Loving the forest: who goes in and who stays out?
Forests are recognised as the lungs and carbon sinks of the planet but deforestation rates remain alarmingly high in many countries. At the IUFRO/FORNESSA Regional Congress held 25–29 June 2012 at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) in Nairobi, Josephine Musyoki of the Kenya Forest Research Institute (KEFRI) pointed out that in Kenya, gazetted forests cover 1.4 million ha, just 2.6% of the total land area and far less than the internationally recommended minimum of 10% country forest cover. Musyoki was presenting findings from research conducted to determine household factors that influence decisions to join Community Forest Associations (CFAs). Given the ever-increasing rate of forest destruction caused by an encroaching human population, communities living near forests now play a more crucial role in forest conservation than ever before.
In an April 2011 Earth Day announcement, the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF) called for governments across the globe to increase communities’ role in forest management.[i] According to the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), “community-based forest management (CBFM) can reduce and even stop deforestation, underscoring the need for forest communities to play a central role in REDD+ initiatives.” [ii] The World Agroforestry Centre can tell several CBFM success stories— not least of which is the LAMIL project, where a Centre-brokered agreement between the local community and the government resulted in dramatically improved incomes, reduction of pressure on forests, and a tree cover that is steadily increasing.
Many countries are now promoting CBFM. In Kenya it is a legal requirement under the Forest Act 2005 that communities participate in forest conservation through CFAs. However, not all community members join these associations or participate in the same way, showing that legal requirements alone are not enough. If we are to influence the behaviour of forest-adjacent communities, an understanding of the factors influencing household decisions to join CFAs and participate in forest conservation activities is essential. With this in mind, a group of researchers from KEFRI and Kenyatta University studied two CFAs based in North Central Kenya and present some thought-provoking findings.
They found that larger-sized households are better involved in CFAs. Why so? Are smaller households unable to spare manpower for forest conservation activities or is there some other reason? How can they be encouraged to participate in these activities? Each household’s efforts might be a drop in the proverbial ocean, but added up they would make a significant contribution towards forest conservation and the mitigation of climate change.
Several land-related factors were found to influence forest conservation activities. For example, farm size was, on average, 3.4 ha for CFA members but only 2.3 ha for non-members, begging the question: what stops people with smaller farms from joining CFAs? Farm size has steadily declined in many countries and in much of South Asia and parts of Africa farm size is forecast to decline for at least a generation to come.[iii] Smallholders form one-third of the world’s population—they are all farmers with a landholding of less than 2 ha. If the findings of the study are relevant globally and smallholders with landholdings of 2 ha and less are reluctant for some reason to join CFAs, forest authorities must investigate why and find ways to change the status quo.
“Land ownership was a key factor in influencing decisions and behaviour,” said Musyoki, “those who rented land were less likely to join CFAs than those who owned their land.” Government forestland allocation had a positive influence on CFA membership, as did secure land tenure: those with a title deed were more likely to join a CFA.
Those who rented land or did not have a title deed, or had comparatively smaller landholdings were less likely to plant trees on farm. This should set off alarm bells for all proponents of the idea that the future of trees is on farm. How many trees go unplanted because a farmer does not own his/her land?
The study also found that participation in forest conservation and growing of trees on farm were not influenced by education level but training in forest management. The more communities understand their role as forest stewards, the more responsibility they take for looking after the forest.
Following their research, Musyoki and her colleagues are making some recommendations including the creation of awareness about forest acts and their participatory forest management requirements; assisting communities to secure land tenure; and training community members in forest management and other sustainable land use practices.
The last recommendation ties in with what Dr. Madhav Karki, Deputy Director General, ICIMOD said during a side event organised by the Government of Nepal at the recently concluded Rio+20 Summit. In his presentation “Building resilient forestry through community-based forest management”, he highlighted the need for training local communities. At the same event Mr. Navin Kumar Ghimire, Secretary, Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation expressed Nepal’s expectation from Rio: To be able to effectively articulate on the scope and limitation of community-based forest management in addressing the forest restoration, rural socio-economic development, climate change adaptation and mitigation through REDD+ and ecosystem services.
So as countries around the world promote CBFM and communities increasingly turn into the real stewards of the environment, it becomes more and more important to understand the factors that influence individual and community attitudes, perceptions, actions and inactions. Not only is it important. In reality it is the only way decision-makers and forest managers can expect the full and sustained participation of communities in forest conservation.
Rebecca Selvarajah-Jaffery is a novelist and writer, with over 13 years of experience in corporate, creative and science writing. Having worked as Copy Head, Information Officer and Science Writer at Wunderman Nairobi, ICRAF and Green Ink, respectively, Rebecca is now a freelance Writer and Publishing Consultant. Originally from Sri Lanka, but Kenyan at heart, Rebecca holds a BA honours in Psychology, with minors in Gender Studies and Sociology. Rebecca can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org
[i] World Agroforestry Centre, 2011; http://worldagroforestry.org/newsroom/media_coverage/global-call-more-co...
[ii] Center for International Forestry Research, 2011; http://www.cifor.org/mediamultimedia/newsroom/press-releases/press-relea...