Productive Landscapes: An assessment of critical enabling conditions for community-based forestry enterprises


Executive Summary

This Productive Landscapes (ProLand) report presents findings from an extensive literature review on community-based forestry enterprises (CBFEs), supplemented by 18 key informant interviews, and a new analysis of 22 published case studies. This analysis will inform development of a Sourcebook to support USAID field staff (and other organizations) wishing to develop CBFE programs. The Sourcebook will focus on enabling conditions for commercially viable and resilient CBFEs that provide material benefits to communities while mitigating climate change and safeguarding biodiversity assets.

This assessment focuses on timber CBFEs though many findings and conclusions are applicable to other forest resource goods and services. Where extraction is sustainably practiced, timber is typically the highest value product, and therefore a potentially durable driver of community development.

The authors conclude that the following enabling conditions are required for successful CBFEs and that these should be high priority areas for USAID investments.

  1. Secure rights to develop, exclude others, and sell a forest product or service and enable long-term CBFE investment. While these rights are the most basic policy requirement, other policies contribute to a robust enabling environment.
  2. Governance, organization, and management that provide effective leadership and technical knowledge to the CBFE; accountability to the community; and ensure the CBFE’s financial integrity.
  3. A viable social enterprise model that produces financial benefits sufficient to reinvest in forest and business management and growth, and provides economic benefits (though not necessarily cash) to the community as a whole.
  4. Partnerships with value chain actors to access external funding and technical support; help aggregate timber from several communities (or individual producers); market timber to buyers; and build/maintain infrastructure. These partners include national and local government, donors, civil society organizations, and private-sector entities.

The environmental goals of sustainable forest management and improved forest condition are also realized when these conditions are in place according to most analyses. Evidence about the impact of CBFEs on socioeconomic conditions is less robust, though the review identified many cases of successful CBFEs that generate community benefits. The most frequently mentioned social and economic benefits are increased employment; improved price or market access for forest products; improved technical and organizational skills in the workforce; improved infrastructure; government and donor incentives provided to communities associated with CBFEs; and improved community-wide service benefits such as health and education facilities.

While generation of local benefits seems necessary for the success of CBFEs, the available literature and information collected from key informants do not allow us to draw firm conclusions about whether equity in their distribution is an essential success factor for CBFEs. In many cases, studies did not assess equity, and some evidence shows that disadvantaged groups (especially women and the poorest) may sometimes be worse off, at least in the short term. This outcome typically results from reduced access to forest resources, as well as a degree of elite capture of CBFE benefits.

Conclusions for CBFE development that elaborate on the enabling conditions, include:

Design CBFE investments that recognize existing tenure and other land use policies, but investments to strengthen favorable policy and its effective implementation improve the prospects for CBFE sustainability.

  • Invest in governance structures and CBFE staff capacity so that accountability mechanisms are in place.
  • Invest in social safeguards and alternative income opportunities for poorer community members to improve equitable benefit distribution from CBFEs.
  • Assess the business case for (and whether to) support tiered CBFE organizations comprising community-based production units, intermediary aggregating institutions for goods and services, and national advocacy bodies to represent CBFE interests.
  • Design interventions that recognize the long-term continuing investments needed for sustainability and the societal benefits that accrue from these investments.
  • Recognize that not all CBFEs will succeed and set expectations and targets accordingly.
  • Invest in building mutual understanding in, and facilitating relationships between, CBFEs and private-sector businesses in the forestry product value chains.

The next phase of this work will develop a CBFE Sourcebook that ProLand will verify with selected USAID Missions. Following that verification and USAID review, ProLand will finalize the Sourcebook and make it widely available.