Effects of community-based forest management initiatives on conservation and rural livelihoods in mid-western Uganda
Globally, community involvement in forest management has been hailed as an effective strategy to achieve twin goals of improving conservation and livelihoods. Two main community-based forest management initiatives have been embraced in Uganda’s forest sector: collaborative forest management (CFM) and community forestry (CF). However, since their active promotion ushered in by the country’s forest sector reforms of the late 1990s, there is still paucity of empirical research evidence on conservation and livelihood outcomes that are attributable to these initiatives. To fill this gap, this study used a mixed methods research design incorporating repeated biophysical forest inventories in areas under different forest tenure forms (State, CFM and CF) a cross sectional household survey and key informant interviews to generate the conservation and livelihood outcomes of CFM and CF in the Budongo Forest Landscape in midwestern Uganda. The study was anchored within the Institutional Theory. It used insights from the Institutional Analysis and Development (IAD) framework and Sustainable Livelihood Framework (SLF) to assess spatial and temporal changes in forest structural attributes, vegetation characteristics and livelihood outcomes as a result of CBFM in the Budongo Forest Landscape. Quantifiable and attributable effects of CBFM on household assets, livelihood strategies, diversification and perceived wellbeing were assessed using suitable counterfactuals after Propensity Score Matching (PSM). In terms of vegetation characteristics, Non-Metric Multidimensional Scaling (NMDS) ordination results revealed significant changes in tree communities in the state-managed compartment. The CFM compartment registered a net increase in basal area (Wilcoxon rank-sum test: Z = 2.667, p = 0.008), attributable to successful abolition of illegal commercial charcoal processing under CFM compared to those that were not under CFM (Kruskal-Wallis test: χ2(2) = 6.967, p = 0.031). In the community forests, net declines in the basal area of tree species locally preferred for poles and charcoal were recorded. The densities of those preferred for timber significantly increased as a result of their heightened protection by community members. However, the community members still faced challenges of apprehending powerful and “highly connected” rule-breakers. In terms of livelihood outcomes, CBFM significantly enhanced household access to legally-sourced forest products in the study area. Being registered groups, CBFM also offered a platform for conservation and development agencies to promote alternative livelihoods schemes. However, these schemes encouraged survival-led as opposed to accumulation-led diversification pathways. In order to meaningfully achieve the twin objectives of conservation and livelihood improvement through CBFM, conservation and development agencies need to enhance access to high-return on-farm and nonfarm income-generating activities, enhance sustainable market access for farm produce and boost regeneration and recruitment of target tree species in situ. Future research on community-level outcomes of CBFM is recommended to supplement the household-level outcomes reported in this study.