Pro-Poor Forest Law Enforcement? Not Likely


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Where were you on September 11, 2001? I was in Bali, Indonesia, at the first ministerial meeting of the “Forest Law Enforcement and Governance” (FLEG) initiative. Launched in other regions since its start in Asia, FLEG has helped to focus international attention on combating illegal logging and other forest-related crimes. Because such crimes rob governments of scarce resources for development, pro-poor agencies have adopted forest law enforcement as a strategy to promote poverty reduction.

Five years on, Marcus Colchester and his colleagues have published a preliminary review of how law enforcement efforts can affect rural livelihoods. Justice in the Forest: Rural livelihoods and forest law enforcement summarizes the results of case studies from Bolivia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Cameroon, Indonesia, and Canada. The findings are strikingly consistent across diverse national contexts.

Forestry laws tend to render forest-based sources of income for the poor technically illegal, or to impose onerous administrative requirements on small-scale forest users. Poor people in forests often get ensnared in wider networks of criminal activity. Because these illegal activities are deeply embedded in local politics, high-profile “crackdowns” are more likely to target poor people than larger, more powerful forest operators. As a result, a blunt law enforcement approach can reinforce existing injustices rather than promote the interests of the poor.

Laws outside the forestry sector that protect communities’ rights are often weak, ambiguous, or ignored. Progressive legal reform – which recognizes the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities to forest resources – has mainly occurred in response to social mobilization and demands for fairer forest governance.

Pro-poor initiatives should put more effort into strengthening groups that can effectively create such demand, encompass a wider legal framework, and recognize the unintended negative consequences that can result from focusing too narrowly on enforcement of forest laws.


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Further reading

You can download a free electronic copy of the document at:

Or if you have difficulties in downloading the document, you can also request a free electronic copy of the report in pdf format (1.1 MB) by writing to Rahayu Koesnadi at

To send comments or queries to the authors you can write Marcus Colcester at:

The full reference for the article is: Colchester, M.; Boscolo, M.; Contreras-Hermosilla, A.; Gatto, F.D.; Dempsey, J.; Lescuyer, G.; Obidzinski, K.; Pommier, D.; Richards, M.; Sembiring, S.S.; Tacconi, L.; Rios, M.T.S.; Wells, A. 2006. Justice in the forest: rural livelihoods and forest law enforcement. Forest Perspectives 3, CIFOR, Bogor, Indonesia.