Empower Forest Communities

March 20, 2016

Andrea Borgarello / World Bank


Who owns forests and why does it matter? Clear ownership, access, and management rights over forests are vital to build forest-dependent communities’ assets, create jobs and manage forest resources more sustainably. While many forests remain publicly owned, forest ownership by private actors, communities, and individuals has increased over the past decades. Research also shows that the transfer of rights over forests (or forest use) to forest-dependent people and communities creates effective incentives for improving forest conservation and management.

Although they are custodians of the world’s forests, forest-dependent people are among the world’s poorest and most marginalized, with little control over the forest resources they depend on for survival. Forest tenure is often clouded by competing claims from communities, artisanal or large-scale mines, and large-scale agro-business or logging concessions. This undermines sustainable forest management and accelerates degradation of natural resources. The situation can also cause conflict and even violence between different stakeholders.

Forest communities can sustain forests so that they produce the food, products and services that much of the world depends on.  But they can do that best when they have long-term, secure access and user rights and a clear tenure situation, which in turn facilitates their access to affordable credit and financial resources. Financial resources allow forest people to engage at any point in the value chain—for instance, by turning timber and non-timber forest resources into higher-value products that can be sold at higher prices.

Despite greater recognition of women’s importance in forest-related activities, they still have unequal rights over forest resources, representation in relevant decision-making bodies, and access to credit. Empowering women in the forestry sector can create opportunities and benefits for households and communities.


The World Bank recognizes the need for careful consideration of land tenure issues as well as the important role of forest-dependent people in sustainable forest management.

A substantial share of the Bank’s forest-related portfolio has supported forest land tenure reforms, including shifts toward community-based forestland. In the last decade, Bank financed projects have helped to bring more than 74 million hectares of forests under community or participatory management.

The Bank works with countries to strengthen and expand local rights of use and access over forest resources, especially for indigenous groups. The Bank helps improve land tenure and modernize land administration systems.

The Forest Investment Program (FIP), a program of the Climate Investment Funds, and the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF), both engage indigenous peoples and forest-dependent communities in the governance and implementation of their programs.  Four indigenous peoples representatives are active observers in the FIP’s governing body. They work alongside contributor and recipient country representatives to enhance accountability and transparency in decision-making.

The FIP also hosts an $80 million Dedicated Grant Mechanism (DGM) for indigenous people and local communities in 14 pilot countries. These forest communities identify their own priorities and decide how to use the funds ($4.5 to $6.5 million per country) to promote sustainable management of forests and improve their livelihoods. Afforestation and reforestation will successfully reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) only with cooperation and support from forest-dependent people. There are many mechanisms by which benefits could be transferred. The Program on Forests (PROFOR), housed at the Bank, commissioned three studies to inform the design of benefit sharing arrangements in REDD+ initiatives so that they work for forest-dependent people.


The World Bank has extensive experience working with communities and has been instrumental in securing the rights of indigenous peoples to their lands, such as in Nicaragua, through the Lands Administration project that led to the creation of the Autonomous Region of the North Atlantic. In its second phase, the project is expected to continue favoring indigenous peoples, women and the environment, by demarcating protected areas.

In Brazil, the Amazon Region Protected Area project which helped to designate around 24 million hectares of new protected areas (about the size of the United Kingdom) also helped classify 44 million hectares as indigenous lands and set aside more than 30 million hectares into special reserves for sustainable, community-managed use, benefitting 20,000 families. The ARPA program currently supports 114 protected areas, of which 68 are managed by local communities. Involving the local community from the start of the project ensured that resources and benefits would flow back to them, and that laws would be upheld.

In Albania, the Natural Resource Development project confirmed usufruct rights and introduced participatory forest and pasture management in 218 communes, covering an area of 660,000 hectares. The project created 105 Forest and Pasture Users Associations to support the sustainable management of community resources.

In Liberia, communities were engaged in delineating protected area boundaries on a map, as well as physical demarcation on the ground to support the expansion of protected areas (EXPAN project). The project also took existing land claims and the actual uses of the land and natural resources into account. Where it was not feasible to draw protected area boundaries that would exclude populated areas, the protected area management category allowed for continued human occupation and a variety of regulated land uses.

In Mexico, the Second Community Forestry Project placed 1.78 million ha under community (ejido) zoning plans, exceeding targets by 500%. Given this success, the government prepared an additional 451 zoning plans covering 2.64 million hectares. Combined with support for community forestry enterprises, the project helped increase income and access to jobs.

In Senegal, two Bank projects known as PROGEDE were designed to combat forest degradation while meeting growing demand for household fuels. In the project’s second phase, a concerted effort to include women in local structures increased women’s participation in forest management and increased their access to training on forest cutting and carbonization techniques, pursuits formerly dominated by men.

In Panama, the Fundación para la Promoción del Conocimiento Indígena (Foundation for the Promotion of Indigenous Knowledge) implemented a project financed by the FCPF to strengthen REDD+ capacity of indigenous leaders, women, and youth. Community workshops were held on social and environmental safeguard issues in the Guna Yala comarca (a semi-autonomous indigenous territory). The project increased understanding of REDD+ issues among the Guna, in particular through more participation of indigenous women in capacity building activities and the participation of rural stakeholders in the national REDD+ Readiness process.