1 August 2014
Communities' role in forest management varies and this reflects the local circumstances. Communities in the tropics are often presented in the media a literature as small, unified, equitable groups - this is not always the case.
Sustainable forest management requires a system that is ecologically sound, economically viable and socially responsible. It needs a good understanding of community dynamics and knowledge of forest ecosystems. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization says forest is any piece of land spanning more than 0.5 hectares, with trees higher than five meters and a canopy cover of more than 10 percent in their natural environment. Community management can protect forests against degradation and deforestation on the one hand, and impact positively on the economic and social wellbeing of local communities, as it promotes participation, ownership and decision making.
Community forest management (CFM) actively promotes the rights of people living in the forest through participation in decision making and equitable benefit sharing.
Effective community forest management
CFM encourages participation in forest management by rural people, whose livelihood depends mainly on forest resources. The forestation-centered projects of the early years of community forestry has evolved to include social, environmental and economic needs of rural communities, as it become more focused on the conservation and development of natural forest to support livelihoods. It is very challenging to give a concise definition of what a successful CFM entails; this is due to local characteristics of the different projects that have been implemented. The success of CFM depends on the relationship between communities and resources on the one hand, and government laws and policies affecting access to forest resources on the other.
Community interactions are better developed under well-defined legal systems that reflect local conditions. The legitimacy conferred on the community by state legal instruments determines the level of collaboration and effectiveness of co-management of forest resources, as the success of CFM is rooted in the local ownership and autonomy of rule making. This can only be achieved where there is a good legal framework that promotes the rights of people living in the forest.