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Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) Toolbox

Forest Governance

This module covers the basic elements and components of forest governance and explores the ways in which governance affects the implementation of sustainable forest management (SFM). The module addresses why it is important for forest managers to know about forest governance and provides guidance on what they can do to enable good forest governance.

Forest governance contributes to SDGs:

What is forest governance?

In general terms, governance refers to the formal and informal rules, organizations and processes through which public and private actors articulate their interests and make and implement decisionsForest governance is defined as the way in which public and private actors, including formal and informal institutions, smallholder and indigenous organizations, small, medium-sized and large enterprises, civil-society organizations and other stakeholders negotiate, make and enforce binding decisions about the management, use and conservation of forest resources. The concept of forest governance has evolved to engage multiple (public and private) actors at multiple scales, from local to global. It may include:

  • rules about how forests should be governed, governmental regulations about who benefits from forest resources, and traditional and customary rights;
  • the use of private-sector mechanisms such as voluntary certification to support SFM and legal timber supply; and
  • international measures to support timber legality and promote good governance, such as the European Union’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan and payment schemes for environmental services, such as REDD+(insert here hyperlink to REDD+ module).

Effective forest governance processes engage forest stakeholders, address key forest-related issues, and involve other sectors that affect, or are affected by, forest governance.

Among them, women in particular must be taken into account, as they are one of the main groups using forests. It is essential that women be involved in these processes because rural women’s dependence on forests is different from, and often greater than, men’s due to the gender division of labour and different access to economic resources.

The debate around forest governance has increasingly considered gender, but there is little documented evidence of an actual increase in women participating in the process. In high-level national and international discussions and positions, women are still underrepresented. In community-based approaches, especially in South Asia, the bodies governing and setting the rules for accessing and managing forests, such as a general assembly and executive committee, were so-called “gender neutral”. But women’s participation was restricted because of conservative gender norms. Even when women participate, they often have only a passive or consultative role, which allows them only to exchange opinions that have no guarantee of influencing decisions.

The study on Gender analysis promoted by the UN-REDD Viet Nam Programme reports that women employed in government offices are often assigned to tasks considered “suitable” for them because they do not demand a high-level of expertise. It appears fundamental to empower women so they can have an active role and be in a position to influence decisions and take initiatives as there is also a tendency to report on the number of female staff without much attention to the importance of strengthening their skills and capacity, especially in remote areas and within ethnic minorities. The study reports that there is no plan to train or promote existing female staff to leadership positions. To break this pattern and to promote women’s positions within forestry institutions, the study recommends targeting men for awareness-raising on the benefits of women’s involvement.

Gender equality in the workplace is perceived as being a women’s issue. Women’s organizations, such as the Women’s Union, are promoting gender mainstreaming in Viet Nam. “Gender workshops” gather women only, and gender action plans do not mention men. The study recommends training for women, too, in understanding that men must be made part of the effort. Country supported gender analyses like these offer useful insight into the gender inequalities that need to be addressed.

Creating networks, cooperatives or women-only organizations are first steps toward building momentum and pushing women leaders to participate in decisive governance processes and toward allowing women’s perspectives to be heard.

What makes forest governance “good”?

What makes forest governance “good”?

In general, forest governance is considered “good”, or “responsible”, when it is characterized by the following elements: adherence to the rule of law; transparency and low levels of corruption; stakeholder participation in decision-making; adequate equal rights for stakeholders; accountability; a low regulatory burden; a coherent set of laws and regulations – both within the forest sector and in other sectors that influence forest management; the proper implementation of laws; political stability; and sound capacities to govern efficiently and effectively.

The Framework for Assessing and Monitoring Forest Governance, which was developed by a group of experts and published by FAO and PROFOR in 2011, sets out three pillars of governance, as well as elements and sub-elements of it. Forest managers are encouraged to familiarize themselves with this framework, which is now widely used for appraising forest governance, because it provides an overview of the elements that constitute good governance and can enable the implementation of SFM (see In more depth). 

Forest managers and users should keep in mind that the forest sector does not operate in isolation: other sectors, policies and land uses can affect how forests are governed at various scales (from the local to the global). Good forest governance acknowledges and takes into account such influences. 

How does forest governance affect the implementation of SFM?

How does forest governance affect the implementation of SFM?

The quality of a country’s legal framework and the rule of law is a strong determinant of SFM. For example, clear, equitable laws on forest resource tenure and access, coupled with effective law enforcement, can be instrumental in achieving SFM. Good forest governance may include empowering police and courts to better detect and punish illegal activities; cross-border collaboration and information-sharing; and providing forest users with adequate access to information on how to comply with legal requirements. Forest policies and laws should also be consistent with those of other sectors, such as agriculture, which is a significant driver of forest degradation and deforestation. The failure of governance in the agriculture sector will inevitably undermine the implementation of SFM.