Community forestry and the role of NGOs in internal governance processes

Community forestry and the role of NGOs in internal governance processes

General - 05 October, 2022

In a recent article in Tropical Conservation Science, a group of authors from the TBI Network and RECOFTC argue that NGOs supporting community forestry can play a role in facilitating bottom-up governance processes. This requires long-term commitments. Moreover, it requires investments in the skills of NGO practitioners to facilitate highly complex and dynamic social processes.

All over the world, Indigenous and local communities use, manage and protect forest lands in their surroundings – broadly referred to as community forestry. Community forestry has the potential to support local livelihoods while contributing to the conservation and restoration of forests – crucial to tackle the global biodiversity and climate crises.

Over the last decades, many governments have installed policies in support of community forestry, allowing communities to apply for formal tenure rights over forest lands, giving them greater control to use and manage forest resources according to their own customs and needs. Often, NGOs play a crucial role, by helping communities with applying for forest tenure rights, and setting up community forest governance arrangements.

Initiated by TBI, and in collaboration with RECOFTC, a group of practitioners working on community forestry in Bolivia, Colombia, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Nepal and the Philippines have been exchanging experiences to reflect on the role of NGOs in community forestry initiatives. They now published some of their insights in a perspective paper in the journal Tropical Conservation Science.

The authors argue that, rather than focussing on rigid interpretations of good governance principles and predefined community forestry models, NGOs need to assist communities with strengthening and adapting local governance structures, so they are better equipped to deal with opportunities and challenges associated with ongoing commercialization and pressures from external actors. This means that NGO practitioners must act as facilitators of community-level discussions, negotiations, and decision-making, and of interactions with external actors.

For NGOs to play this role effectively, they need to engage in long-term commitments with communities. Next to that, there is a need to invest in the training of practitioners, so they not only have the necessary technical and management skills, but also the skills to facilitate highly complex and dynamic social processes. Only then will community forestry initiatives contribute to local agency and ownership, as key requirements for successful community forestry in the long term.