Explaining success on community forestry through a lens of environmental justice: Local justice norms and practices in China

Jun He, Adrian Martin, Rong Lang, Nicole Gross-Camp

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21 Citations (Scopus)
30 Downloads (Pure)


It is of global interest to understand under what conditions community forestry can be successful and sustainable in terms of environmental conservation and local livelihood benefits. Existing theories have explained several influential factors, including small groups of people with shared norms, sound institutions, high levels of decentralization, downward accountability, and security of tenure. This paper explores how local conceptions of environmental justice become closely linked to sustainable community forestry. Based on an in-depth case study in a highly populated and culturally heterogeneous village in southwest China, we examine an enduring example of community forestry, using a combination of qualitative and quantitative approaches. The results show that village forest cover has increased significantly over the last 30 years, contributing to improvements in local livelihoods. It is argued that one of the important factors in this success has been villagers’ ability to align forest management with local justice norms and practices. Distributive, procedural, and recognition aspects of justice are considered, and we find that, in combination, these become integral to building effective institutions for collective action. To broaden the focus on successful factors in existing theories, this paper argues that the consideration of justice as an important condition for establishing effective and durable local institutions that will be effective for community forestry. The insights from this study suggest a need to consider justice dimensions in community forestry research to enable improved understanding of its dynamics and outcomes worldwide.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105450
JournalWorld Development
Early online date5 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021


  • Collective action
  • Common-pool resources
  • Decentralization
  • Design principles
  • Environmental justice
  • Local institutions

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