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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

Copyright © 2012 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes 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