Livelihoods and Well-Being | Local Decision-Making

Stakeholders Describe Multiple Dimensions of Trade-offs Among Reforestation Alternatives

Lazos, E., J. Zinda, A. Bennet-Curry, P. Balvanera, G. Bloomfield, C. A. Lindell, and C. Negra. 2016. Stakeholders and tropical reforestation: challenges, tradeoffs, and strategies in dynamic environments. Biotropica 48:900-914.


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Many reforestation programs around the world plan the initial steps of acquiring and planting of seedlings, but do not consider the trade-offs and hard choices that local stakeholders face dynamically to keep, maintain, and develop different restoration strategies. Reforestation efforts often produce trade-offs between: a) environmental and social benefits; b) individual or community benefits; c) burdens and gains borne by different stakeholders. A dialogue with stakeholders about the dynamic trade-offs will allow them to adjust their strategies through the evaluation of the outcomes. When human and biophysical elements change in tandem, trade-offs and synergies also change, and these transformations have to be continuously evaluated by the local stakeholders.

We organized a workshop in the south coast of Jalisco, Mexico to discuss different restoration strategies with stakeholders that reflect the heterogeneity of the communities (land tenure, geographic origins, cultural identities, social inequities, gender, generation, education). Inspired by Rapid Rural Appraisal methods, we showed that successful long-term reforestation required stakeholder engagement beyond planning stages and a recognition of their dynamism in opportunities, relationships, interests, and roles that constantly pose trade-offs and challenging decisions.

Any reforestation effort must begin by acknowledging these challenges perceived by the stakeholders. At the workshop, the stakeholders categorized land use types and their challenges. They then discussed their preferences, interests, possible involvements at different levels of governance, and pros and cons of five proposed restoration strategies (passive regeneration, facilitation of natural regeneration, reforestation with native species, establishment of agrosilvopastoral systems, and settlement of commercial plantations).

Personal preferences among reforestation alternatives were evenly distributed with somewhat greater amounts for natural regeneration, agro-silvopastoral systems, and reforestation with native species, while commercial plantations were the least desired option. These preferences shifted when different conditions were offered (policies, investments, security) and when participants identified the trade-offs and synergies associated with the five reforestation interventions. Collective concerns for environmental benefits often came into tension with individual economic considerations. Participants indicated socio-political factors as limiting conditions for reforestation. They lamented, on one hand, weak consideration of their knowledge, culture, and family economic needs by government programs and, on the other, contradictory incentives for reforestation and pervasive problems with changeable bureaucratic processes, low transparency, corruption, and power imbalances.

In considering future actions, participants mentioned the need to balance socioecological strategies and economic needs. They suggested clear governance arrangements, improved infrastructure, technical education, access to credits, less bureaucratic processes, good communication, reduced corruption and conflict among sectoral policies, economic diversification, and guaranteed markets.

We proposed a pathway for successful navigation of dynamic stakeholder reforestation trade-offs that comprises four interconnected and recursive stages: a) collaborate to devise a reforestation strategy through dialogue about dynamic trade-offs; b) pledge robust stakeholder commitments to mutual arrangements for implementing reforestation; c) implement reforestation interventions; and d) adjust strategies through continuous evaluation of outcomes.

The workshop at Chamela demonstrated that resources dedicated to engagement, governance, and evaluation will enhance the likelihood of success of restorations initiatives from socioeconomic, cultural, political, and biophysical perspectives. To construct a long term reforestation experience, we need to assume a socioenvironmental dynamic perspective to maintain stakeholders’ interests and needs in permanent negotiation under new participatory governance arrangements.


The PARTNERS connection
This paper originated at the first PARTNERS workshop in 2014. We received a grant from the PARTNERS to organize the workshop and the preparation stage (one week for 10 persons) in Chamela, Jalisco, Mexico. The results of our research were translated into an educational capsule at the Environmental Leadership & Training Initiative, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental, Yale University.