Does De Facto Forest Tenure Affect Forest Condition? Community Perceptions from Zambia

Published in: Forest Policy and Economics

Authors: M. Mercedes Stickler (World Bank), Heather Huntington (The Cloudburst Group), Aleta Haflett (The Cloudburst Group), Silvia Petrova (USAID) & Ioana Bouvier (USAID)


Although the global literature suggests stronger forest tenure is associated with better forest condition, several recent meta-analyses of this relationship have found inconclusive results. There are numerous factors influencing these mixed econometric results, including selection biases and inconsistent definitions or methods, and the global literature is limited to selected geographies. This paper seeks to address these gaps by analyzing an original data set collected as part of a prospective impact evaluation of a Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) program in eastern Zambia funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Drawing on survey data from 2,822 households and supplemented with contextual and spatially-derived statistics, we seek to answer two questions: (i) what household and village characteristics explain variation in perceived forest tenure security, which we define to mean relatively unchallenged access to forest resources? and (ii) is more secure forest tenure, as perceived by forest users, associated with better reported forest condition? We aim to contribute more reliable evidence to the global literature linking community-level land tenure and forest condition by using improved proxies for (de facto) local forest tenure and land governance, and by filling a gap in the geographic coverage. Overall, we find that more secure de facto forest tenure is associated with localized (village level) customary governance. We also find that more secure de facto forest tenure is associated with better reported forest condition. Our results highlight the need to understand local accountability in existing customary governance structures in the context of designing and enforcing REDD+ agreements. We expect our more nuanced assessment of de facto forest tenure security to inform policies to promote sustainable forest management, including through REDD+ and community-based forest management, particularly in forest contexts where customary rights remain relevant.

Key Words: REDD+Forest tenureProperty rightsLivelihoodsTenure securityAfrica

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