Socioeconomic Impacts of Public Forest Policies on Heterogeneous Agricultural Households
Nepal has a long history of returning public forests to local people as part of its community forestry programme. In principle the community forestry programme is designed to address both environmental quality and poverty alleviation. However, concern has been expressed that forest policies emphasise environmental conservation, and that this has a detrimental impact on the use of community forests in rural Nepal where households require access to public forest products to sustain livelihoods. To study the effect of government policies on forest use, an economic model of a typical small community of economically heterogeneous households in Nepal was developed. The model incorporates a link between private agriculture and public forest resources, and uses this link to assess the socioeconomic impacts of forest policies on the use of public forests. Socioeconomic impacts were measured in terms of household income, employment and income inequality. The results show that some forest policies have a negative economic impact, and the impacts are more serious than those reported by other studies. This study shows that existing forest policies reduce household income and employment, and widen income inequalities within communities, compared to alternative policies. Certain forest policies even constrain the poorest households’ ability to meet survival needs. The findings indicate that the socioeconomic impacts of public forest policies may be underestimated in developing countries unless household economic heterogeneity and forestry’s contribution to production are accounted for. The study also demonstrates that alternative policies for managing common property resources would reduce income inequalities in rural Nepalese communities and lift incomes and employment to a level where even the poorest households could meet their basic needs.