- The benefits of community-based forestry are well known. A 2014 study by the World Resources Institute, for instance, showed that deforestation rates were as much as 11 times lower in forests licensed to local communities.
- Madagascar became one of the first countries in the southern hemisphere to adopt the legal framework for CFM in the mid-1990s.
- Dr. Ranaivo Rasolofoson of the University of Copenhagen and Bangor University and his team found that while CFM has generally had positive impacts on the living standards of households across Madagascar, some households benefit more than others.
Community Forest Management (CFM) is an increasingly popular approach to conserving forests worldwide, due to the fact that involving the local community that uses and lives within the forests helps avoid the negative impacts of forest protection on forest-dependent communities and even often improves their well-being.
The benefits of community-based forestry are well known. A 2014 study by the World Resources Institute, for instance, showed that deforestation rates were as much as 11 times lower in forests licensed to local communities.
Given its successes and the rise of payments for ecosystem services schemes, especially those implemented under the UN’s REDD+ program, which was enshrined in the Paris Climate Agreement as a standalone article, CFM is likely to continue being an important conservation strategy. So it’s worth asking: Are the benefits of CFM being shared equally by local forest communities, making it a truly sustainable solution?
Dr. Ranaivo Rasolofoson at the University of Copenhagen and Bangor University and his team sought to answer that question in a study to be published in Conservation Letters this week that focuses on CFM initiatives in Madagascar. They found that while CFM has generally had positive impacts on the living standards of households across Madagascar, some households benefit more than others.
Madagascar has more than two decades of experience with CFM. The island nation is rich in unique biodiversity, but it is also facing a number of severe threats. In response to these threats, Madagascar established Africa’s first network of protected areas in 1927, and became one of the first countries in the southern hemisphere to adopt the legal framework for CFM in the mid-1990s.
Given the interest in CFM as an approach to reducing global deforestation globally, addressing the lack of quality evidence on the impact of the approach on human well-being is crucial, Rasolofoson said in a statement. He and his colleagues’ say their study is the first to investigate the impacts of CFM on local communities at the national scale.
“CFM could produce positive and negative impacts on household living standards,” the researchers write in Conservation Letters. “Negative impacts could result from benefits forgone (due to restrictions on use of forest resources) or the costs of forest management (e.g., patrolling). Positive impacts could result from improved forest management, which could enhance forest productivity and ecosystem services important for livelihoods. CFM communities can also benefit from developing ecotourism or through external support.”
Madagascar’s new protected areas, which include most CFM sites, received up to $10.5 million of external support in 2011 alone, Rasolofoson and team note in the study.
The researchers found that the positive benefits of CFM are far from evenly distributed. “For households living closer to forests or with more education, we detected positive impacts of CFM,” Rasolofoson and team write in the study. “For households living farther from forests or with less education, we estimated negative impacts.”
The study measures the impacts of CFM on household living standards in terms of per capita consumption expenditures. The team found that the impacts were positive (with a maximum estimated effect of $50) close to the forest edge, but became negative as distance from the edge increases (with a minimum estimated effect of -$60).
The impacts also varied based on level of education, with the estimated impacts increasing as education level increased (there was a maximum estimated effect of US$110). For lower levels of education, the estimated impacts were negative, but the team did not come up with a precise estimate.
These findings could have important policy implications, the researchers added, because inequitable distribution can create conflicts within the communities, which in turn can undermine CFM’s effectiveness as a conservation methodology. But Rasolofoson cautions that while their study provides valuable information for national forest policy, it is less useful for site-specific interventions.
One of the major challenges in studying the impacts of CFM on the living standards of participating local communities is ensuring that the estimated impact can be attributed solely to CFM, and not to other factors such as household size, level of education, or remoteness. To get around this challenge, the researchers compared CFM and non-CFM households that are similar in terms of these other factors, meaning that the only remaining difference that can explain their respective living standards is the presence of CFM.
Because CFM continues to be widely promoted as an approach to reducing deforestation and promoting rural development in developing countries around the world, Rasolofoson and team write, better evidence about its impacts on human well-being is necessary.
“To develop more generalizable evidence that can guide CFM design globally, studies in other nations will be required, as will better theories about CFM program participation (why are some communities and households participating and others are not?) and more elaborate, mechanism based theories about how CFM can affect human welfare and which household and contextual factors moderate those impacts.”
- Rasolofoson, R.A, Ferraro, P.J., Ruta, G., Rasamoelina, M.S., Randriankolona, P.L., Larsen, H.O., & Jones, J.P.G. (2016). Impact of Community Forest Management on human economic well-being across Madagascar. Conservation Letters. doi: 10.1111/conl.12272