Company-Community Forestry Partnerships: from Raw Deals to Mutual Gains? Mayers, J., and S. Vermeulen . 2002 . International Institute for Environment and Development ( IIED ) , London . 154 pp. $22.50 (paperback). ISBN 1-899825-94-0 .

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From the tropics to the boreal zones, indigenous groups and various other rural communities now own or otherwise control more than 200 million ha of forest ( White & Martin 2002 ). Although devolution of authority over forests to forest-based communities is applauded as long-awaited social justice, helping these forests to work for both poverty alleviation and biodiversity conservation remains extremely challenging. Partnerships with the forest industries that have the required business skills and technical capacities could overcome some of these challenges, but the pitfalls along the way to functional partnerships are legion. In this slim and accessibe volume, Mayers and Vermeulen analyze a variety of community-company partnerships, focusing on what has worked and what has not, thereby providing guidance for anyone trying to create a useful partnership. This publication is less strong on issues related to biodiversity management and stresses plantations more than natural-forest management; nevertheless, it captures and communicates the wisdom derived from scores of attempts at cooperation between rural communities and forest industries.

The word partnership denotes a close relationship between equals. I actually wrote this definition on the cover of my copy of this book to remind me that it does not describe the litany of ways that companies take advantage of forest-rich but otherwise poor communities, an unsavory subject that awaits treatment. I was impressed by the variety of innovative approaches to forging effective community-company forestry partnerships. Detailed case studies are presented for outgrower pulp schemes in India, taungya-based venture partnerships in Indonesia, timber leases in Papua New Guinea, social responsibility agreements in Ghana, and First-Nation joint ventures in Canada. The authors explain how, from the perspectives of communities, companies, and forest ecosystems, these relationships have truly ranged from raw deals to mutual gains.

Anyone who supports efforts at making community-company partnerships work will find this volume useful. The authors provide summaries of the constraints on functioning partnerships and the innovations that were used to overcome them. They provide principles for better company-community partnerships and review the conditions under which companies, communities, and landscapes win and lose with different sorts of deals. Their suggestions about how to reduce the often considerable transaction costs of working with rural communities should save forestry companies substantial sums of money and a lot of time. Overall, their insights into the workings of partnerships were enlightening, even though I expect to be directly involved only in issues related to community governance during my next life, in retribution for errors made in this one.

Although I am new to the field, I have been made aware of a substantial body of knowledge about other sorts of partnerships ( e.g., Fosler & Berger 1982; Brooks et al. 1984 ), some of which can be accessed through the National Council for Public-Private Partnerships website ( ). Mayers and Vermeulen would have served their readers well by noting other sources of insights on partnerships, even if the studies pertain more to urban renewal than to rural people and their forests, given that many of the challenges and opportunities are similar.

Although a few diehard protectionists continue to show disdain for attempts at rendering forest management compatible with conservation, and although social welfare seems to have disappeared from the agendas of several international conservation organizations, this volume demonstrates some steps toward the admittedly elusive goal of maintaining forests while reducing poverty. It is full of substance, not hype, about community-based forestry. It was not written by starry-eyed social welfare advocates. Readers may find the revelations about the lack of democracy or any semblance of egalitarianism in many rural communities disheartening, the costs of doing business with communities with weak institutions economically unattractive, and the multitude of ways community-company forestry partnerships can fail distressing, but for many impoverished rural communities and for many forestry companies in need of timber and a better public image, working together is perhaps the only available option. With the publication of this important volume, we can only hope that some of the pitfalls the authors describe will be avoided.

Literature Cited

  1. Top of page
  2. Literature Cited
  • Brooks, H., L. Liebman, and C. S. Schelling. 1984. Public-private partnerships: new opportunities for meeting social needs. Ballinger, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  • Fosler, R. S., and R. A. Berger, editors. 1982. Public-private partnership in American cities: seven case studies. Lexington Books, Lexington, Massachusetts.
  • White, A., and A. Martin. 2002. Who owns the world's forests? Forest tenure and public forests in transition. Forest Trends, Washington, D.C. ( available from http://www. ).