Community forest enterprises in Cameroon : Tensions, paradoxes and governance challenges

Piabuo, Serge Mandiefe


Community Forest Enterprises (CFEs) are “a form of enterprise based on collective ownership or secured access to forest resources by a community. Their governance is derived from local community traditions, where tensions between direct “democratic” community control and hierarchical management structure are present, and which typically have multivariate objective functions with profits as only one of several goals. This definition underscores the presence of tensions that could have adverse effects on achieving the economic, social, and environmental objectives of CFEs. However, conceptual and empirical research on tensions within CFEs is sketchy. This paper adapts and contextualizes a framework using the paradox lens to explore CFE governance in Cameroon. Narrative inquiry research coupled with focus group discussions and confirmatory document analysis of 31 CFEs was used to characterize performing, belonging, organizing, and learning tensions within CFEs and explore the main challenges. A performing paradox was found, manifested in differences in short-run and long-run perceptions of performance between CFEs, community, and village chiefs. An organizing paradox was found, where tensions in the recruitment of external and resident labor and commercial tensions between CFE management, intermediaries, and community members. How the CFE selects products to generate revenue from the forest created belonging tensions when the choice of products did not include women, and the gendered family context created factions that resulted in belonging tensions at the CFE level. Learning tensions occurred when CFEs grew and had to balance community pressure for social investments against reinvestment for CFE financial sustainability. “Electing” or finding board members with adequate skills and experience, the power of boards to control management, and interdependencies between boards and management were significant challenges faced by CFEs. The accommodation and information strategy employed by some CFEs to manage paradoxes is adequate and recommended to be continued.