The impact of community forest management on human well-being

Professor Julia Jones
July 1, 2016
Madagascar was one of the first countries in the southern hemisphere to put in place the legal framework for community forest management. This approach aims to conserve threatened forests while also providing benefits to local communities. My colleague, Ranaivo Rasolofoson, has led an analysis evaluating the impact of CFM on human well-being which is published today in the leading conservation journal Conservation Letters. 
“Impacts of Community Forest Management on Human Economic Well-Being across Madagascar” deserves attention from anyone interested in community forest management and, particularly, anyone interested in the complex challenge of assessing the impact of large scale conservation policies on human well-being.
Previous work by Ranaivo has demonstrated that CFM has had rather mixed impacts in terms of its aim of slowing deforestation in Madagascar ( This paper looks at the degree to which CFM has been successful in having a positive impact on human well-being.
It’s the first piece of research addressing this important question which looks at the national scale and uses state of the art methods to overcome common issues often associated with evaluating the impact of large scale environmental policies. 
The overall analysis suggests there no negative impacts associated with CFM. This is significant as a number of studies have suggested that, despite the hoped for ‘win-win’ of benefits for communities and conservation, in fact CFM may have had negative impacts on well-being. However, we were also able to demonstrate that the impacts vary depending on who is being considered: for example households with higher levels of education, may experience more positive impacts than those with a lower level of education.
Policy makers should be mindful that net impacts of a policy are not the most important thing from a poverty point of view. If rich people are positively affected, and the poor negatively affected – leading to a net impact of nothing – that would still be a very bad outcome for the poverty alleviating agenda. 
There are a number of important caveats to this research. Firstly, we look at only a very narrow measure of human well-being (that of household consumption). And, because we were using a national data set not collected for the aim of investigating the impact of forest policies, those people living closest to, or even within, the forest and therefore likely most affected may be underrepresented. 
There are increasing calls for environmental policy to be evidence-based. Evidence-based policy depends on robust impact evaluation. We hope that this national scale analysis of the impacts of CFM contributes to understanding of how CFM can best contribute to policy alleviation. But detailed case-study based work looking at a wider range of measures of human well-being will also be needed.
An article about the paper can also be found on Mongabay.