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Persha, Lauren M. & Andersson, Krister P. (2014). Elite Capture Risk and Mitigation in Decentralized Forest Governance Regimes. Global Environmental Change, 24, 265-276.


Recent scholarship focuses on elite capture as a driver of social inequality and a source of policy failure across a wide range of governance initiatives. In the context of environmental governance, concerns center on perceived links between elite capture and decentralization, particularly in developing countries where decentralized natural resource governance has been widely implemented. But, there is limited empirical knowledge regarding if, and the conditions under which, decentralization might promote elite capture, or whether institutional design factors can militate against it. We examine how local institutional arrangements under forest sector decentralization affect the risk of elite capture of forest benefits, as well as the potential for a key institutional design factor (linkages to external organizations as an accountability-building mechanism) to mitigate this risk. We analyze forest product harvesting data as well as social, ecological, and institutional data from pre- and post-decentralization across 56 forests and 174 community groups in four countries. We employ hierarchical linear modeling to test the extent to which decentralization is associated with inequities in the distribution of forest harvest benefits within communities, and to characterize the institutional arrangements that affect elite capture outcomes. We find not only strong evidence for increased local rule-making under decentralization, but also significantly higher risk of elite capture of forest harvest benefits. This risk increases with increasing time since decentralization, but it is also substantially moderated in cases where an external organization was involved in organizing the local forest institution. Our findings highlight ways in which decentralization reforms are filtered by institutional arrangements to produce different outcomes, and generate new knowledge on micro-institutional factors that can reduce the risk of elite capture in decentralized environmental governance regimes.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

Global Environmental Change


Persha, Lauren M.
Andersson, Krister P.