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Livelihoods and Economic Development

Africa contains 16% of the world’s forests and 25% of the world’s tropical rainforests, with approximately 635 million hectares of its land covered by forest. Since colonization, forestry activities across the continent have largely been dominated by timber concessions – large, typically foreign-owned business interests operating on publicly held lands and serving export markets with high value tropical wood products. Unfortunately, such concessions operate alongside impoverished local communities that see little, if any, of the economic gains and employment opportunities trickle down to them. To make matters worse, land concessions to corporations and pervasive government corruption mean that many of these communities do not have legal access or title to forests and the forest products literally situated in their own backyards. This is true even when there are traditional or customary claims to the land, leading fundamentally to a situation wherein it is illegal to harvest fuelwood for energy or even forage for food and medicine in forests. Forest concession models are increasingly being challenged, and this has led to a fundamental re-evaluation of governance and tenure systems, as well as the dominant modes of business practice. There is a pressing need to better understand the impacts of industrial forestry on local people’s livelihoods, and to explore the efficacy and viability of various pro-poor conservation-based alternatives such as community forest and small-scale forest enterprises, and the role of microfinance in both of these. Our research explores the potential opportunities and constraints of such models from the perspectives of land tenure, poverty alleviation, and forest conservation, and examines how best to legitimize the large informal forest products sector.