SFM for social development

Beyond the wide range of products and services forests and trees provide, their significant contributions to rural livelihoods and food security make a people-centred approach to forestry a must. Forests act as a source of food, medicine and fuel for more than a billion people. Around one-third of the world’s population, or about 2.4 billion people, make use of woodfuel for cooking.

SFM can accommodate such considerations in its objectives and management approaches.

Employment and income generated through the harvesting, processing and sale of forest goods and environmental services are important in many rural areas. Forests can complement the income earned and livelihood support provided by other land uses, such as agriculture.

In implementing SFM, adequate provision should be made, as appropriate, for occupational safety and health and respect for labour rights, as specified in national legislation and international agreements as well as in forest certification standards and other voluntary social responsibility codes, as applicable.

The social pillar of SFM is broad, encompassing concepts such as participation, fairness, access and use rights, worker safety, gender equity, and conflict management in communities affected by forest activities. These aspects need appropriate attention in any effort to implement SFM.


Members of Forest User Group in Mongolia producing woodchips -©FAO/Kenichi Shono

The people directly involved in or affected by management of a given forest area should have the opportunity to participate in setting the objectives for and implementing SFM. Decisions on forest use and conservation imposed on stakeholders without consultation lack legitimacy, are likely to be resisted and may lead to conflicts. Recognizing local people as key forest stakeholders and promoting their involvement in decision-making and sustainable management of forests, generates positive outcomes for livelihoods, rural development and forest conservation.

Fairness is an important component of SFM, especially in the sharing of the benefits and costs of forest use in rural areas. The implementation of SFM should reduce inequality, promote the development of locally owned and operated enterprises, and improve working conditions.

A local community member carrying home fuelwood in the Philippines. ©FAO/Benjo Salvatierra

Specific measures may be needed to ensure the equitable sharing of benefits through, for example, investment in housing, education, medical services and other social infrastructure, and the equitable allocation of rights to resources and resource use.

The implementation of SFM requires that social indicators are monitored, and any negative impacts – such as conflicts over the allocation of benefits and costs – are addressed, including by providing support for social learning, building cooperation and trust among stakeholders, and developing a common vision for the contribution of SFM to socio-economic development. FAO has over the years promoted the concept of community-based forestry (see “Forty years of community-based forestry”). Community-based forestry includes “initiatives, sciences, policies, institutions and processes that are intended to increase the role of local people in governing and managing forest resources.” It includes formalized customary and indigenous initiatives as well as government-led initiatives. Community-based forestry covers social, economic and conservation dimensions in a range of activities including decentralized and devolved forest management, smallholder forestry schemes, community−company partnerships, small-scale forest-based enterprises and indigenous management of sacred sites of cultural importance. Community-based forestry regimes can be categorized according to the tenure rights enjoyed by stakeholders. These rights largely determine the extent of empowerment. The spectrum of generic types of community forests, in order of increasing strength of rights devolved, includes: participatory conservation, joint forest management, community forestry with limited devolution, community forestry with full devolution and private ownership. Policy-makers have placed ambitious expectations on community forestry, including addressing and integrating additional objectives related to climate change mitigation and adaption, forest law enforcement, forest and landscape restoration, etc. Community forestry is a valuable forest management modality that has the potential to contribute to SFM and improve local livelihoods.


Related SFM Toolbox modules:

Community based forestry

Market analysis and development of forest based enterprises 

Forestry responses to disasters 

Collaborative conflict management

Forest tenure 

Participatory approaches and tools for sfm 

Occupational health and safety in forestry

last updated:  Tuesday, November 3, 2020