Introduction to locally-controlled forestry

Worldwide, 1.3 billion people rely on forests for their food, energy and livelihoods. Forest-dependent communities are especially vulnerable to the effects of global forest losses. How can we support forest communities and ensure equitable and sustainable forest management?

Article, 05 August 2013
Locally-controlled forestry
How IIED supports just transitions towards locally-controlled forestry that safeguard biocultural heritage, enhance entrepreneurship and improve prosperity within diverse and resilient landscapes
Boys polish chairs for sale in the furniture market, Nampula, Mozambique.

Boys polish chairs for sale in the furniture market in Nampula, Mozambique (Photo: copyright Mike Goldwater)

We believe that the best way to rebalance governance towards fair and sustainable forestry practices is to invest in locally-controlled forestry.

Locally-controlled forestry gives people who live in forest communities both rights to the land and to the profitable use of trees on that land. It also ensures that they have the organisation, technical and business capacity to do so through, for example, enterprises that can harvest products sustainably, access markets, attract investment and influence policymakers.

IIED strengthens organisations engaged in locally-controlled forestry of many types: organisations of Indigenous Peoples' fighting for territorial rights, organisations managing community forests or cooperatives that aggregate the products and services from many private smallholdings to improve market access.

A key strategy is to build hierarchical levels of organisation – from local groups that sell raw products, through regional associations that aggregate and process products and provide services to their local members, to national or international federations and alliances that have the strength in numbers to shape key policies.

Forest land is coming under intensifying pressure as an increasing global population consumes more food, fibre and energy products. The problem is compounded by consumers – and the markets and political systems that serve them – who live a long way from the affected forests and communities. This means they are not aware of the problem, fail to understand it, or simply don't care.

More and more forested land is coming under the control of local communities, Indigenous People and family foresters. But there are many forest farmers who remain marginalised from formal decision-making, with their rights disregarded.

If these local forest-dependent people had stronger control over their land, more could be done to reduce their poverty and protect forests, particularly if there were strong business incentives to keep the forests standing. This is where IIED's forest and prosperity work programme comes into play.

National partnerships

The forest and prosperity work programme works with 'practitioner teams' in many countries. We help them to:

  • Co-produce and wield evidence that can support their claims
  • Strengthen the organisational capabilities for sustainable practice and advocacy, and
  • Facilitate the interactions and opportunities to change policies and practice.

Regular independent reviews of our work show that this approach benefits forests, as well as the poorest and most vulnerable communities relying on or living near them.

International interactions

IIED's forest team also engages in international dialogues and processes focused on forest-related priorities, including those relating to climate adaptation and mitigation, biodiversity conservation, food security and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This includes interactions with donor agencies and the private sector, as well as with multi-sectoral initiatives designed to reduce deforestation and forest degradation.

This work allows us to raise awareness about the advantages of investing in locally-controlled forestry at an international level, while our work with local partners enables us to develop and share practices relevant to specific countries.

The main focus of this work on forests and prosperity is:

We also do several high-profile independent reviews for programmes and projects at national or international levels when they align with this core focus.

Forests newsletter

Every two months we send out an email newsletter with updates on our latest work. Sign up to email newsletters


Duncan Macqueen (, forests team leader and principal researcher, Natural Resources research group