it is about successful forest management, how do we motivate people to manage forests when they’re not just depending on forests, but on remittances too.”


Where migration is discussed, there tends to be a simplistic understanding of its impacts on forests and rural livelihoods, especially on gender relations, Sijapati Basnett says. Some assume migration is a problem to be solved, an outcome of the state’s failure to promote economic development and extend social services to its citizens, while others tend to say it’s a good thing for women, Sijapati Basnett says:

“[There’s an] idea that the men have left and the women are left behind, and now they’re being empowered because they’re the ones managing the forest and making all the decisions.”

“Or on the other side, there’s a tendency to ‘black-box’ women and assume they are always victims.”

In reality, Sijapati Basnett says, “migration is both a burden and a benefit for women who are left behind.” And their experience depends not simply on gender, but on how being female intersects with other aspects of social relations: age, ethnicity and, very importantly in Nepal, caste.

Nepal is well known for its widespread adoption of community forestry. Photo: Adrian Albano/CIFOR
Nepal is well known for its widespread adoption of community forestry. Photo: Adrian Albano/CIFOR

Case studies of two very different communities in rural Nepal illustrate just how important it is for policy makers not to assume there’s a uniformity to women’s experiences of forest management and migration.

Sijapati Basnett studied two forest-user communities in Nepal’s middle hills: the Tamang ethnic minority village of Bhatpole in Kavrepalanchowk District, and a low-caste Dalit (untouchable) group in the village of Gharmi in Kaski District.

In Bhatpole, most families rely on seasonal out-migration to support their livelihoods. Although Tamang culture is relatively egalitarian, with a history of both men and women migrating for work, recently external opportunities for women have diminished, and it’s now just the men who leave, often for six months or more.

In their absence, women took control of community forestry – comprising 9 out of 11 committee members. They did, however, seek strategic support from men in order to liaise with government officials in Nepali, as the men had more external contacts and were more comfortable with the Nepali language.

“We are more dependent on men than men are on us,” a Tamang woman told Basnett.  “We depend on them for work and money – but we have learned that by cooperating amongst ourselves we can help each other out.”

In Gharmi, though many young men also migrate for work, gender relations are very different. The low-caste Biswa-Karma (Dalit) community share the village with two high-caste groups, and at the time of Sijapati Basnett’s research they were engaged in a bitter caste battle. The higher castes barred the Biswa-Karmas from entering their ‘sacred forests’ because of their ‘untouchability’ – but after three years of struggle, senior Dalit men convinced the government to hand over the community forests to them.

Though part of their argument was to gain secure access to forest products and reduce women’s work burden, the men excluded women from the community forestry committee and from any decision-making about the forests.

“I could tell very quickly there was something very regimented about their gender relations,” Sijapati Basnett says. “On the one hand there was all this discussion of freedom and patron-client relationships and untouchability, but on the other hand they were very similar to their [very gender-divided] high-caste neighbors.”

Women’s movement and sexuality was strictly controlled, and female migration was not an option.

“In both case studies it was men who were gone and women left behind – but the reasons why this was the case were so different. In Gharmi, it was because of inequalities within the community. In Bhatpole it was more about job opportunities for women and how that restricted their mobility. In terms of community forestry, in the Dalit group it was completely male-dominated, and in the Tamang community it was women who led the show and enlisted the men they thought could help negotiate.”


These examples show why the idea of the “homogenous Nepali woman” is problematic, Sijapati Basnett says.

“A certain level of abstraction is useful, but there needs to be a more nuanced approach – in fact, they’re not just nuances, but things that really matter for people: it means that the strategies you would use to empower women would be very different.”

And by ignoring migration in official policies, governments and civil society have missed an opportunity to ask useful questions that might help improve Nepalis’ lives.

“How do you use remittances to invest in forests, how do you provide incentives for that, how do you develop the forest sector in a way that reduces the very real risks of migration?”

“There are so many different questions, but it’s not being talked about,” Sijapati Basnett says.  “By ignoring it or assuming it’s a problem you’ve eliminated the space for discussing it altogether.”

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