Who are forest-dependent people? A taxonomy to aid livelihood and land use decision-making in forested regions

Peter Newton, Daniel C. Miller, Mugabi Augustine Ateenyi Byenkya, Arun Agrawal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The relationship between forests and people is of substantial interest to peoples and agencies that govern and use them, private sector actors that seek to manage and profit from them, NGOs who support and implement conservation and development projects, and researchers who study these relationships and others. The term 'forest-dependent people' is widely used to describe human populations that gain some form of benefits from forests. But despite its long history and widespread use, there are substantial divergences in who the term refers to, what each of its constituent words mean, and how many forest-dependent people there are globally. This paper identifies the range of existing uses and definitions of the term 'forest-dependent people', and summarizes them in a systematic taxonomy. Our taxonomy exposes the dimensions that characterize the relationships between people and forests, and leads to two conclusions: First, an absolute, universally accepted definition of the term is untenable. Rather, users of the term 'forest-dependent people' need to comprehensively define their population of interest with reference to the context and purpose of their forest- and people-related objectives. The framework and language of our taxonomy aims to aid such efforts. Second, conservation and development program funders, designers, and implementers must reconsider whether forest dependence is an appropriate target for policy objectives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)388-395
Number of pages8
JournalLand Use Policy
StatePublished - Nov 30 2016


  • Development
  • Environmental change
  • Forests
  • Livelihoods
  • Policy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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