Export-oriented timber concessions dominate forestry business models in many parts of the world, especially in Central and West Africa. While such concessions have clearly played a long-standing role in the development of forest industry in these regions, they provide limited opportunity for local communities, and to date have not significantly contributed to most communities’ wealth, employment or livelihoods. The social and ecological sustainability of these models is widely questioned. Moreover, these models have eroded the customary access and tenure rights of forest communities and Indigenous Peoples. Unrecognized legal tenure, access rights and civil rights for the communities who live near forest concessions makes it difficult to legitimately gather forest products for traditional subsistence and alternative enterprise.

Alternatives to this industrial timber-export model exist. However, a lack of knowledge about the alternatives has limited their further expansion and development. In many places, advocates from the public and private sectors have found it difficult to envision alternate tenure and enterprise scenarios, especially ones that are suited to their particular economies, histories, cultures and societies.

RRI’s Approach

RRI identifies, promotes and shares alternative models of forest ownership and management, known as Alternative Tenure and Enterprise Models (ATEMs). These models provide guidance and lessons for decision makers to encourage them to strengthen the tenure and access rights for forest communities. They also create equal opportunities for small and medium forest enterprises, including community-based enterprises.

Activities in Central and West Africa

Given the dominance of export-oriented timber concessions in Central and West Africa, RRI’s work demonstrating additional models focuses largely on these two regions.

Country-Level Case Studies

Researchers within the RRI Coalition conducted detailed case studies of community forest enterprises in local contexts. The briefs below summarize ATEMs case studies in five African countries.

Activities for International Comparison

Some of the best research on alternative models for land use comes from countries already implementing these practices. Sharing the lessons and experiences from these countries concretely illustrates the viability of lesser known options for forest management; often leading to improved understandings and generating visions for future forest planning.

RRI works to create networks of community leaders who can learn from experiences in foreign countries and share lessons with community groups and civil society networks at home. RRI has supported African leaders on visits to community forests in highland Guatemala, First Nation enterprises in British Colombia, Canada, and to forest cooperatives owned by families and communities in Sweden. Participants in these exchanges produce reports to document their experiences. The following briefs summarize ATEM case studies for international comparison.

Exchanging knowledge and practices between African nations can also provide additional insights. In 2010, RRI released a report presenting a new body of evidence on the opportunities for a more diverse and equitable forest economy that balances conservation, timber and wood-based production and industry, non-timber production, harvesting and trade and new ecotourism or ecological service enterprise. The report, Small Scale, Large Impacts: Transforming Central and West African Forest Tenure and Industry to Improve Sustainable Development, Growth and Governance contends that a renewed forest economy must reconcile the demands for national economic growth and the needs of forest communities and marginalized peoples to remain relevant.

It is clear through this study that the opportunity of ATEMs is linked to a tenure transition that supports strong local governance and forest resource tenure and rights, balancing multiple interests and stakeholders, through legal pluralism and nested, or multi-layered, tenure regimes.