At the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development nations agreed that poverty eradication is a priority. Forestry has an important role to play in this process as millions of poor people depend on forest resources for subsistence, income and cultural and social cohesion. Some have managed to lift themselves out of poverty with income generated from forest-based commercial enterprises.

National Poverty Reduction Strategies and targets such as the Millennium Development Goals have been at the centre of attempts to address poverty in the developing world. This compendium features publications that examine the relationship between these mainstream poverty reduction efforts and forestry. They highlight actions within and outside of the forestry sector, from the international to local levels that could be taken to increase forestry’s role in poverty reduction.


The compendium contains articles, case studies, manuals and other reference material that address different aspects of the forestry-poverty relationship. They cover the nature of poverty (e.g. DFID 1999, ODI 2000), the relationship between forestry and poverty (e.g. Wageningen UR 2005, UNDP PROFOR 1999, FAO 2003, EFI 2003) and the position of forestry in mainstream poverty reduction approaches at the national and international levels (e.g. EFI 2002 and 2003, FAO 2003, IDS 2001, IUCN 2003). Many publications deal with forest policy and governance reforms that are needed if forests are to meet their full poverty reduction potential (e.g. IDS 2001, EFI 2003, FAO 2000, UNDP 2001 and WRI 2005). Some address the conservation of biodiversity, the importance of conservation to the livelihood security of many of the world’s poor and potential to generate revenues from conservation (e.g. CIFOR & Forest Trends 2003, Forest Trends 2005, WRI 2005). Critical factors for sustainable income generation and successful commercialization of tangible forest products are examined (e.g. WRI 2005, IDS 2001). Several publications and web links address aspects of capacity building for forest managers and users to achieve poverty reduction through sustainable forest management (e.g. EFI 2003, IIED web, IDS web 2001-2011). Many of the publications touch on the role of forest managers in facilitating access to resources, mediating the interests of multiple rich and poor forest users and monitoring and research (e.g. ECTF 2002, EFI 2003, PREM 2005, FAO 2006). Some very specifi c regional case studies are also included (e.g. IUCN 2000, EFI 2003, WRI 2005, Forest Trends 2005).

Overview of Issues

Forestry-poverty relationships vary depending on whether people are migrants or indigenous forest dwellers, at different levels of poverty, types of forests and geographical regions. A common thread across these contexts is that poverty is both a condition of material deprivation and a result of active marginalization from power, including decision making. Conceptual tools such as the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework are useful for understanding the multiple dimensions of poverty. Forests are an important safety net for the poor, both in terms of direct subsistence and income streams for rural households. Commercialization of forest resources can and do play an important role in helping people out of poverty. However, for forests to meet their full poverty alleviation potential, national forest estates need to be managed with poverty alleviation and social development as a main objective.

Key articles indicate that there is usually a gap between forest management and mainstream poverty reduction initiatives, such as national Poverty Reduction Strategies (PRS) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Forestry’s poverty reduction role has also not been well communicated internationally and consequently does not attract adequate funding5. Coordination between macroeconomic planners and forest managers is a priority not only for enhancing forestry’s role in poverty alleviation but also to ensure that short term economic stimulation in PRS do not place forest resources - the poor’s safety net - at risk. International fi nancial support is important to aligning forest management with poverty reduction goals.

The biophysical capacity of specifi c forests and ensuring sustainability is a central factor. The relationship between forest degradation and conservation and poverty cannot be understood out of context or without considering the relative roles of poor and wealthy forest users. Poor people dwell in forests and are often associated with forest degradation. However, several articles show that wealthy forest users and large investments also degrade forests whilst poor people play a signifi cant role in conserving forests. While many Governments have undertaken initiatives to support poor forest users, forest policies and economic incentives tend to favor the interests of the wealthy. Many publications illustrate that empowerment of the poor is an inherent aspect of poverty alleviation and is necessary for achieving ecological sustainability. Governance reforms that include better resource access, tenure, economic incentives and greater management authority for the poor are among the main recommendations for achieving sustainable poverty alleviation Sustainable income generation through payments for environmental services, tourism, timber, agro-forestry and other non-timber forest products (NTFPs) is a key to eradicating poverty for forest-dependent people. Critical issues for commercialisation include facilitating access to credit, markets and benefi cial business partnerships, support for product development and quality improvement, and monitoring and responding to livelihood security impacts. Tourism has some localized potential for poverty alleviation. Payments for environmental services are still experimental. NTFPs have had localized positive results but most are increasingly seen as poverty traps due to their low sale values, high labour demands and high risks of disrupting the balance of income and non-income activities that sustain the poorest of the poor without providing suffi cient revenues to eliminate direct dependence on forest resources for sustenance. The most important source of forest revenue has been timber. Historically technological and fi nancial investments for timber harvesting have been cited as barriers to permitting access to the poor. However, community-private sector partnerships and appropriate technologies, such as portable saw mills, have enabled access and they warrant greater attention.

In summary, the publications show that important efforts are still needed at the international, national and local levels to align forestry with poverty reduction goals. Forest managers will increasingly need to advocate for the poor, facilitate access to non-forest sector services, monitor impacts and facilitate research to improve the information base for guiding actions.

last updated:  Tuesday, July 17, 2007