Community forest management in Nepal has shifted from protection to distribution due to a failure of community forestry to have a significant impact on the level of poverty. The failure to have a positive impact on poverty is often attributed to governance issues, which in Nepal are typically associated with differences in the social status of those holding positions of decision-making power and those who have the most need. Using a modified elite theory that characterises decision-making in terms of relative wealth and caste of decision-makers, the study looks at the effect of community structure on governance and on distribution of forest products. The results show that when the poor and disadvantaged households participate in decision-making, either as members of the executive committee or in public assemblies, the relative distribution of firewood, timber and fodder from community forests to poor and disadvantaged households increases. The results provide empirical evidence of the commonly held belief that participation of poor and disadvantaged households in decision-making is a key element of poverty reduction through community management of resources. Based on these results, efforts to increase participation of poor and disadvantaged households in decision-making should be a critical part of planning community forest governance.
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