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The multiple dimensions of rural forests
Lessons from a comparative analysis
Rural forests are characterized by different levels of formal and nonformal appropriation by rural communities who have generally managed, shaped, or rebuilt these forest formations over many generations with refined local knowledge and practices related to their use and perpetuation. Rural forests are therefore social-ecological systems that contribute to ecosystem and landscapes configuration, definition of rural territories, and sustainability of local livelihoods. Although some studies have attempted to explain their specificities, in specific geographical and social contexts, their characteristics are not well defined as they encompass highly diversified situations. This lack of comprehension of the identity of rural forests is at the heart of the lack of dialogue between forestry policies and rural forest development. Our major aim is to identify universal characteristics of rural forests as well as specificities that can differentiate them. Eleven situations of rural forests were analyzed by means of detailed, harmonized monographs, from developing and developed countries, and localized within contrasting ecological environments (humid tropics, dry forests, temperate forests) and socio-economic and public policies contexts. Qualitative data were obtained through a common analytical framework and were encoded with an approach based on the collective appreciation of the group of researchers who developed case studies. These were pooled within a common analysis chart and were processed by means of multivariate analyses. Results were further discussed taking into consideration four major characteristics that emerged from this analysis, and which form the identity of rural forests. These are: 1) specific forest structures and levels of integration in agricultural matrices which are linked historically to overall agroecosystem approaches and practices, 2) a multiscale approach to domestication practices from landscape to individual trees inscribed in continuities between “nature” and “culture”, natural processes and human techniques of control and transformation, 3) multiple uses of plant species which vary in relation to the commercial or noncommercial status of their products and a reversible nature of these use patterns accordingly, 4) the imbricate nature of rules of access and control between state and customary levels, and between individual and collective levels, requiring specific formal and informal arrangements. Typologies of rural forests can be drawn along each of these major characteristics and provide a reliable system to analyze and understand the functioning of rural forests. Forestry approaches in rural contexts, hence, need to consider variations along these major lines that form the identity cards of rural forests.
Topic:public sector, policy, forest management, social environment, rural communities
Journal Title:Ecology and Society
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