Sustainability Science

, Volume 2, Issue 2, pp 189–204 | Cite as

The poverty of forestry policy: double standards on an uneven playing field

  • Anne M. Larson
  • Jesse C. RibotEmail author
Special Feature: Original Article Policy sciences for sustainable development


Can policies designed to maximize exploitation by elites benefit the people who live in forests? Forestry policy throughout the developing world originates from European “scientific” forestry traditions exported during the colonial period. These policies were implemented by foreign and local elite whose interest was to maximize and extract profit. In spite of reforms since the end of the colonial period, policies on the environment usually remain biased against rural communities. Even when more recent policies are fair, the rural poor face severe biases in implementation. In addition, they must compete on an uneven playing field of ethnic and other social inequities and economic hurdles. This article examines how forestry policy and implementation maintain double standards on this uneven playing field in a manner that permanently excludes the rural poor from the natural wealth around them—producing poverty in the process. Change that would support poverty alleviation for forest-based communities requires a radical rethinking of forest policy so as to counterbalance widespread regressive policies and structural asymmetries.


Community forestry Forestry Honduras Policy Poverty alleviation Senegal 



The authors would like to thank Marcus Colchester and two anonymous reviewers for comments on a previous version of the manuscript and Mario Vallejo for clarifications on the Honduras case. We would also like to thank Jon Anderson for encouraging us to write on “double standards” and the USAID Economic Growth Agriculture and Technology division for supporting some of the background research. The Senegal research for this paper was also generously supported by Royal Embassy of the Netherlands in Senegal. J.C. Ribot would like to thank CODESRIA for their collaboration on the Senegal research, and the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology for providing an inspiring setting in which a portion of this article was written.


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Copyright information

© Integrated Research System for Sustainability Science and Springer 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)ManaguaNicaragua
  2. 2.Institutions and Governance ProgramWorld Resources Institute (WRI)Washington DCUSA

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