Social Forestry Knowledge Tree
What is Social Forestry?

What is Social Forestry?

How do we define social forestry?

Local communities use and manage forests throughout the world for subsistence, trade and cultural purposes. In Southeast Asia, close to 140 million people generate livelihoods from forests.

Forest management practices have evolved over time to meet the changing needs of local people, the markets for forest products and a range of political interests.  

Social forestry offers an alternative form of forest management. It is an approach that balances the needs of local people with multiple external interests. Social forestry:

  • Engages communities living in and around forests in sustainable forest use and management
  • Empowers communities by raising awareness, building capacity, developing policies with local people, and recognizing their rights and systems of knowledge
  • Provides communities with benefits and access to forest resources in return for participating in sustainable forest management 

In this context, social forestry broadly refers to any situation which intimately involves local people in a forestry activity. It includes: 1) the use of forests by individuals or households for subsistence and cash, and 2) community management of forest where a group of local people collaboratively manage forests either independently or with external support.

Effective, Efficient and Equitable (3E) criteria

Ensuring 3E outcomes is key in determining the success of a policy or program. In the context of social forestry the three components are effectiveness, efficiency and equity.

Effectiveness: outputs and benefits of social forestry

Are social forestry practices producing outcomes and benefits that contribute to poverty alleviation, empower communities and improve forest conditions?

Efficiency: time and costs of social forestry

Are social, environmental and economic objectives being achieved in a timely and cost-effective way? Are trade-offs acceptable?

Equity: the ways benefits and costs are shared and distributed

Are social forestry practices achieving specific goals, reaching certain beneficiaries or addressing specific issues? Are they reducing conflicts, controlling corruption, resolving mismanagement and reducing misuse of the forest? Does social forestry enhance forest governance and improve benefit sharing and distribution of responsibilities?

A wheel showing design, implementation and evaluation

The 3E criteria can be used in different stages of the policy-making process for social forestry programs: 

  • Design: to assess available options and their expected outcomes. The assessment results can be used to inform planning and decision-making processes to ensure the appropriate approach is adopted. 
  • Implementation: to guide and monitor how programs conduct activities, progress and adapt. The monitoring process keeps the program on track in achieving its objectives. 
  • Evaluation: to assess the actual outcomes of programs or policies that were implemented. The evaluation process and its results are important for adaptive policy and management learning. It allows feedback and provides an opportunity for further improvement in planning, managing and implementing social forestry programs.

A detailed set of checklist questions complements each of the contexts to help users assess the 3E criteria in planned initiatives and activities. See the contexts for a detailed set of checklist questions.