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Illusions of empowerment? Questioning policy and practice of community forestry in Kenya

Susan W. Chomba, University of Copenhagen; ASB Partnership for the Tropical Forest Margins
Iben Nathan, University of Copenhagen
Peter A. Minang, ASB Partnership for the Tropical Forest Margins; World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF)
Fergus Sinclair, Bangor University, Wales; World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF)


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The extent to which community forestry (CF) contributes to empowerment of local communities remains hotly contested. We develop a unified theory of empowerment at the intersection of asset-based agency and institution-based opportunity and apply it to examine the extent to which the implementation of CF has led to local empowerment. Our empirical data are drawn from review of national level policies and a field study of Ngare Ndare Community Forest Association (CFA) in Kenya. We investigated what types of powers were transferred to the local level, how representative the local institution was of the local community, and how its formation and composition affected the empowerment of socially and economically differentiated groups, with competing claims over the forest resource. We found that national forest policies and actors transferred minimal powers that enabled local communities to execute forest protection and conservation roles, while maintaining legislative powers and control of economic benefits centrally; and, that representation within the CFA was highly skewed in favor of small and already powerful local elites. We discuss the findings in the light of the literature on empowerment to develop insights about how to more effectively manage processes to empower local communities through appropriately representative institutions.

Key words

community forestry; empowerment; Kenya; representation

Copyright © 2015 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