Community Forestry

Strengthening the stewardship of forests on customary land through communal control, use and management, while balancing responsibilities with attractive legal rights, to end uncontrolled forest loss and incentivise community-driven sustainable forest management


Local communities can now gain new rights to control access and use of their surrounding forests. Through the Forests Act, 2015, the Director of Forestry may recognise, with the consent of the Chief of the area, persons living in close proximity to or having strong traditional or livelihood ties to an area of forest. The Director may enter into an Agreement with the community group to transfer authority to control access, use and management of a designated forest area following consultation with the Chief and the local authority.

The Agreement covers rights to harvest and trade in forest products, including: collection of medicinal herbs; harvesting of honey, grass and grazing of animals; collection of forest produce for community based industries; operating eco-tourism and recreational activities; establishing plantations; harvesting of timber or fuel wood; and many others as set out in the Agreement.


The forests in Zambia upon which rural households depend for their livelihoods are disappearing at an alarming rate, 275,000ha per annum (ILUA II, 2016). The immediate drivers of deforestation in Zambia have been identified as agricultural expansion, unsustainable charcoal and wood production practices, unmanaged fires and uncontrolled livestock grazing. However, the underlying drivers include insecure forest tenure and insufficient legal forest use rights for forest communities, which has often created de facto open access and a lack of incentives for sustainable forest management.

The National Forestry Policy, 2014, the Forests Act, 2015 (specifically sections 29 to 35) and the Regulations on Community Forest Management, 2018, combined with the Government policy of promoting decentralisation, provide the policy, legal and institutional basis for greater community involvement in forest management. Strengthening the forest rights and responsibilities of local communities, is intended to achieve the parallel goals of ending open access, promoting enhanced forest management, whilst unlocking the full potential of sustainable forest use for economic development in the forest communities.  The National Forestry Policy recognises the need to empower local communities and traditional leaders in order to ensure adequate protection and management of forests. It has been recognised that forest dependent communities are the best stewards of their local forest resources if their forest rights are secure. They have both the most to lose from its destruction and most to gain from its good management. The Community Forestry approach provides an incentive mechanism and capacity development process to make this a reality.

A community forest as defined in the Forests Act, 2015, means a forest controlled, used and managed under an agreement between a community forest management group and the Forestry Department. Community Forestry can be applied on land that falls under customary authority as well as in Local Forests and National Forests (refer to sections 15 (1) and 21 (1) of the Forests Act and according to The Forest (Community Forest Management) Regulation, 2018 section 4, Open areas, Game Management Areas and any other type of forest at the discretion of the Director of Forestry.

Successful and self-sustaining community forestry requires an attractive incentives balance that is sufficient to motivate communities to invest time, effort and resources in forest protection, maintenance and management in the long term. These incentives include devolved tenure control over a forest and new use rights. Combined these rights must be sufficient to outweigh the burden of increased forest protection and management responsibility that the community takes on. The importance of this incentives balance is highlighted in the ‘Community Forestry equation’ (below).

In the Forests Act, 2015 the following are some examples of the rights and responsibilities devolved to communities through community forestry in Zambia.


  • Recognition of a community forest management group: Recognises the rights of households and communities living in close proximity to or deriving their livelihood from or having strong traditional ties to the forest to be given the opportunity to join a Community Forest Management Group (CFMG) which may apply to the Director of Forestry for recognition with the consent of the Chief.
  • Secure tenure through forest user rights: The CFMG shall apply to enter into a Community Forest Agreement to secure forest user rights which will enable the CFMG the right to issue community permits and collect revenue for forest products and uses provided for in the community forest management plan. The Community Forest Management area shall be for the exclusive use of the local community represented by the CFMG.
  • Economic rights for forest uses and products: The Community Forestry Agreement covers rights to harvest and trade in forest products, including: collection of medicinal herbs; harvesting of honey, grass and grazing of animals; collection of forest produce for community-based industries; operating eco-tourism and recreational activities; establishing plantations; harvesting of timber or fuel wood; and many others as set out in the CF Agreement.
  • Rights to control access: In order to protect, manage, control and utilise sustainably, CFMGs have the right to develop and enforce local rules, regulations and sanctions in conformity with customary laws to facilitate effective management of the forest.

With rights come Responsibilities. Interested communities should:

  • Identify a non-contested area in consultation with all local forest users and other rights-holders of the proposed community forest area and with consent of the local traditional leaders, agree a defined forest area with due consultation with adjacent communities and land owners.
  • Democratically elect representatives and manage equitably:  Ensure the operation of the Community Forest Management Group, management of funds, sharing of benefits and selection of leaders shall be based on transparency, fairness, impartiality and non-discrimination.
  • Adhere to sustainable forest management principles: Protect, conserve and manage the community forest pursuant to the community forest agreement and management plan, consistent with traditional forest use rights and in accordance with principle of sustainable forest management.

Who are these Guidelines for and how should they be used?

These guidelines are intended to be used by facilitators, coordinators and participants in the Community Forestry process as well as provide reference material to government agencies, NGO, academic and funding institutions who play a supporting, enabling role or have an interest in community forestry. Prior to a team facilitating the Community Forestry process, it is essential that they are fully aware of the rationale and principles of Community Forestry and an overview of the steps and the requirements of the Community Forest Management Regulations, 2018. At the beginning of each step in the process, more detailed practical training should be given. The role of the facilitators of the Community Forestry process is primarily focussed on impartially guiding the process, with community members in the driving seat, making informed decisions.

Facilitators should also adapt the process outlined in this generic guide to the specifics of the context of the community as well as the forest to be managed. The process is designed to be flexible enough to build on and from a range of scenarios and land tenure situations. It is also essential to translate materials into local language, or visualisations and conduct the process in a language and using methods that will be as engaging as possible for the majority of stakeholders. Great care should be taken to engage all key stakeholders and users of the forest, especially those highly dependent on forest resources, including marginalised groups and women.

Overview of Community Forestry Steps:

Note: although the steps are placed in a linear fashion for ease of understanding, it is good to revisit and revise outputs from previous steps as understanding is gained by the community. This may include: revising the constitution; revising boundaries to increase the area under management; reviewing rules for use and harvesting methods; revising activities in the management plan.

Common misconceptions on community forestry

Before beginning the Community Forestry establishment process outlined in these guidelines, it is important to be familiar with some common misconceptions on community forestry so these can be addressed during the process as required. Some examples are included in the table that follows.

Common CF misunderstandingsActual Community Forestry Principles
Community Forestry takes away customary forest and use rights from communities.Community Forestry is in effect the opposite of taking away forests or use rights from communities, rather it is the strengthening of customary control and use rights with legal backing to end de facto ‘open access’. Also, Community Forestry is based on the principle ‘use it or lose it’, it is not a reserve or preservationist approach. It fully recognises that forests are an important renewable livelihood resource, often for some of the most marginalized groups in the community. Forests can and should be used by communities according to sustainable forest management principles. Community Forestry recognises that benefits from the forest are key to incentivise management of it and that wise management and use are entirely compatible with developing an ecologically healthy and productive forest. In fact, internationally the best managed Community Forests are also those where forest user rights including commercial user rights for communities are the strongest.
Community Forestry is a projectCommunity Forestry is fundamentally a government and policy backed programme of devolution of control of forest resources, part of the general move towards decentralization. In Community Forestry the driving incentives should be long term and forest-based, not temporary project-based. Projects may support Community Forestry, but the success or failure of Community Forestry and its sustainability will depend on whether the rights for communities are strong enough to control access and to use and add value to forest products to enable the ‘forest to pay its way’ as a land use. Whether the process is feasible and practical to implement without project support will also be key to success.
Community Forestry imposes communal control and solves inequity.Although rights and responsibilities will be devolved to a recognised representative community group – the CFMG, how the forest management is best undertaken within that community should be defined by that community and built upon any customary use rights or tenure systems that exist. This may take the form of individual management, family or clan management, user group management or communal management or a mixture of these for different forms of management. Community Forestry is also not designed to socially re-engineer communities to level out all inequities. Although it does aim to have an inclusive process, it is important to be realistic as to what CF can and can’t achieve, imposing too big a revision on existing cultural norms and structures can sometimes be counterproductive to the aims of Community Forestry.
Community Forestry encourages forest destruction.Community Forestry has proven to be one of the most socially acceptable and effective ways internationally to reduce deforestation and motivate active forest management, with use rights playing a key role in incentivising protection and management. The biggest threat to natural forests by far is conversion to agriculture, not forest use. Within community forestry, stopping or discouraging forest use can be counterproductive, it reduces the value of the forest and increases the motivation to convert the forest to agriculture. It can often simply displace use outside the community forest area into other forest areas where the use will not be controlled. Even if the forest is currently degraded encouragement of sustainable use can motivate good long-term management. Unsustainable forest use happens mainly because of ‘open access’ and the uncontrolled nature of use in forests before they come under community control. Community forestry ends open access and introduces control, within this context wise use becomes a friend of the forest, not an enemy. The key to making community forestry attractive and effective in avoiding deforestation, is by making legal use in community forestry relatively easy, whilst making illegal use outside Community Forests more difficult. It is also important to quickly scale up community forestry so that it covers landscape level areas, so that community forestry produce no longer has to compete with illegal produce and local market prices for forest products better reflect the investment in sustainable management by communities.

Roles of key stakeholders in Community Forestry

Forestry Department

The Forestry Department (FD) have a key role to play in promoting community forestry, in raising awareness on community forestry, in responding to requests to join the programme, facilitating the process of community forestry establishment and in service provision and extension to interested communities to assist them strengthen their protection, development, use and marketing of community forestry forest products. The Forestry Department plays a key role in supporting applying communities to get through the process of CFMG recognition and community forestry agreement application, getting their paperwork complete, to ensure quality in the process and outputs and are signatories to both the recognition of the CFMG and on the Community Forestry Agreement itself. Most of the technical support for community forestry establishment and implementation will be provided by the Forestry Department and it is mandated to fully institutionalise Community Forestry into their operational plans and budgeting processes.

Role of the Local Authorities

Through decentralisation, local authorities have a key role to play to establish and support community forestry and to ensure that community forestry is fully integrated into local development plans with good cross sectoral linkages. Community forestry is not only about forestry but impacts on agriculture, water, poverty alleviation, community resilience, local governance etc. so it should not be seen only as the responsibility of the Forestry Department. It is therefore essential that Local Authorities also institutionalise community forestry into their operational plans and fully inform all relevant government departments on the implications of community forestry including the judiciary and law enforcement authorities.  It is the mandate for every district in the country to promote Community Forestry:

‘A local authority shall, for forests within the jurisdiction of the local authority, identify and support and encourage local communities to apply to the Director for control, use and management of areas of forests for the purposes of social, cultural and economic needs’. Section 3. The Forests (Community Forest Management) Regulations, 2018

Role of the Traditional Authorities

Traditional leaders at all levels play a very central role in community forestry, as community forestry is focussed on strengthening traditional and community control over the forest resources. They have a key role in clarifying claims and customary rights, ensuring traditional knowledge and customs are fully embraced in the process, providing mentorship and guidance to communities and helping avoid, manage and resolve any conflicts in the process. As key parties in the process the Chief must provide written consent to the recognition of the community forest management group and as a signatory to the Community Forestry Agreement.

Role of communities

Community members must request to join community forestry, must commit to not converting the forest to permanent agriculture and to manage and use the forest sustainably. As key rights holders they must take the lead in controlling access to the forest, ensuring benefits from sustainable use are maximised. They also take on a lot of organisational responsibility through implementation of their management plan as well as ensuring that the CFMG is representative, fair and transparent in its operations.

Note: although the steps are placed in a linear fashion for ease of understanding, it is good to revisit and revise outputs from previous steps as understanding is gained by the community

Outline of the Guidelines

Various ‘how to’ steps have been developed in these guidelines to assist communities and supporting facilitators and other stakeholders to prepare for effective community forest management, for understanding the associated community rights and responsibilities. The guidelines are designed to build capacities for community forestry whilst ensuring the process is highly participatory and yet practical and feasible enough to implement nationwide without the need for external financial support. Each step in the process has been structured in the following way;

Purpose: Explaining the reasons for doing the step.

Overview: A brief summary description of the step.

Summary process: A condensed overview of the sub steps.

Key activities: A more detailed description of the activities within the step.

Tip box: Key advice with regards to facilitating the step.

Outputs: A checklist of the key outputs from the step.

Annexes: Links to required forms and guidance material for the step.