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Protecting Forests, Improving Livelihoods. Comparing Community Forestry in Cameroon and Guatemala

Résumé

This is one of four papers commissioned to inform discussions at a workshop held in Brussels in April 2014, which brought together participants from 30 countries to share their understanding and experience of community forestry, and develop action plans for their own countries.

Fern asked Michel Merlet and Marta Fraticelli to prepare this paper based on AGTER’s comparative study of community forestry in Cameroon and Guatemala.

This was in response to many of Fern’s partner organisations lobbying for the creation of community forests as a way of allowing communities to directly benefit from forest. The other papers can be found at www.fern.org/

  • Protecting forests, improving livelihoods – Community forestry in Guatemala. By Silvel Elías.

  • Protecting forests, improving livelihoods – Community forestry in Nepal. By Ghan Shyam Pandey and Bijaya Raj Paudyall.

  • Protecting forests, improving livelihoods – Community forestry in Mexico. By Ernesto Herrera Guerra.

ABSTRACT

This paper conducts a comparison between the experience of community forests in Guatemala and in Cameroon. Community forests in Guatemala have met with some success, in some cases becoming effective enterprises at the same time as achieving some of the best conservation results in the country. By contrast, Cameroon’s community forests have been plagued with elite capture, corruption and mismanagement by private logging contractors. This has caused devastation to forests, with the majority of community members seeing little to none of the revenues.

This study explores why Guatemala’s community forests have done so much better than Cameroon’s, with the hopes that this will offer illustrative lessons for community forest initiatives in other countries. Both countries have a common history of colonisation which was marked by large-scale dispossession of communities from forest lands.

However, there are important differences in the types of social organisation that existed between communities before the arrival of European colonists, as well as in the conditions in which community forests were developed: in Guatemala, communities won their community forests as part of a grassroots struggle, whilst in Cameroon community forests were created through policies influenced by International Financial Institutions.

Guatemala’s experience suggests that communities must find a way of gaining control of forest exploitation and revenues themselves. To do this, they need support with forest production techniques and business skills, and they need national policies to give them the power and space to do this. Associations of community forest units have been vital in Guatemala in supporting the local financial and capacity-building needs of individual community forests, at the same time as pushing for favourable policies at the national level.

The full report can be downloaded on this page

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