Government and civil society organizations are faced with the considerable task of promoting broad-based economic growth among the rural poor without compromising the natural resource base, while at the same time increasing the sustainability of their actions. In this context, rural community enterprises (RCEs) are increasingly being advocated because of their perceived ability to combine, with varying degrees of success, economic objectives with environmental and social objectives, such as sustainable resource management, improved local safety nets, increased influence over political processes, and member education. Recent changes in the political, legal, and market environment in developing regions offer possibilities for RCE development that simply did not exist before. Reduced barriers to trade, including tariffs, quantitative restrictions, and other barriers, provide conditions for enhanced export performance for both traditional and non-traditional products. Structural adjustment programs substantially reduced or eliminated state-backed
marketing boards and production cooperatives, thus opening new spaces for RCEs in the commercialization
of agriculture and forest products. In addition, emerging segments and niches in agricultural and forest
product markets, such as organic, certified timber, and specialty fruits, provide incentives for new community-
based business endeavors as well as attract external investments for upgrading RCE operations.
Against this backdrop, the Ford Foundation commissioned the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher
Education Center (CATIE) to work in collaboration with the University of London and various local partners
to carry out a comprehensive review of RCEs and their potential for promoting rural development. This
review aims at better understanding of the nature of RCEs, their asset-building potential, the factors that
contribute to their success, or lack thereof, and their ability to evolve into viable businesses capable of delivering economic, environmental and social impacts. We carried out 26 RCE case studies in the United States and 11 selected developing countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia, and Africa. These case studies cover a range of productive activities, including the extraction and processing of timber and non-timber forest products (NTFPs), the production of agricultural commodities such as coffee, cacao, tea, and banana,
as well as services (ecotourism). RCEs were identified and analyzed in collaboration with local partners using
common methodological guidelines, combining primary and secondary data collection.