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Poor in Senegal Denied Benefits of Forest Resources

In many developing countries, forestry policies systematically exclude the poor from the wealth of the forests around them. Senegal provides an interesting example of how even good policies can fail to deliver the benefits they are intended to provide.

I wrote about this phenomenon as it occurs in both Senegal and Nicaragua (with reference to Mali, Honduras, Cameroon, Uganda, Brazil and India) in a study co-authored with Anne Larson of the Center for International Forestry (CIFOR), and published in the Journal of Sustainability Science.

Rural populations in Senegal lose out because they are denied access to forests and access to commercial trade. To be allowed to manage their own forests, rural communities must develop and use management plans approved by the National Forest Service (NFS). These plans are expensive to develop and require great labor to implement. It's also not clear that they are ecologically necessary.

Meanwhile largely urban-based merchants hire migrant laborers to produce charcoal using traditional kilns, without having to present management plans. As a result, they can produce at lower cost, and without the responsibility for forest management.

Until 1998, the system of forest management in Senegal remained highly centralized, involving a system of licenses, permits, and quotas allocated by the NFS. The NFS fixed annual quotas for charcoal production, allocating them to their urban-based merchant allies. The 1998 forestry code eliminated the quotas as of February 2001, passing production decisions to local governments and rural councils. But despite the legal changes, the NFS continues to control forest access, issuing quotas and permits—as if no laws had changed.

NFS officials and agents claim that the quotas are based on national charcoal demand and available forest supply. But they do not really have sufficient data to know. The NFS has steadily lowered quotas as a "forest protection" measure, despite continued high demand, giving rise to illegal production to satisfy the shortages.

Meanwhile, rural communities continue to be excluded from forest management and policy development, not to mention being subject to double standards and arbitrary enforcement. As a result, their poverty continues, and they do not share in the benefits that the changes in law were nominally intended to provide.

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