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Is Decentralization Leading to “Real” Decision-Making Power for Forest-dependent Communities? Case Studies from Mexico and Brazil

Reem F Hajjar, University of British Columbia
Robert A Kozak, University of British Columbia
John L Innes, University of British Columbia


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Decentralization of forest governance has been promoted as a way to conserve forests more effectively, while also improving rural and forest-dependent livelihoods. Prior to assessing the consequences of this decentralization trend, there is a need to critically examine the degree to which decentralization of forest management decision making is actually happening. In particular, it is unclear whether communities are securing legal authority and/or decision-making power over the forests on which they depend. This study uses case studies of community forestry in Brazil and Mexico to examine the amount of decision-making power communities and smallholders have received over forest resources. A framework for assessment is developed that identifies criteria of relevance to community members’ rights and day-to-day activities. We found that in both countries the government maintains significant control over forest resources through heavy regulation of extraction, but that communities have increasing control over day-to-day forest management decisions. We conclude by posing questions on the appropriate levels of decentralization for optimal outcomes.

Key words

Brazil; community forestry; decentralization; forest-dependent communities; forest management authority; Mexico
Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087