Impacts of Participatory Forest Management (PFM) on Socio-Economic Development and Environmental Conservation


Worldwide, the inclusion of communities in the management of state-owned or formerly state-owned forest resources has become increasingly common over the last 25 years. Almost all countries in Africa, and many in Asia, are promoting the participation of rural communities in the management and utilization of natural forests and woodlands through some form of Participatory Forest Management (PFM). Many countries have now developed, or are in the process of developing, changes to national policies and legislation that institutionalize PFM. (Schreckenberg, Luttrell, & Moss, 2006)

In many countries, there has been decentralized natural resource management in an attempt to increase equity in decision making and benefit-sharing. It is widely believed that decentralizing can increase both efficiency and equity. (Ribot, 2005)Decentralization takes many different forms and Participatory Forest Management (PFM) is among the variants of decentralization. Many governments have made efforts at decentralizing mainly due to pressure from donors, non-governmental organizations and local politics. (Agrawal, 1999)The governments in Eastern and Southern Africa particularly got to the realization that co-management approaches pledge a greater role for local communities, the rural and urban poor as well as the private sector in the management of forests is the only solution (Barrow et al.,2002)

Up until the Forests Act of 2005, forest management objectives were preservationist, excluding local resource users from decision-making and forest management, with minimal and stringent provisions for subsistence extraction and use of forest products. Yet there was massive extraction both by the government and large commercial industries. This contributed to increased illegal exploitation for both subsistence and commercial use. (Mogoi, Obonyo, Ongugo, Oeba, & Mwangi, 2012). According to estimates by (Food and Agriculture Organization, 2010) Kenya’s forest cover at independence in 1963 stood at approximately 11%. Deforestation has reduced Kenya’s forest cover to less than 6%, with the country losing approximately 12,000 hectares of forest a year despite the government’s attempts to alleviate the problem.

The Forests Act of 2005, unlike its precursor, provides a framework and incentives for community and private sector involvement in the forestry sector. The act has clear provisions on the recognition and role of Community Forest Associations (CFAs). It requires members of a forest community to enter into partnerships with the KFS through registered CFAs. These partnerships are applicable for both state forests and forests under local authorities.

Some of the positive results expected with implementation of PFM process are demonstrated through the changed attitude of local forest-adjacent communities and hence, a change in the level of forest conservation, but such results are highly influenced by the mode of participation adopted by the PFM implementation process. (Ongugo, Koech, Mbuvi, & Maua, 2009)

To enter into co-management arrangements, communities are legally expected to form and register Community Forest Associations (CFAs) within different forests distributed across the country (Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, 2007). Such an association is vetted based on the certain criteria before it can be allowed to operate including: its objectives, composition of its management committee, election procedures, and the purpose for which its funds may be used. (Ongugo, Koech, Mbuvi, & Maua, 2009)

Forests play an important role in the economy in terms of providing fuel, timber, jobs and other valuable products such as fibers, medicinal plants, wild foods (such as berries, roots and syrups), plant dyes, arts and crafts materials, resins and saps. They also protect water, soil, air and biodiversity and provide valuable environmental services such sinks for carbon dioxide, habitat for wildlife, and recreational and sacred sites. (Ayoo, 2007)

The forests in Kenya have been declining rapidly leading to adverse impacts on biodiversity, climate, rivers and streams, wildlife, and human populations. (Ngigi & Tateishi, 2004) estimated that the rate of forest loss in Kenya was about 15,000 per year. According to (FAO, 2005) Kenya had 3,640,000ha of land under forests in 1990 which declined to 3,504,000ha in 2000 and to 3,422,000ha of land in 2005.

The factors that underlie the rapid deforestation include the increased demand for agricultural land due to increases in human population combined with growing per capita consumption, widespread poverty, and the way the forests are managed (FAO, 2005) The seriousness of deforestation in Kenya is evident from the fact that the country is listed by Bryant et al. (1997) as being among the developing countries with no remaining large tracts of undisturbed biologically intact forests.

Participatory forest management

Participatory forest management is considered in wider perspectives of Community Based Natural Resource Management approach which is motivated by the recognition of the fact that when communities benefit from natural resources they will have a strong incentive to protect those resources and use them sustainably. The CBNRM approach works through partnerships between the government and local communities with the local communities having a greater say in decisions pertaining to the management of natural resources and also a greater share of the benefits from these natural resource (Ayoo, 2007).

Warah (2008) defines participatory forest management (PFM) as an arrangement where key stakeholders enter into mutually enforceable agreements that define their respective roles, responsibilities, benefits and authority in the management of defined forest resources

The level of community participation in the management of a protected area is important for both environmental outcomes and sustainability. Protected areas that permit sustainable forest use have been shown to be more effectively conserved than strictly protected ones according to studies carried out by IEG using global satellite data on forest fires as an indicator of deforestation to assess all officially recognized tropical forest protected areas. The study compared the fate of forest plots inside protected areas with similar but unprotected areas. The results showed that although strictly-protected areas are effective, areas that permitted sustainable forest use were even more effective (Nelson & Chomitz, 2009).

PFM is therefore increasingly being employed as an approach through which to achieve the sustainability of threatened forests and conservation of biodiversity. This is achieved through a process of inclusion, equity, and democratization of governance of the forest resources (Amanor, 2003).

Theories supporting PFM

Agrawal and Ostrom (2001) postulate that in instances where the incentives are not compatible with the challenges faced by rights holders (including their livelihoods needs), for example when resource users and/or resource managers are denied the right to revenue from forest resources, their motivation to invest time and resources in sustainable management will be reduced. Ostrom (1990) identified the elements necessary for successful natural resource management. These elements have been used as indicators in attempting to assess the institutional performance of CFAs. These elements include access to low-cost conflict resolution mechanisms, the ability to define and change rules related to resource use, the ability to determine who can or cannot use/harvest resources, the ability to monitor rule conformance and sanction violations, and local leadership. Viewed together, these elements affect the incentives of resource users, and will influence their perceived benefits as well as their commitments to finding joint solutions to shared resource problems.

There is evidence that inequitable distribution of benefits among individuals that hold joint rights can destabilize group rights. Threats to group tenure security may also originate from within the groups themselves (Mogoi, Obonyo, Ongugo, Oeba, & Mwangi, 2012).

For example, the individualization of collectively-held group ranches was partly driven by group members’ need to secure their and their families’ claims against appropriation by influential individuals from within the community (Mwangi & Dohrn 2008; Mwangi 2007).

Development of Participatory Forest Management in Kenya

The Forest Department was created in 1902 by the colonial government. The department alienated most prior existing community-managed forests. For most of the century forest policies, both before and after independence in 1963, focused on insuring Forest Department control over resources. After independence, a series of donor-funded forestry programs focused on afforestation and reforestation on farms, with the goal of alleviating fuel shortages. Forest Department lands were managed with no consultation outside of the agency. Conflicts increased in the late 1980s between communities, who needed fuel wood from neighbouring forests, and the agency (Ongungo & Njuguna).

Broad decentralization began in 1983 with the establishment of the “District Focus for Rural Development” system, which delegated responsibility for numerous rural development projects to the local districts. However, policymaking, planning, and funding decisions largely remained centralized within government ministries. Local districts (and their associated county councils) had limited accountability to local people (Omondi & Omosa, 2002) .

The Forest Act of 2005 replaced the Forest Department with the Kenya Forest Service (KFS), a semi-autonomous body managed by a board made up of representatives from various central government ministries. Under the Act, the KFS is expected to devolve powers to the private sector and to forest conservation committees and community forest associations (CFAs). Community participation, achieved primarily through CFAs, and integrated management of forests are central principles motivating the new policy (Ongugo, Mogoi, Obonyo & Oeba, 2008).

Benefits of Participatory Forest Management

The inclusion of communities in forest management is expected to enhance biodiversity conservation, the equitable distribution of benefits, conflict resolution, poverty reduction, and sustainable use (Kallert, Mehta, Ebbin, & Litchenfed, 2000). Such results are strongly influenced by the mode of participation adopted by the PFM implementation process, and its progress is uneven across Africa (Yemshaw, 2007).

Studies by Matiku, Ogol and Mireri (2011)showed that households from the PFM zones derive net positive benefits from the forest due to PFM supported nature-based enterprises (beekeeping, butterfly farming, mushroom farming, ecotourism and forest related employment) as compared to non-PFM zones where households incurred a net loss. The studies also showed that households next to the forest receive the most forest benefits. As such since PFM targets forest adjacent dwellers, households next to the forest in PFM zones thought the forest is an asset to their livelihoods. PFM is not only a benefit to forest conservation and ecosystem services but also an asset to households in line with Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005) (Matiku, Mireri, & Ogol, 2012).

Community forest association

Formation of CFA’s

According to the Forests Act (2005), section 46 (1), a member of a forest community may together with other members or persons resident in the same area register a community forest association under the Society’s Act. According to section 46 (2), an association registered under section (1) may apply to the Director of Forest Service for permission to participate in the conservation and management of a state forest or a local authority forest in accordance with the provisions of the act. All of the important forest regions in Kenya, often referred to as the country’s water towers, have at least one registered CFA (Ongugo, Koech, Mbuvi, & Maua, 2009)

The associations are only registered if their objectives, composition of their management committees, election procedures and purpose for which their funds may be used are considered satisfactory (Ongugo, Mogoi, Obonyo, & Oeba, 2008).

The role of CFA’s

The Forest Act enables members of forest community to enter into partnerships with KFS through registered Community Forest Associations (CFA). Such agreements are applicable for both state forests and/or local authority forests. Local communities can therefore participate in protection, conservation, and management of a given forest area in accordance with the provisions of a management plan for the forest. (Ongugo P. O., Mogoi, Obonyo, & Oeba, 2008)

The Act also grants the Association some user rights on condition that these rights are not in conflict with the conservation of the forest. Some of the user rights established for these associations include collection of medicinal herbs, harvesting honey, harvesting timber or fuel wood, grass harvesting and grazing, collection of forest produce for community based industries, ecotourism and recreational activities, scientific and educational activities, plantation establishment through non-resident cultivation, contracts to assist in carrying out specified silvicultural operations, development of community wood and non-wood based industries and other benefits that may be from time to time be agreed upon between an association and KFS.

Challenges facing CFA’s

The implementation of the decentralization process seems mixed. The contribution of communities is mostly limited to protection and monitoring, with minimal decision-making power and limited access to the shared revenue accrued from the forest resources.

The communities are therefore burdened with most of the work with little benefits from the forest .The existing capacity of CFA’s is yet to reach the necessary capacity required to reap maximum benefits from co-management of the forests. For example revenue currently collected from the forests does not benefit the communities because CFA’s lack capacity to harvest timber and large companies still dominate timber harvesting. (Mogoi, Obonyo, Ongugo, Oeba, & Mwangi, 2012)

A study by Ongugo, Koech, Mbuvi and Maua (2009) indicates that the major challenges faced by CFA’s included lack of transparency among officials, failure of some members to contribute funds, sharing of benefits, and a dictatorial tendency among some of the leaders. Some specific challenges arising from conflict of interest sited during the study include; external interference, communal rights versus individual interests, the need to conservation versus exploitation and prevailing attitude versus required attitude. A difference exists between the ideal social situation and prevailing conditions. The perception of policy-makers and professional perception is different from community understanding of the group’s objectives.

The link between socio-economic status and forest management

The link between poverty and forests is a controversial one. The argument that poverty leads to resource degradation has been de-emphasized by empirical evidence that proves that the management responses of poor people can vary in relation to their welfare and that forest are as much threatened by wealth as by poverty. On the other hand forests can have both a positive and negative result in poverty reduction (Angelsen & Wunder, 2003). However attempts have been made to link the two concepts together, (Angelsen & Wunder, 2003) denote that poverty is seen as a cause of forest loss and forest loss contributes to maintain or even increase poverty. This implies that economic development and poverty reduction should help improve forest conditions and vice versa, that development of forest resources can be a vehicle for poverty reduction.

In governance; devolving forest resource ownership and management to local communities and removing excessive regulations which discriminate against the poor is a concrete means for empowerment and increasing the political capital of the poor. Over-regulation of the use of forest resources and limited accountability of public officials encourage corruption which usually harms the poor (European Forest Institute, 2003)

Policy and legal framework

There are various policy and legislative framework both international and local that provide an enabling environment for the functioning of Community Forests Associations. At an international level these include inter alia, the global forest principles, the convention on biodiversity and millennium development goals. At the local level they include legislation such as the forest act, agriculture act, energy act as well as EMCA all of whose functioning is supported by the Constitution of Kenya 2010.

Global Forest principles

They are non-legally binding authoritative statement of principle for a global consensus on management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests in the world. The forest principles arose from the realization of the importance of forest resources and concern over the threats to these resources worldwide. The first principle emphasizes on encouraging forestry development by promoting participation of local communities, indigenous people, industries, labor, NGO’s, forest dwellers and women in the development and planning of all forest policies. These principles are important because they recognize the role of various all stakeholders in the sustainable management of forests.

The Convention on Biodiversity

The Convention on Biodiversity emphasizes the responsibility on nations in conserving their biodiversity and using their biodiversity in a sustainable manner. In addition, it notes that it is critical for nations to anticipate, prevent and attack the causes of significant reduction or loss of biodiversity at the source and as a result conserve ecosystems and habitats as a requirement for conservation of biodiversity.

Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s)

These are international goals that came to be as result of the adoption of the Millennium Declaration by the United Nations General Assembly touching on development and poverty reduction. The goals of participatory forest management are anchored by several of these goal including poverty reduction, sustainable environmental management and global partnerships for development.

Kenya Forest Act (2005)

The Forests Act 2005, unlike its precursor Forest Act CAP 385, provides a framework and incentives for community and private sector involvement in the forestry sector.

Its goal is to “enhance the contribution of the forest sector in the provision of economic, social and environmental goods and services. Two specific objectives of the forest policy touch on activities of forest associations these include; contribution to poverty reduction, employment creation, and improvement of livelihoods through promotion of participation of the private sector, communities, and other stakeholders in sustainable use and conservation, and management of forests and trees; and contribution to sustainable land use through soil, water, and biodiversity conservation, tree planting, and the sustainable management of forests and trees)

The Act provides for creation of CFA’s and spells the nature of their collaboration with KFS as well as the various user rights accessible to CFA’s. The Act also imposes restrictions on concession processes for public forests, obligating environmental impact assessments prior to their being granted (Forests Act, 2005, Articles 4-5, 21 40 & 45).

The Environmental Management and Coordination Act (EMCA)

EMCA sets out principles to guide good environmental management and provides an institutional framework for its enforcement through the establishment of NEMA. Section 50 of EMCA has a direct bearing on forests as part of Kenya’s biodiversity. The Act takes into consideration the protection of property rights of local communities in biologically diverse areas and watershed protection. The requirement for specification of national strategies, plans and programs for conservation and sustainable use of natural resources are in line with sustainable forest management.

The Agriculture Act (Cap 318)

It is the principal legislation governing agricultural activities and is geared towards promoting agricultural development in Kenya. The long-term objective of the Act is to ensure the development of arable land in accordance with sound land management and husbandry practices, hence the emphasis on the need for the conservation of soil and its fertility.

The Act empowers the Minister for Agriculture to make regulations to prevent soil erosion and thus preserve the soil. For instance the Minister for Agriculture gazetted the Agriculture Farm Forestry Rules on 27 October 2009. The Rules are geared towards the establishment and maintenance of sustainable forests for purposes of water, soil and biodiversity conservation, and the protection of riverbanks, shorelines, riparian and wetland areas.

As stipulated in Section 48 of the Act, such regulations will prevent the clearing of certain parcels of land for cultivation and the drainage of land, as well as protect slopes and catchment areas, and preserve soil on ridges, slopes or valleys. By regulating the utilization of different categories of land in Kenya for various agricultural purposes, the Act strives towards sustainable utilization of land resources.

The Energy Act (2006)

The Act provides a framework on energy in Kenya and hopes to ensure that the relevant ministries, NGO’s and other organizations address environmental problems associated with the supply and use of energy (charcoal and fuel wood). With the broad objective of ensuring adequate, quality cost effective and affordable supply of energy to meet the demands while protecting and conserving the environment the Act is in line with sustainable development. The Act among others aims to promote energy efficiency and conservation as well as prudent environmental, health and safety practices.

The Kenya Forestry Master Plan

It sets out national goals, objectives and strategies for the forestry sector. On indigenous forests, the master plan objective is to conserve the soil, water, biodiversity and growing potential for these forests and put them under effective management so that they yield a sustained flow of products and other benefits.

Conceptual framework

The success of PFM is relies on the availability of incentives for the community. Various factors affect the incentives such as access to low-cost conflict resolution mechanisms, the ability to define and change rules related to resource use, the ability to determine who can or cannot use/harvest resources, the ability to monitor rule conformance and sanction violations, and local leadership. If these elements are present the CFA is strengthened and able to contribute to socio-economic empowerment, forest conservation and eventual sustainability. This is the desirable path.

However if these elements do not exist then the CFA members lack incentives and the CFA is laden with many challenges that impact on the functioning of the CFA. These coupled with the fact that CFA members have access to forest resources may lead to deforestation of forests which are also water catchment towers. The degradation of forests further exacerbates poverty by making livelihoods worse off and causing over-reliance on forest resources which is unsustainable. This is an undesirable path.

Participatory Forest Management in Kenya as envisioned in the Forest Act (2005) has greatly improved on the management of forests by involving local communities. Following lessons learnt in the initial stages of its implementation, Community Forest Associations countrywide continue to improve on their roles and responsibilities in poverty reduction, employment creation and improvement of livelihoods as well as conservation of forest resources.

The association has outlined various strategies to meet the twin goals of socio-economic development and environmental conservation. However they are still at the initial stages of implementing some of the strategies geared towards socio-economic empowerment while most of the activities are yet to be initiated. It is also evident that there are a number challenges hindering CFA’s in the attaining their socio-economic goals that need to be overcome.


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