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Effects of decentralized forest management (DFM) on deforestation and poverty in low and middle income countries: a systematic review

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Natural forest preservation in the tropics, and thus in developing countries, must be an element of any effective effort to manage climate change. Forests serve as natural carbon sinks, which help to mitigate the effect of other carbon emissions. However, forest cover is being reduced and it is estimated that deforestation is responsible for 10-17 per cent of global carbon emissions.

The first objective of this review is to assess the evidence on the effects of decentralized forest management (DFM) programs on the conservation and poverty outcomes in LMICs. A second objective is to assess the extent to which these programs’ effects on poverty in turn affect whether conservation benefits are realized. The third objective is to evaluate how institutional and social conditions (namely, inequality, institutional capacity, corruption, and democratic accountability) moderate the effects of DFM programs.

Given the evidence available, the review finds little reason for optimism about the potential for current DFM approaches to achieve both conservation and poverty reduction benefits jointly. We call for the production of much better impact studies, employing randomized field experiments when possible, to assess whether the apparent incompatibility of conservation and poverty reduction might be overcome through programming innovations.