Charlie Palmer will discussing the paper Forest co-management and poverty-environment traps.


Implemented globally since the 1990s, co-management involves the devolution and transfer of common-pool resource rights from governments to rural communities. In practice, this process often also involves efforts to improve households’ returns to labour with respect to resource extraction. Quantitative empirical evidence to date suggests mixed effects with respect to forest co-management’s impacts on poverty and resource conservation, including in Sub-Saharan Africa. Our study seeks to contribute to the literature with a better understanding of the behavioural channels through which co-management influences poverty and forests and the mechanisms by which co-management changes behaviour underlying outcomes. With a focus on Malawi, we construct a household panel dataset and empirically evaluate the poverty and forest impacts of the national-level Improved Forest Management for Sustainable Livelihoods Programme (IFMSLP) two and five years after it ended in 2014. The results from application of a differences-in-differences framework to our data suggest that the IFMSLP increased rather than reduced household poverty. As measured by incomes, assets and a measure of food security, the Food Consumption Score, the estimated increase in poverty is larger in 2016 than in 2019. The IFMSLP had no overall effect on deforestation. To understand why and how co-management increased poverty, we test the hypothesis that co-management’s focus on low-productivity resource extraction and use, coupled with fewer alternative livelihood options, is associated with worsening poverty. The increase in poverty is found among households with fewer livelihood options and a dependence on subsistence agriculture and fuelwood collection prior to co-management.

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