In addition to supplying wood and non-wood products and services to individuals, forests provide common benefits to all or part of society. Over time, institutional and regulatory arrangements have resulted in a greater degree of shared utilization and have generally also fostered a wider and more equitable distribution of benefits. Where forest land is still predominantly State-owned in developing countries, such arrangements are less common.
While local communities often rely on forest goods and services for subsistence and income generation, ways of sharing the common benefits are not as well defined. For example, the collection and sale of unprocessed forest products may yield fewer benefits to local populations than to other parties. To improve such situations, monetary and non-monetary arrangements, covering the short, medium or long term, attempt to balance the interests of those involved and to promote fair and equitable sharing.
Benefit-sharing mechanisms are unique agreements between stakeholders, such as the private sector, local communities, governmental bodies and non-profit intermediaries, concerned about the equitable distribution of benefits related to the commercialization of products. The concept of benefit-sharing is being applied to the trade in wood products, non-wood forest products and forest services through such mechanisms as trust funds, ethical trade agreements, certification, charitable donations, taxes and producer-trader partnerships. In the forestry sector, the issue is partly addressed through collaborative approaches to forest management such as community forestry, social forestry and joint forest management.Benefit-sharing arrangements can help ensure that the benefits arising from the sale of non-wood forest products, such as these mushrooms being sold in Uganda, are equitably distributed among the stakeholders involved. (Photo: R. Faidutti)
These approaches have good potential for strengthening local communities and contributing to the socially equitable, environmentally friendly and economically viable use of forest products and services. However, implementation is still a challenge, and additional efforts are required to strengthen political stability and establish appropriate legal and institutional frameworks. As a first step, more information is needed on how benefits are shared, as a basis on which to build political will - a prerequisite for implementation of the concept. Benefit sharing also needs to be linked to democratic decision-making at the national, regional and local levels.