This was created in partnership with Environment for Development .
Participation of local communities in management and utilization of forest resources through collective action has become widely accepted as a possible solution to failure of centralized, top-down approaches to forest conservation. Developing countries have thus resorted to devolution of forest management through initiatives such as Participatory Forest Management (PFM) and Joint Forest Management (JFM). In Kenya, under such initiatives, communities have been able to self-organize into community forest associations (CFAs). However, despite these efforts and an increased number of CFAs, the results in terms of ecological outcomes have been mixed, with some CFAs failing and others thriving. Little is known about the factors influencing success of these initiatives. Using household-level data from 518 households and community-level data from 22 CFAs from the Mau forest conservancy, the study employed logistic regression, OLS and heteroscedasticity-based instrumental variable techniques to analyze factors influencing household participation levels in CFA activities and to further identify the determinants of successful collective management of forest resources, as well as the link between participation level and the success of collective action. The results show that the success of collective action is associated with the level of household participation in CFA activities, distance to the forest resource, institutional quality, group size, and salience of the resource, among other factors. We also found that collective action is more successful when CFAs are formed through users’ self-motivation with frequent interaction with government institutions and when the forest cover is low. Factors influencing the level of household participation are also identified. The study findings point to the need for: a robust diagnostic approach in devolution of forest management to local communities, considering diverse socio-economic and ecological settings; government intervention in reviving and re-institutionalizing existing and infant CFAs in an effort to promote PFM within the Mau forest and other parts of the country; and intense effort towards design of a mix of incentive schemes to encourage active and equal household participation in CFA activities.