Washington: Researchers observed that giving local communities the opportunity to manage their forests reduced deforestation and poverty. According to the study published in the journal of Nature Sustainability, community-forest management led to a 37 per cent relative reduction in deforestation and a 4.3 per cent relative reduction in poverty.
This is particularly significant in a low-income country, where more than a third of the country's forests are managed by a quarter of the country's population. Researchers estimated the impacts of more than 18,000 community forest initiatives across Nepal, where community-forest management has actively been promoted for several decades.
Forests are critical to sustainable development: they regulate the world's climate, sequester carbon from the atmosphere, harbour biodiversity, and contribute to the local livelihoods of millions of people worldwide.
Over the past four decades, governments and international organisations have actively promoted community-based forest initiatives as a way to merge natural resource conservation with human development. Local communities now legally manage approximately 13 per cent of the world's forests.
But evidence of the impact of community-based forest management has been largely limited to small-scale evaluations, or narrowly focused studies until now.
Lead author Dr Johan Oldekop from the University of Manchester said, "Our study demonstrates that community forest management has achieved a clear win-win for people and the environment across an entire country. Nepal proves that with secure rights to land, local communities can conserve resources and prevent environmental degradation."
Reductions in deforestation did not occur at a cost to local wellbeing. The study found that areas with community forest management were 51 per cent more likely to witness simultaneous reductions in deforestation and poverty.
Co-author Professor Mark Whittingham, said, "It's not easy to balance sustainable management of the environment against the needs, or wants, of mankind. These findings highlight one positive solution."
Another co-author Professor Arun Agrawal, said, "Identifying a mechanism, community forestry that can credibly reduce carbon emissions at the same time as improving the wellbeing of the poor is an important step forward in global efforts to combat climate change and protect the vulnerable."
Mexico, Madagascar, and Tanzania have similar community-forest management programmes, with Indonesia and others developing them. If other areas are able to replicate Nepal's success, community-forest management could play an even greater role in achieving multiple Sustainable Development Goals.