The Role of Forests and Trees in Poverty Dynamics

Pamela Jagger, Jennifer Zavaleta Cheek, Daniel Miller, Casey Ryan, Priya Shyamsundar, Erin Sills

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Understanding the contribution of forests to poverty alleviation and human well-being has never been more important. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are erasing gains in poverty reduction achieved over the past several decades. At the same time, climate change is increasing the frequency of extreme weather events and natural disasters, especially in poor rural communities. In this paper, we review approaches to measuring poverty and well-being finding that standard approaches to measuring poverty and poverty dynamics typically do not adequately consider environmental goods and services, leading to an incompelete understanding of poverty dynamics among policy makers and practitioners. We identify four archetypal poverty trajectories and discuss how subsistence and cash income, assets, and non-material benefits from forests and tree-based systems influence each of them. We draw on the broad literature on forests and livelihoods, acknowledging that the majority of the literature on the topic of forests and poverty relies on static, micro-level, and highly contextualized analyses. Our review suggest that forests and tree-based systems provide a pathway out of poverty only under very specific conditions, when high value goods are accessible and marketed, or when ecosystem services can be monetized for the benefit of people living in or near forests. However, the role that forests play in supporting and maintaining current consumption, diversifying incomes, and meeting basic needs may be extremely important, particularly for those experiencing transient poverty. We discuss negative externalities associated with living proximate to forests, including the special case of geographic poverty traps, which can occur in remote forested areas. To build a strong evidence base for policy makers we recommend that research on forest-poverty dynamics address longer time-frames (up to decades), larger and/or nested spatial scales, and are contextualized within the landscape, region, or national setting where it is conducted. Advancing our understanding of forest-poverty dynamics is critical, particularly in low and middle-income countries where large numbers of people live in or near forests or in landscapes with forest-agriculture mosaics. Policy makers should strive to understand the potential role for forest-based livelihood strategies among their suite of social protection and poverty reduction policies and programs, particularly for addressing transient poverty.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number102750
JournalForest Policy and Economics
StatePublished - Jul 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Forest policy
  • Livelihoods
  • Poverty reduction
  • Risk mitigation
  • Safety nets
  • Sustainable Development Goals

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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