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Engaging Youth in Community Forestry: Lessons from Oaxaca, Mexico



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Environmental or natural resource commons typically involve a group or community of users managing shared resources through collective action and jointly-held rules and norms. Studies show that governing such resources as commons can provide livelihood and an important level of control or autonomy to the people who depend upon such resources. Community forests are one example. In Mexico, most forests are managed by Indigenous and local communities. As well as generating economic, social and environmental benefits at the local level, the country’s community-managed forests also contribute to regional and global biodiversity and carbon sequestration goals. Yet, community forestry is challenging. In recent years, timber production in Mexico has fallen, and “owner” communities have been impacted by shrinking and aging resident populations. Some have struggled to maintain a broad and often diverse membership invested in local forest management. This includes youth, who can provide energy and ideas, take up governance responsibilities and forest work, but may have alternative livelihood options open to them. The role of youth has been underreported in the commons and (broader) environmental governance literatures. In this research, I document and explore the perspectives, and current and potential roles, of youth with regards to their communities, key community institutions, and forest work and governance. I also reflect on strategies that communities might adopt to enhance youth integration in these arrangements and structures. I conducted qualitative, case study research in Oaxaca, southern Mexico, a region known for its extensive commons regimes and success in community forest management. I engaged youth from two specific communities – one located close to a major urban centre, one further away – as well as community leaderships and “outside” experts supporting Oaxaca’s community forestry sector. I found that most youth remain attached to their home village, territory and forests, but exhibit work and study aspirations that can be poorly matched to local employment opportunities and community membership expectations. While youth value communal territories and forests, they doubt whether community forestry will provide a meaningful livelihood. Although communities have made efforts to integrate youth into community forestry, strategies have rarely been co-designed (with youth) and success to date has been limited. The potential for youth integration was highest in the community located close to Oaxaca City, suggesting the importance of rural-urban linkages to young people. These findings provide communities, scholars, and practitioners with important insights about the need and strategies for youth engagement and empowerment, and the broader implications for community and forest futures.



Community development, community forestry, commons, institutions, Mexico, Oaxaca, youth, youth engagement



Master of Environment and Sustainability (M.E.S.)


School of Environment and Sustainability


Environment and Sustainability


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