CIFOR, the French research institute for development (IRD) and the French international research center for agricultural development (CIRAD) organised an international conference on smallholder and community forest management in Montpellier, France, in March 2010.
As a daily practice, small-scale forest activities have been carried out by rural population for generations, either on collective lands or on individual plots. Their forest use practices have developed as adaptive management systems influenced by a complex set of factors including local socio-ecological conditions and agendas as well as broader regional, national and international trends and policies. The current success and dynamics of these systems varies widely. Some have thrived for decades showing signs of great dynamism and innovation while others are close to collapse.
Community forestry, as a project or policy intervention, has existed for almost half a century, spreading from its beginnings in Asia in the 1970s to Africa and Latin America more recently. The idea has spawned hundreds of development projects, research projects, reports and publications. Assessments of smallholder and community management systems by scientists, forestry officials and practitioners vary widely. Some claim that community forestry has been a great success. Others call it a massive failure. Some national governments, donors and development NGOs have dropped the concept, but others continue to promote community forestry under a variety of new models and methods. Smallholders have been recognised for successfully managing forest resources and granted new tenure rights, particularly in Latin America but also in Asia and Africa. However, local forest systems in some parts of the world are threatened with destruction, or smallholders themselves are abandoning these systems for forest conversion.
New global trends are affecting local forest dynamics. Climate change, increasing social vulnerability, incentives for deforestation and land use change are the negative effects. Potentially positive effects include payments for carbon capture and storage as well as mechanisms for biodiversity valuation. In light of these trends, it is an appropriate moment to take stock.