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Viability of community forests as social enterprises: A Cameroon case study

Divine Foundjem-Tita, World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), Yaounde, Cameroon
Lalisa A. Duguma, World Agroforestry Centre, Nairobi, Kenya
Stijn Speelman, Department of Agricultural Economics, Faculty of Bioscience Engineering, Ghent University, Belgium
Serge M. Piabuo, World Agroforestry Centre, Yaounde, Cameroon


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Since the concept of community forests was instituted in Cameroon in 1994, there has been an upsurge of such forest management arrangements in the country. However, up to now there is no conclusive evidence as to whether such schemes can operate as profitable ventures and at the same time meet their social and environmental objectives. The latter is the core objective of a social enterprise that constitutes the basis of our analysis. In fact, little attention has been paid to understanding the business side of community forests. In this regard, we review existing evidence about community forests making profits and simultaneously meeting their social and sustainable forest management goals. The analysis is based on a range of literature covering 20 years of community forestry experience in Cameroon and also from information gathered from nine case study community forests in Cameroon. Although not overwhelming, the existing literature shows that community forests can be run as profitable enterprises. However, profitability is conditional on the type of activities the enterprises engaged in, the capacity of the community forest entrepreneurs to run the business themselves rather than subcontracting, and on the capacity of the enterprises, especially timber related ones, to diversify into nontimber forest products (NTFPs) and agricultural activities. The available evidence suggests mixed results about the contribution of community forests to community development projects and livelihoods, and emphasizes that the legal form of the community forest, the kind of enterprise the community focuses on and the type of support received by the community forest are important drivers of viable community forest enterprises. The study further notes the absence of a sustainable funding model for community forest enterprises and recommends that government should officially classify them in the social enterprise sector. By so doing, community forests can benefit from special programs meant for the social enterprise sector including the provision of starting capital and capacity building on basic business principles.

Key words

Cameroon; community forest; livelihoods; social enterprises; viability

Copyright © 2018 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087