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The Role of Informal Institutions in the Use of Forest Resources in Latin America (2008)




Pablo Pacheco, Deborah Barry, Peter Cronkleton, Anne M. Larson, CIFOR

Informal Institutions and Forest Resource Governance in Latin America


It is increasingly agreed that informal institutions matter in forest resources governance. But what do we know about the way informal rules, in their interaction with formal rules, shape the use of forest resources by various groups such as communities and small holders?


Through case studies in Bolivia, Nicaragua, Brazil and Honduras, three areas of behavior that affect forest resource use by smallholders and communities were examined:

  • the interface of formal rules, often contained in written laws, and practiced ‘rules of the game’ that guide how smallholders and communities control, allocate, legitimize and enforce land and forest tenure rights,
  • local systems for forest resource use and management under the imposition of formal regulations and models,
  • and smallholder interaction with markets influenced by the constraints and opportunities produced by formal regulations.


The principal findings suggest that in spite of the fact that many governments have introduced progressive policies intended to benefit rural populations and their forest use, the extent to which such policies have actually brought about any real change to benefit communities is questionable.  These cases suggest that although formal rules are becoming increasingly important for influencing forest resource use in the context of expanding markets, mainly for timber products, their outcomes depend on their interactions with existing informal rules. In this regard, understanding the informal arenas becomes extremely important for shaping state efforts for the formalization of property rights and regulation of forest resource use.

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Author : Pablo Pacheco, Deborah Barry, Peter Cronkleton, Anne M. Larson, CIFOR
Last Updated : 02-24-2017