Dora E. Carías Vega ,
Rodney J. Keenan
Community forestry enterprises
New institutional economics
School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences, The University of Melbourne, 221 Bouverie Street, Carlton, VIC 3053, Australia
Received 29 January 2016. Accepted 12 July 2016. Available online 3 August 2016.
Community forestry enterprises (CFEs) have gained considerable traction with rural development and forestry practitioners as models for community development, poverty alleviation, and conservation. This paper uses New Institutional Economic theory to identify the key organizational features and potential inherent weaknesses of CFEs. NIE theory focuses on arguments of economic efficiency, specifically transaction cost reductions that serve as incentives for collective action by groups of owners. Examples are given to show how the organization of CFEs reduced transaction costs stemming from interactions with industrial loggers and service providers. However, the creation of these community enterprises goes beyond simple transaction cost reductions and economic justifications. Additional unquantifiable benefits, such as self-determination, control over resources that communities have historically used, application of acquired skills, political representation, and application of acquired skills to name a few, are also secured through community ownership. These benefits however do not come without a cost. As enterprises where ownership rights are incomplete or ill-defined and which do not operate with the incentives of investor-owned firms, CFEs have little to no initial capital pool and experience considerable investment limitations due to limited wealth, horizon problems, and unsolved issues with moral hazard vis-à-vis banks. CFEs also face important management and collective decision-making challenges. In spite of their institutional weaknesses, it is apparent that many societies have decided that the benefits of community ownership far outweigh their ownership costs. State intervention and policy have played an important role in building the necessary supportive framework for the development of these enterprises. NIE as a dominant model for understanding alternative entrepreneurial forms was useful for identifying some important aspects of CFEs that, in a profit-driven economy, can constitute weaknesses that place them at a disadvantage with investor-owned firms. This analysis informs where policy should be targeted if CFEs are to be supported and fostered.
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