Forest restoration can contribute to carbon sequestration, preserve biological diversity and contribute to the sustenance of forest-dependent people, and forest restoration is a major focus of global environmental policy. The 2020s has been declared the "Decade of Restoration" by the United Nations, and countries around the world have committed to restoring millions of hectares of degraded forests.
An estimated 300 million people, including indigenous peoples, live in the rural areas prioritised for forest restoration in the global south. The research indicates that restoration can often have negative effects by converting areas of land that people depend on, for example for agriculture and grazing land. In such contexts, restoration can undermine livelihoods, food security and other development goals.
To ensure that the restoration efforts are consistent with local needs, it has been advocated to give local communities more power in the planning of forest restoration. Local community governance of jointly managed forests can be an important political strategy to avoid negative impacts, and support long-term positive effects of restoration.
Our project asks: Under what conditions can community forest governance lead to improvements in rural livelihoods and human well-being from forest restoration?
The project examines five decades of forestry efforts in northern India to better understand how state-run tree plantings implemented in collaboration with local institutions have affected rural land use, livelihoods and human well-being over time.
First, we examine how changing forest restoration policies have affected opportunities for citizens to engage in planning processes.
Second, we examine how broader processes of subnational political change have affected local communities' ability to influence decision-making in forest restoration 'from below'.
Third, we study how restoration activities affect rural livelihoods and well-being over time.
Our research builds theory and evidence on how more empowered local governance may come about through deeper changes in forest administrative practices and restoration’s impacts on multiple dimensions of well-being. In so doing, we contribute to developing a model of just forest restoration that can link global environmental priorities with diverse societal benefits in support of a broader vision of human thriving.