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The role of small and medium forest enterprise associations in reducing poverty

Ducan Macqueen

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Small medium forest enterprises (SMFEs) make up most of the opportunities for the poor in forest harvesting and wood processing sectors. They face many obstacles and are frequently unable to access the few support structures that exist. Self-help alternatives consequently have an important role to play. Thousands of forest enterprise associations have sprung up in developing countries as a result. Some fail, but many succeed. This paper summarises the contribution of forest enterprise associations to poverty reduction from surveys in Brazil, China, Guyana, India, South Africa and Uganda. It groups lessons under six headings ­ (i) increasing access to basic needs; (ii) enhancing security and reducing conflicts; (iii) overcoming social isolation and powerlessness; (iv) providing decent work; (v) preventing environmental degradation; and (vi) strengthening cultural identity. Examples are given of associations that have: reduced transaction costs and facilitated access to basic needs; secured access to forest resources and helped to resolve conflicts; reduced social isolation; fought for better working conditions and; strengthened cultural identity. The foundation for such successes lies in resilient and fair associations. The paper comments on internal factors that make associations work. Key factors include: a strong degree of autonomy; leaders with a track-record of social commitment; gradually evolving sets of procedures that institutionalise the progress made by founding leaders; a focus restricted to a few long-term issues; fair representation and democracy; transparency over costs and benefits; sanctions for free riders or those that break rules and; clear procedures for resolving conflicts. The paper concludes with three recommendations for appropriate external support: (i) Create an enabling environment that responds to the needs of existing SMFE associations; (ii) Underwrite communication networks that link forest enterprise association, markets and service providers; (iii) Provide ways of distinguishing, and increasing the returns from, responsible local enterprise in the market.

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