CIFOR- Can DRC’s community forests lift people out of poverty?
In the quest to reduce poverty, community forestry is an attractive endeavor. So much so that 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. And by it being 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 sadly the benefits don’t always necessarily 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, researchers from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the University of Kisangani (UNIKIS) found.
In their research, the 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,” says 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 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 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,” explains Ignace Muganguzi, co-author of the study.