Researchers from four U.S. universities presented evidence that deforestation can be limited thanks to empowering local governments with forestry decisions. In order to make this happen, local forest users have to be actively engaged with their representatives.
For a century, there was a false premise that top-down, centralized forest policy has to be superior approach to ensure effective protection and use. However, many scholars and policy makers now perceive such an approach failed to sustain both forests and the livelihoods of the groups that depend on them.
Researchers, under the leadership of Dr Glenn Wright, performed a study in two countries with differing approaches to forest governance, i.e. Bolivia (a country with a decentralized forestry policy) and Peru (a country with a much more centralized forestry policy).
In order to compare deforestation results between these two countries, they used a combination of survey data, census info and satellite images dating back to 2000. In total, scientists compared 100 municipalities apiece from Bolivia and Peru – two countries with similar forestry and culture whose policies had diverged sharply after 1996. Bolivia embraced decentralization reforms while Peru did not.
The article, publised last month, describes that a local, ground-up approach can yield better results than national, top-down policy. But there is one condition, i.e. local forest users have to work closely with their officials.
The two methods that the researchers found as the most common forms of interactions between community members and local government officials were a one-on-one meeting with a town mayor, or attending an open planning forum.
Krister Andersson, director of CU Boulder’s Center for the Governance of Natural Resources and co-author of the study said:
“Natural resource use is, by nature, local in character. You need buy-in from local politicians in order to make forest governance work”
Researchers found that territories with a decentralized forest governance structure have more stable forest cover, but only when local forest user groups actively engage with the local government officials.
What is a possible causal process behind these results?
Researchers provided evidence in support of their result by claiming that when user groups engage with the decentralized units, it creates a more enabling environment for effective local governance of forests, including more local government-led forest governance activities, fora for the resolution of forest-related conflicts, intermunicipal cooperation in the forestry sector, and stronger technical capabilities of the local government staff.
Andersson said also:
“Bolivia received more political commitments to decentralize governance, made it part of election debates, tied reform to other issues like education and health and thus got a mandate from voters. We find here that that has led to a substantive change in how forests are governed in the two countries. Peru, on the other hand, excluded forestry from its local government mandate and it seems to have backfired.”
The researchers noted that although deforestation is far from eliminated in either country. Nevertheless, the results suggested that Bolivia’s forest loss would have been far worse in recent years had it not been for the country’s decentralized approach forest governance.
Andersson added at the end:
“The lesson is that all levels of government – municipal, state and federal – have a role to play when it comes to addressing a complex problem like deforestation. The mandate of local governments to work on forestry issues really does seem to matter.”
Source: Wright G.D., K.P. Andersson, C.C. Gibson, T.P. Evans. 2016. Decentralization can help reduce deforestation when user groups engage with local government. PNAS 2016.
Main photo: Rafal Chudy