Livelihoods and Well-Being | Local Decision-Making

Analysis Shows Gaps in Understanding of Impacts of Forest Restoration on Local Livelihoods

Cristina Adams, Sidney T. Rodrigues, Miguel Calmon, Chetan Kumar

Impacts of large-scale forest restoration on socioeconomic status and local livelihoods: what we know and do not know. Biotropica 48(6): 731–744. 2016.


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Tropical deforestation has been one of the greatest environmental problems since the end of World War II. The loss of forest has led to a decrease in ecosystem services that benefit society such as water production and biodiversity and soil protection, and has contributed enormously to global climate change. At the local level, deforestation also causes impacts on the livelihoods of people who depend on tropical forests for wood, non-timber forest products, agricultural land and ecosystem goods and services. To compensate for the impacts of deforestation, recent large-scale initiatives on forest restoration have been proposed, promising to bring back ecosystem services that will benefit society and have a positive impact on rural livelihoods.

Although a lot is known about the social and environmental impacts of the loss of tropical forest, there is still limited evidence indicating how large-scale forest restoration can improve local livelihoods. Moreover, rural and indigenous people in many tropical countries have already carried the burden creating protected areas on their lands to halt deforestation, following previous international agreements and policies to conserve tropical forests. In many places, these peoples are prohibited of accessing and using natural resources that are essential for their income, self-consumption and cultural beliefs.

So, would large-scale forest restoration really benefit local people’s livelihoods or would it be another conservation trend delivering unfavorable socioeconomic impacts? To address this gap of knowledge and answer the question, our team looked into the scientific literature from year 2000 and reviewed previous work showing the effects of reforestation/restoration initiatives (carried out at the landscape level) on local livelihoods.

What we discovered is that most case studies focused on the effects of restoration on income, livelihoods diversification, off-farm employment opportunities, poverty reduction, equity and the provision of timber and energy as ecosystem services. Overall, the socioeconomic effects on local livelihoods depended on other variables describing the context of the situation, such as availability of off-farm jobs, household characteristics, land productivity, land tenure, and the existence of markets for forest products and ecosystem services. The socioeconomic outcomes were also influenced by the governance systems put in place to address restoration. We concluded that many more studies are needed to obtain a clear answer, as well as monitoring the impacts of restoration initiatives over time using a robust set of socioeconomic indicators.


The PARTNERS connection
The idea for this paper was initially discussed between C. Adams and M. Calmon at a meeting co-organized by Partners[1] in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), in November 2014, to discuss the foundations of a global partnership towards forest restoration. It was further developed into a scoping study for IUCN (2015), focused on mapping the social impacts from forest landscape restoration and identifying knowledge gaps, and published as a Knowfor product (Knowfor Project -DFID-UK/CIFOR/World Bank Program of Forests (PROFOR). The theoretical framework we developed and the results from the IUCN paper were discussed with experts at the SESYNC Workshop on “Reforests, Rural lives, and Livelihoods” (Social Dimensions of Reforestation Pathways in the Tropics), organized by Partners in April 2016, and finally published in Biotropica’s special issue.

[1] And IUCN, WRI, FAO, IIS, CDB, Atlatic Fores Pact and The Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden (Rio de Janeiro).