Participatory forest management for sustainable livelihoods in the Bale Mountains, Southern Ethiopia

Sammanfattning: Preventing environmental degradation and alleviating poverty are the twin challenges of sustainable development. Participatory forest management (PFM) takes the challenge of preventing the degradation of forest resources while sustaining forest-based benefits to people's livelihoods. Yet, effective implementation of PFM requires a more profound understanding of the actual place of forest resources in the livelihoods of rural households and the role of forest-based activities in alleviating poverty. This study is conducted in Southern Ethiopia in the Oromia region in the district of Dodola. It examines the context of a PFM initiated by the government in the 1990s. The main objectives of the study are to examine the role of the forest resource in the livelihoods of the local people and to describe the nature of forest use in order to understand the performance and perception of collective forest management. Data were collected through a series of household surveys and group discussions over a one year period supplemented by key informant interviews. The results of the study show that forest products are important sources of income contributing to 34% and 53% of household per capita income and per capita cash income, respectively. Forest income is an important buffer against extreme poverty by filling seasonal gaps of income and by serving as safety net in times of income crisis. Forest income also provides the opportunity to diversify livelihoods, particularly for low income groups. Households' decisions on livelihood strategies including dependence on forest income are associated with socioeconomic and geographical factors. Furthermore, the performance of user groups and the attitudes and intention of households towards participating in collective management are associated with level of income and dependence on forest income. User groups that are more dependent on forest income and have higher heterogeneity in terms of dependence on the forest resource have shown lower performance. Forest dependent households have also shown a less favorable attitude and intention towards engaging in planting activities. The study concludes that socioeconomic differences and the differentiated roles and values of forest products in the livelihoods of members of user groups are related to the success of participatory management and thus are important aspects to be considered in designing participatory forest management arrangements. It is recommended that a better outcome in terms of poverty alleviation can be achieved if pro-poor forest-based activities are specifically considered in planning conservation and development interventions.

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