A Critical Review of South Africa’s Forestry Legislation in Promoting Participatory Forest Management

Authors Alexander Paterson

ISSN: 1996-2177
Affiliations: Professor of Law, Institute of Marine and Environmental Law, Faculty of Law, University of Cape Town
Source: South African Law Journal, Volume 135 Number 1, May 2018, p. 121 – 158


South Africa’s forest land, which covers 37 per cent of the country’s surface, is recognised as being under significant threat. This forest land plays a crucial ecological and socio-economic role in supporting the livelihoods of the country’s rural population through the supply of many timber and non-timber forest products. Concerted efforts are accordingly necessary to conserve and manage sustainably this forest land. One key concept to emerge from contemporary global forestry discourse is participatory forest management (‘PFM’). It highlights the important role played by rural communities in promoting sustainable forest management. South Africa sought, through the introduction of the National Forests Act 84 of 1998, to promote, enable and regulate PFM through the conclusion of community forestry agreements (‘CFAs’) between forestry authorities and communities. No CFAs have been concluded to date, and the demise of the forest land continues. This article explores this anomaly, specifically whether it can be attributed to frailties inherent in the legal framework governing CFAs. It begins by reviewing the origins, forms and factors which theorists have identified as influencing the success of PFM initiatives to distil a theoretical legal matrix against which to coherently critique the South African regime. It then shifts to a critical analysis of South Africa’s relevant legal framework, highlighting several options for reforming key elements relating to ownership/rights, scope, process, institutional arrangements, management, use and benefits, and oversight mechanisms.