Community forestry has the potential to contribute to sustainable livelihoods in poor and marginalized communities in and near forests. In practice, however, the benefits of collectively managed forests may end up in the hand of local elites. Based on presentations from Bolivia, the Philippines and Nepal, participants in this session discussed, among others: (i) What is the role and importance of individual benefits in a model that is based on collective forest rights? (ii) Who decides what is fair? And (iii) what is the (potential) role of customary governance institutions, governments and civil society organizations (CSOs) in ensuring fair benefit-sharing?
- Many CSOs focus on obtaining community forest tenure rights for Indigenous People and Local Communities (IPLCs), but they should not forget about the next step; after rights have been established, how will people be able to actually use those rights, and benefit from them?
- Often forest tenure rights are granted to a community as a collective, but this does not necessarily imply that the forest is managed and used collectively. This has consequences for benefit sharing.
- There is a need to rethink the relation between collective rights and individual use, to protect the livelihoods of the most vulnerable.
- Communities are not homogenous groups. The example of Nepal shows that it may be possible to identify different interest groups in a forest tenure formalization process, and contextualize the benefit-sharing arrangements.
- Bottom-up conversations about benefits and benefit sharing can be a way to address conflicts and facilitate reflection within the community about governance processes.
- CSOs can play an important role in support of community forestry and associated benefit sharing, but should be careful not to impose concepts and systems; only after CSOs loosen their grip, communities can develop their own models, based on what is already there.
“CSOs need to change their role from telling stories about local and indigenous communities, to facilitating those communities to tell their own stories” Heidi Mendoza, Forest Foundation Philippines
Benefit sharing and the formalization of collective forest tenure rights
Charlotte Benneker, programme coordinator, Tropenbos International
“Formalization of collective forest tenure rights may increase the vulnerability of individuals”
Charlotte Benneker shared her experiences with collective forest tenure models and community forestry in South America and Africa. She stressed that the formalization of collective forest tenure rights often changes the governance system. Before formalization, customary forest governance systems are typically adaptable, and involve a distribution of user rights to different individuals/families within the community. This means that individual efforts determine the benefits. After formalization, community members have access to benefits only through collective productive activities, requiring some kind of benefit distribution system, and a high level of organization. This is often not in line with customary systems. Moreover, it may result in elite capture. Formalization of collective forest tenure rights thus runs the risk of making people worse off, by decreasing their access to forest resources for their livelihoods. It is therefore necessary to rethink the relation between collective rights and individual use, to protect the livelihoods of the most vulnerable.
Benefit sharing in the context of Community-Based Forest Management in the Philippines
Heidi Mendoza, Forest Foundation Philippines
“So far, benefit sharing in community-based forest management has not been adequately studied”
Heidi Mendoza explained that in the Philippines, 11% of the forest lands are managed by 1,884 Peoples’ Organizations (POs) under Community-Based Forest Management Agreements (CBFMAs). She shared experiences from Davao and Isabela, among others, where communities came up with their own systems for benefit sharing. She also stressed that benefit sharing can be a conflict resolution mechanism, within communities, as well as between communities, e.g. in the context of overlapping tenurial claims between local and indigenous groups. However, Mendoza stressed that benefit sharing in the context of community-based forest management has not yet been expounded in the Philippines, for example in terms of what benefit sharing means for the CBFMA holders, and how it could effectively be implemented. These aspects of CBFMAs have so far not been sufficiently studied.
Inclusive governance and benefit sharing in community forestry in Nepal
Shambhu Dangal, RECOFTC Nepal Director
“Community forestry in Nepal is a successful model for other sectors and the globe”
Shambhu Dangal focussed on community forestry in Nepal, which was introduced in the late 1970s, to rehabilitate degraded forest lands. Since then, the government has been handing over forests to local communities, who form forest user groups, for an indefinite time, for the development, management and utilization of forest resources. The process implies the identification of different stakeholder groups in the community, and the formation of an executive committee that consists of 50% women, and includes indigenous people and members of marginalized groups. The government provides user groups with guidelines to develop their own benefit-sharing mechanisms. Priority needs to be given to poor and marginalized people. Also, poor families may be allocated parts of the forest land for agroforestry practices. According to Dangal, collective decision-making processes create an environment for contextual but equitable benefit sharing. However, there are challenges, e.g., related to transparency and accountability, and how to deal with new opportunities, like REDD+. Continuous institutional and technical capacity building is therefore required.