What is the role for forest certification in improving relationships between logging companies and communities?: Lessons from FSC in Cameroon

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Responding to pressure from international markets, environmental NGOs and donors, several logging companies in the Congo Basin have opted for voluntary certification schemes, such as the one proposed by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The FSC scheme promotes forest management that is environmentally appropriate, economically viable and socially beneficial. The latter component, which is the focus of this paper, aims at the optimal integration of the local population in the forest management. We assess local organizations active around six FSC certified concessions in Cameroon and evaluate their legitimacy and effectiveness in building and maintaining a positive relationship between communities and logging companies. Results show that FSC certification plays a key role in the emergence of multi-stakeholder platforms that function as mechanisms of improved 'social exchange'. To some extent, such exchanges also contribute to less conflicting relations between logging companies and local communities, as well as reinforcing the social requirements of the forest law. Some shortcomings, however, remain, and we suggest logging companies should consider improving the balance of power between themselves and the communities, notably by reviewing the current top-down approach in establishing and managing discussion platforms.

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