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Social Forestry

Synergies: Forest Certification; Species Selection; Strategic Geography 

Social Forestry (SF) incentivizes local management groups to protect valuable forests from degradation and from conversion to other land uses. SF channels the purchase of wood and other forest products into sustainable support and consistent monitoring of community forest management/conservation by directly supporting the livelihoods of the people who are closest to the ground in forest frontiers. SF business models are designed to provide smallholders and communities with a fair price, encourage local ownership, and empower local management and participation through long-term sourcing and monitoring relationships. SF models include community forest concessions, Indigenous and or minority owned land and/or businesses, co-ops, and locally owned and/or managed businesses.

Sustainability Benefits

At its best, SF can offer some of the highest sustainability benefits per unit of wood, owing to the often “high conservation value” of these managed forests. SF typically requires intensive forest management planning, and a balance between local decision making, and partnerships with established government agencies and NGOs. SF systems work to prevent poaching, fires, land grabs, and corruption by engaging and empowering committed communities who receive livelihood or other social benefits from the forest. Measurable benefits of social forestry include:

  • High forest carbon value per unit of wood purchased, due to attributed forest conservation.

  • High biodiversity protection per unit of wood purchased, due to attributed forest conservation.

  • Long term social benefits may include: education, job training, reduced out-migration, increased food security and standard of living, and potential equity stake for women and marginalized members.


  • SF enterprises may be remotely located with limited access to markets and supply chain partners.

  • Cost and associated staff time may not favor time-sensitive procurement.

  • Language barriers and distances may slow communication.

  • Available volume and product quality may vary among sources.


  • Many social forestry enterprises manage forests sustainably but may not be certified. Personal relationships, leading to first or second party verification, may be one of the most realistic and timely methods. Where 3rd party certification is inaccessible, consider asking for an internal audit of practices, export documentation, and if the enterprise has a long term relationship with an NGO, ask for monitoring reports on the sustainability of practices. (See Verification Matrix)

How to Evaluate?

  • Level One: Project request for proposal (RFP)/tender includes wood sourcing criteria that a SF enterprise is most likely to be able to fulfill, such as social inclusion, community benefits, sustainable management, and/or conservation plans. 

  • Level Two: A SF enterprise(s) is selected and featured prominently in the sustainability narratives of the project, organization, or city. Awareness of climate benefits of SF is increased through the project communications.

  • Level Three:  Direct contact is established with a SF enterprise to deepen the understanding of sustainability benefits. Direct procurement and/or partnership (e.g. Preferred Supplier Program) is established that increases the value of the transaction for the organization/institution and the SF enterprise. 


Actions to Include Pathway 

  1. Create a Wood Needs Report that outlines the anticipated demands of the project.

  2. Contact SF suppliers directly (see SF starter list) and/or their key partners (such as NGOs), to assess the options, benefits, costs, timing and any challenges to doing business with SF suppliers.

  3. Where feasible, create a shortlist of SF producers to bid on the wood supply subcontract. Inventory the benefits these suppliers offer with their wood products.  

Use in Policy Making

  1. Establish sustainable or green public procurement criteria that acknowledges and can give preference to social sustainability of wood products.

  2. Establish partnership with an NGO and/or supplier (or international programs such as REDD+) in promoting SF (such as Community Forest Management/Enterprises) in local and regional forest areas.

  3. Encourage policy development and supplier registries that can promote wider demand for wood and products of regional and international community managed forests (CMF), community forest enterprises (CFEs), and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

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