Since 2003, China has implemented a large-scale forest devolution reform by giving villages the right to devolve tenure rights of collectively owned forests to households. Some villages chose no reform, and the forest continued to be owned and controlled by the village committee. In other villages, the reform was adopted and forests became owned and managed by individual households. In a third group, the reform was adopted and forests became household owned but are managed jointly. We define the third type as devolution-based collective action, and study how it affects forests and participating households. We exploit a panel dataset of nearly
3,000 households and remote-sensing data in 262 rural villages in eight provinces in China. Using difference-in-difference and propensity score matching methods, we show that the devolution based collective action increased forest cover in the short term. However, there is only limited evidence that it reduced vegetation degradation in the medium term. We also show that households’ income from off-farm work increases, as does their total income. We find that collective action reduces the likelihood of income falling below the poverty line. Our findings are suggestive that property rights-based collective action can lead to improved forest management and more engagement in off-farm work.
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