Justice in the forests: a series of short films

The Forest Governance Learning Group (FGLG) is a network of teams in ten countries in Africa and Asia that grapple with this central governance question and believe that solutions to forestry problems lie in increasing the power of local people to make informed decisions over how forests are managed.

Article, 15 April 2011

The Forest Governance Learning Group (FGLG) has produced a series of short films that show how small teams can have a big impact in tackling forest governance. They collectively make the case that for long-term sustainability it is necessary to put social justice centre stage – and that in practice, this means investing in locally controlled forestry.

Tackling forest governance: how small groups can have a big impact

This film is ideal viewing for those short on time but have a keen interest in understanding more about the common governance issues facing forest-dependent people.

Justice in the forests

This film provides a more in-depth look at three countries where the FGLG has been active in promoting solutions to forestry problems that lie in increasing the power of local people to make informed decisions over how forests are managed: Ghana, Malawi, and Uganda.

It presents some of the FGLG's core strategies: influencing government to promote understanding and debate of the key issues, and bringing together the various stakeholders to share their perspectives.

Other films in the series


'Burning issues: the problem of charcoal' details how the Forest Learning Governance Group (FGLG) team in Malawi put the charcoal issue on the map as the country's third largest industry and brought government together with charcoal producers in search of more sustainable and pro-poor policy solutions.

Charcoal is one of Malawi's biggest industries. It provides livelihoods for more than 45,000 people, supplies the energy needs to more than 85 per cent of Malawian households, but 60 per cent of that charcoal comes from the country's forest reserves and its production is destroying its forests.

In an effort to control the industry, the government drafted the Forest Act of 1997, which only allows charcoal to be produced under license. But so far, this policy is proving ineffective.

Burning issues explores the nature of the problem with charcoal - its production – which has such devastating environmental impacts. It presents the case for community managed forests as a possible solution to charcoal production – and that legalisation and management can make it a sustainable source of green energy as well as reducing poverty at the community level. 

And it shows how by bringing the issue out in the open with a public debate, including multiple stakeholders, can have tremendous results for policy and behavioural change.


Local people need legal rights to forests shows how benefits have started to accrue to communities in Vietnam when they were given commercial rights to use forests – and how this provides an incentive for sustainable forest management.

Although many communities in Vietnam have managed their forests for centuries, it is only recently that the government has recognised the legal status of community forest management.

This film compares the case of one village that has received legal title to one that has not. Thon Bon is one of the few villages to have been given legal title under the government's pilot scheme while Pho Trach, which also relies heavily on the forest for its wellbeing, has been managing it successfully for centuries without legal title.

The cooperative has done a good job of looking after the forest yet the village has not yet been issued legal recognition to its rights to the forest. Instead, they must rely on the cooperative system to manage their natural resources and can fall victim to outside exploitation without compensation.

In the current context of global schemes to fight greenhouse gas emissions, these legal titles provide a real opportunity for Vietnam, provided they can be made to work at the community level.

Gaining security and rights will not only ensure the health and well being of the forests themselves, but also for the people who have cared for them for generations and hope to continue doing so far into the future.


'Forests fight back' tells the epic tale of the fierce and ultimately successful battle to save the Mabira forest reserve in Uganda from being sold off to private agribusiness.

The Mabira forest is one of the few remaining areas of protected forest left in the country. This rare resource has been at the centre of a battle between the government of Uganda and its people, a battle which goes right to the heart of Ugandan politics, and whose implications are having a profound effect on the political landscape of the country.

The film describes the story of what happened when the government announced a plan to degazette areas of the Mabira forest and sell it off to the Lugazi Sugar Company. Campaigners presented a clear argument of the economic benefits of local community forest management and the illegality of the president's decision to sell off the forest.

Ugandan civil society groups joined hands to conduct a concerted campaign to stop the Mabira giveaway, and won.

Although the Mabira forest is still standing, the threat to Uganda's forests from commercial agriculture remains, and in other areas it is proving even harder to hold back the tide.

At the heart of the situation in Uganda lies the question of governance, of who decides on the use and allocation of forest resources, and on what basis they make their decisions.


'Trees in local hands' details how the Forest Governance Learning Group (FGLG) team in Ghana are working on practical ways of securing local decision-making to address the issue of chainsaw lumbering.

The film explains how for almost a century the timber business has been dominated by large companies, who have been given concessions by the state. The failure of this system to allow local people to gain substantial benefits from the forest has led to a proliferation of unauthorised chainsaw operators, who now account for the majority of trees felled in Ghana. And in response to this situation, many local people have decided to extract timber for their own benefits, regardless of a law which forbids it.

Attempts to enforce the law have failed – often with loss of life and limb in the process.But some communities and chainsaw operators recognise the problems and are taking matters into their own hands. Some have formed the Domestic Lumber Trade Association, to press for legalisation and regulation.

With the NGO coalition ForestWatch Ghana and the government's Forestry Commission, the FGLG is working to abandon the pretence that the state can control timber trees on farmers' lands and to explore better deals for local control of forestry.

These films were produced by IIED and Dominic Elliot with the financial assistance of the European Union (EU) and the UK Department for International Development (DFID). The content of these films is the responsibility of IIED and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of the EU or DFID.

A live discussion was held in May 2011. IIED's James Mayers and in-country FGLG team members answered questions on the films, locally controlled forestry, and success stories around the world.