Finding common ground for community forest management in Peru

A systematic approach to mapping consensus could get complex policy discussions out of the rut, say researchers
Aerial view of the Amazon Rainforest, near Manaus, the capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas. Brazil. Photo by Neil Palmer/CIAT

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Peru has recognized the role of Indigenous Amazonian Peoples for ensuring the sustainable use of one the world’s most biodiverse biomes and realising its climate and conservation plans. However, community forest management, or CFM, has struggled to deliver on its promise of environmental and livelihood improvements. In Peru, as in many other tropical forest countries, communities are often unable to comply with forestry regulations and are pushed to the informal sector, where unjust commercial relations and unsustainable practices predominate.

There have been numerous efforts to promote CFM, but a lack of coordination and continuity among programs has thwarted progress. National policymakers, NGO technicians, Indigenous-rights activists, and donors also have diverse views on what CFM means and their roles in supporting it.

“Stakeholders generally agree that community forest management is a good idea, but it often gets bogged down by clashing views on how it should be implemented in practice,” said Peruvian social anthropologist Juan Pablo Sarmiento Barletti. “Understanding the various perspectives and identifying points of agreement is crucial to creating a CFM that works for both peoples and forests.”

A new Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF)  study led by Sarmiento Barletti used a systematic process known as Q-Methodology to identify different viewpoints across actors, bringing to light the areas of dissent and – most crucially – consensus. The work seeks to provide them with a solid foundation for developing and implementing more effective CFM strategies.

Beyond focus groups

Q-Methodology blends statistical analysis and qualitative interviews to cut through the participants’ unconscious biases and clarify the range of perspectives on a specific topic. Building on previous applications of the approach in Peru, the research team worked with a sample of indigenous leaders, policymakers, NGO technicians, university professors, final year forestry students, and representatives of donor organisations.

The scientists started by identifying five hypothetical approaches to community forest management in specialised literature and producing a set of 40 statements reflecting the various perspectives. They then had participants rate the statements based on how strongly they agreed or disagreed with each of them. Finally, the actors were interviewed to understand the reasoning behind their sorting. An ensuing statistical analysis revealed the existence of four main perspectives on CFM.

CIFOR-ICRAF senior scientist and co-author Peter Cronkleton noted the importance of using such a systematic process: “In a group discussion on a multi-faceted topic, individuals might believe that others share their definitions and points of reference and may not be conscious of how their understandings of that topic differ,” he said.  “The approach we used helps put these individual perceptions into words and makes it possible to compare them and identify similarities or differences.” Q-Methodology also leads people to reflect on things they might not have thought about otherwise and forces them to distil their priorities.

Shared priorities

The process revealed participants’ perceptions on CFM fell into four categories – it should either: balance conservation with support for community rights; encourage capacity and enterprise development; be a technical approach to protect forests in the territories of Indigenous Peoples; or be primarily geared towards supporting grassroots Indigenous autonomy.

The same analysis identified points of consensus across those groups. For example, they agreed that CFM should place equal emphasis on community rights and conservation goals and that profits should not be a principal indicator of success.

They also agreed that Indigenous Peoples needed support to build their capacities—especially, to stop logging companies from walking away with most of the profits, while leaving them with the legal and environmental impacts of timber extraction.

“The areas of consensus could provide a point of departure for developing strategies to address the challenges driving informal logging and unjust extractive relationships,” said the study. “This would necessarily re-target the role of government in supporting Indigenous Peoples to develop dignified and sustainable livelihoods from their forests through capacity development and a supportive regulatory framework.”

The shared priorities identified by the research could act as an early agenda for collaboration among the actors promoting CFM in Peru, and provide a basis for regulatory reform, noted the researchers.

Different viewpoints

The study identifies common ground, as well as pinpointing key differences in opinion between groups that also need acknowledging ­– for example on the role of the government as a referee in commercial transactions and in the granting of industrial extractive permits in areas managed by communities.

Other points of disagreement include the importance of technical plans and community rights, the promotion of communal enterprises, the legitimacy of existing norms and sanctions, and the use of heavy machinery.

While some perspectives saw community forestry as a technical pursuit, others placed more emphasis on the environmental management and stewardship practices of Indigenous Peoples. Similarly, there is a tension between balancing support for their right to self-determination with the need for environmental law enforcement and governmental oversight of timber sales.

“The government needs to be aware that there is little consensus on these matters, which might exacerbate conflicts in the future,” pointed out the authors, who urged dialogue on these topics to prevent disputes down the line and create more equitable policies.

Q-methodology can facilitate dialogue in community forestry and in other initiatives with a wide array of stakeholders, opinions, and goals, the researchers said. Wherever there is a cacophony of perspectives, it can put analytical order in how people perceive the issues at stake and bring shared priorities to the fore, helping pull complex discussions out of the rut and onto the policy road.

This study was undertaken as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions and Markets (PIM), led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). It was also funded by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD).

For more information on this topic, please contact Juan Pablo Sarmiento at or Peter Cronkleton at

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