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Global Environmental Change
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/gloenvcha
A systematic review of the socio-economic impacts of large-scale tree
, Dalia D’Amato
, Nicholas J. Hogarth
, Markku Kanninen
, Anne Toppinen
, Wen Zhou
Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science, University of Helsinki, Finland
Department of Forest Sciences, University of Helsinki, Finland
Viikki Tropical Resources Institute, University of Helsinki, Finland
Center for International Forestry Research, Bogor, Indonesia
Independent consultant, Paris, France
School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut
Department of Anthropology, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut
Land use change
Since their widespread introduction in the 1980s, large-scale tree plantations have seen contestations over their
socio-economic impacts. With the establishment of new plantations on the rise, a review of the literature ex-
amining their impacts on local communities is needed to inform policies and practices. In this systematic review,
we followed an a priori protocol to reduce the selection biases inherent to conventional literature reviews, and
considered both grey and peer-reviewed literature. Of the 20,450 studies identiﬁed in our literature search, only
92 studies met our predeﬁned inclusion criteria. However, only 22 studies presented a clear comparator and
considered confounding factors in their analysis. Of the 251 impacts identiﬁed in this sample, most impacts
across the nine categories were characterised as predominantly negative impacts attributed to large-scale tree
plantations. Impacts on employment (22% of reported impacts/of which 41% predominantly negative), land
(21%/81%), livelihoods (12%/48%) and the often intertwined social impacts (20%/69%) were the most com-
monly considered categories, within which a majority of studies agreed on the impact dynamics when in similar
contexts, resembling the dynamics observed in other large-scale land-based investments. Most impacts were
reported from Southeast Asia (34% of reported impacts), South America (29%), Africa (23%) and Australasia
(12%). We corroborate that costs of large-scale tree plantations for residents tend to be front-loaded, especially
when plantations have displaced customary land uses, and possible beneﬁts to accrue over time, moderated by
the emergence of local processing and complementary livelihood activities. However, given the methodological
inconsistencies in our sample and the under-representation of areas known to have undergone plantation de-
velopment, strong global evidence on the long-term socio-economic impacts of large-scale tree plantations re-
Although we can trace the origins of large-scale tree plantations to
the colonial era, they have seen increasingly widespread adoption since
the 1980s as an alternative source of raw material for tree-based
commodities (Bull et al., 2006;Evans, 2009). Tree plantations are often
characterised by high density monocultures of non-native species, es-
tablished to meet increasing commercial demands and reduce the ex-
ploitation of natural forests (Chazdon et al., 2016;D’Amato et al.,
2017a;Pirard et al., 2016a). Such plantations are also often posited as a
means of mitigating the eﬀects of climate change through carbon se-
questration in woody biomass (Ingram et al., 2016;Kröger, 2016).
Recent estimates place the global extent of planted forests at 278 mil-
lion ha in 2015 (Payn et al., 2015), with large-scale plantations of fast-
growing tree species occupying 54 million ha in 2012 and predicted to
double in extent by 2050 (Indufor, 2012).
The establishment of large-scale tree plantations remains a highly
contentious issue among researchers, practitioners and stakeholders
(Baral et al., 2016;Gerber, 2011;Kröger, 2011;Schirmer, 2013). Much
of the criticism has been directed at their negative environmental
Received 7 October 2017; Received in revised form 4 June 2018; Accepted 4 September 2018
Corresponding author at: Department of Forest Sciences, University of Helsinki, Latokartanonkaari 7, 00014 Helsinki, Finland.
E-mail address: arttu.malkamaki@helsinki.ﬁ (A. Malkamäki).
Global Environmental Change 53 (2018) 90–103
0959-3780/ © 2018 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY license
impacts, commonly caused by the clearing of natural forest prior to
plantation establishment (Brockerhoﬀ et al., 2008;Farley et al., 2005;
Liao et al., 2012). However, residents exposed to the establishment of
large-scale tree plantations also experience a range of impacts, both
positive and negative. These impacts are likely to resemble those of
other large-scale land-based investments, as they share key features in
terms of their physical extent and social disruption in rural areas.
It has been shown that the land acquisition for large-scale agri-
cultural plantations carries a risk of threatening or displacing cus-
tomary land uses (Cotula et al., 2014;Hall et al., 2015); particularly in
Africa and Southeast Asia, where most rural areas remain under land
use without formal recognition by the state (Deininger, 2003;Inguanzo,
2014). Investors targeting such areas have tended to align with the
interests of inﬂuential elites (e.g. politicians, privileged, chiefs, elders)
de facto responsible for allocating resources and beneﬁts, and capturing
these unless held accountable for their proper distribution among cus-
tomary land users (Cotula et al., 2014;McIntyre et al., 2015). Sig-
niﬁcant concentration of land can further threaten access to land by
customary land users (Peters, 2009;Toulmin, 2009). Where in place,
formal titles are portrayed as being eﬀective safeguards against illegal
seizures of land (World Bank, 2010); where not, the gradual processes
of land formalisation could threaten communal arrangements and ex-
acerbate inequalities in access to land (Alden Wily, 2011;Dwyer, 2015;
In terms of employment and livelihoods, Hunsberger et al. (2017)
found that labour intensity in large-scale feedstock plantations is
modiﬁed by mechanisation and investment phase, with land clearing
and crop planting requiring much more labour per unit area than other
phases. Labour intensity could also decrease due to eﬃciency gains
achieved through land concentration (Wilkinson and Herrera, 2010).
On average, rural residents in lower-income countries derive an esti-
mated 28% of their total income from natural areas (Angelsen et al.,
2014); and so the (lost) value of displaced livelihoods could possibly be
higher than the (gained) value of labour per unit area (Schoneveld
et al., 2011). Impacts are likely to depend on the trade-oﬀs between the
new and past employment and livelihoods in terms of labour intensity
and value creation (Hunsberger et al., 2017). The type of business
model – whether arranged such that the investor controls all means of
production, or arranged, for example, so that residents are contracted
with direct involvement in production through the large-scale planta-
tion - could aﬀect the trade-oﬀs (Little and Watts, 1994;Vermeulen and
Cotula, 2010a). In addition, plantation agriculture and biofuel pro-
duction have often favoured migrant workers over residents for their
greater acceptance of physically demanding labour and precarious
contracts often described as exploitative (Deininger et al., 2011b;
Lenard and Straehle, 2010). Outsourcing - with a signiﬁcant role for
contractors to undertake most of the tasks on the ground - has been
pointed to as worsening working conditions with fewer guarantees for
the sub-contracted workforce (ILO, 2016).
Additional impacts could follow the conversion and management of
land for tree plantations that could modify the provision of pre-existing
ecosystem services with links to human health and well-being (Howe
et al., 2014;Scovronick and Wilkinson, 2014). Roads and other infra-
structure, of which economies of scale are often beyond the reach of
residents and governments in rural areas, in turn, could beneﬁt from
land-based investments by external investors (Byerlee et al., 2017).
However, disparities in access to resources, utilities or opportunities
could shape the perceptions of fairness among residents, between re-
sidents and migrants, or between residents and investors, increasing so-
cial tensions (Gerber, 2011;Hall et al., 2015;Norton and de Haan, 2012).
Such socio-economic impacts have never been subject to a global
review in the context of large-scale tree plantations across diﬀerent
contexts of geographical location, commercial purpose and ownership
structure. Our synthesis will also help to identify knowledge gaps and
highlight patterns across the literature that promote best practice or
changes to existing practices (Haddaway et al., 2016).
Our review thus aims to answer three main research questions: 1)
What are the direct and indirect socio-economic impacts of large-scale
tree plantations for local communities? 2) How do impacts diﬀer across
contexts? 3) What are the patterns, biases and gaps in the available
Systematic reviews aim to identify the most reliable research on a
given question in a manner that minimises selection biases in the lit-
erature search and screening process. We used an a priori systematic
review protocol published as Malkamäki et al. (2017), which was pre-
pared based on the guidance for systematic reviews by the Collabora-
tion for Environmental Evidence (CEE, 2013). This protocol deﬁned the
structuring components of the systematic review framework (popula-
tion, intervention/exposure, comparator, impact and contextual fac-
tors) as applied to large-scale tree plantations, and their oper-
ationalisation in the literature search and screening process to identify
relevant studies from bibliographic databases and organisational
Deﬁnitions of these components are provided in detail in Malkamäki
et al. (2017), and were developed through a participatory process and a
stakeholder workshop in May 2016 involving seven experts from aca-
demic, civil society and private sector organisations. The following
deﬁnitions and scopes were used to guide the identiﬁcation of relevant
Relevant populations: Local households and communities who reside
inside or near to an area where at least one large-scale tree plantation is
present. Here, the term local is not used to delineate populations within
a particular distance from the plantation site as these may vary from
area to area. However, non-local processors and consumers of planta-
tion-sourced commodities further down the value chain - who are not
impacted by the physical presence of the plantation site - are not con-
Relevant intervention/exposure: Large-scale tree plantations estab-
lished and managed for commercial purposes by private or public actors
external to the local community. This deﬁnition excludes large-scale
forest restoration programmes and outgrower partnerships as such.
Tree species included are those falling under the FAO (2012) current
deﬁnition of a forest; i.e. those able to reach a minimum height of ﬁve
meters, hence rubber trees are included. Commercial purposes for
which the plantations must be primarily designated are those derivable
from the relevant tree species, including pulpwood (e.g. cellulose),
sawnwood (e.g. construction), fuelwood (e.g. combustion), latex/rub-
berwood and carbon credits, or a combination of these.
Relevant impacts: Intentional and unintended changes to human
well-being that are felt directly or indirectly due to the establishment or
management of a large-scale tree plantation. These should fall under
one of the nine impact categories: land, employment, livelihoods, cash
income, infrastructure, health, regulating ecosystem services, cultural
ecosystem services or social impacts (Table 1).
Apart from the initial list of potential impacts proposed in the sta-
keholder workshop, the design of impact categories drew from the lit-
erature on impacts of other land-based investments and links between
ecosystem service provision and human well-being (Chapter 1; Fisher
et al., 2014;Howe et al., 2014). To adapt these concepts into the
context of tree plantations, we drew from the impact logic by Ingram
et al. (2016).
The very ﬁnal working deﬁnitions for the nine categories could only
be assigned after we understood the range and types of all reported
impacts. Taking into consideration the multi-dimensionality of some
concepts also meant dealing with higher levels of complexity. For ex-
ample, food security “exists when all people, at all times, have physical,
social and economic access to suﬃcient, safe and nutritious food that
meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy
life” (FAO, 2003, p. 29). Of the four dimensions of food security (Gross
A. Malkamäki et al. Global Environmental Change 53 (2018) 90–103
et al., 2000), physical food availability as well as physical and economic
access to food are reﬂected in the “land” category, while food utilisation
falls under the “health” category. Stability of the other three dimensions
is considered across categories. Hence, it is important to note the pos-
sible interactions and overlaps between the nine categories. Although
changes to inequality (whether between classes, ethnicities, genders or
generations) is considered under the broad category of “social” impacts,
considerations of who can and wants to access beneﬁts are important
across all categories (Fisher et al., 2014;Hall et al., 2015).
Literature searches were conducted in July 2016 and updated in
April 2017 using English language searches in Web of Science (5856
hits), Scopus (9373), CAB Abstracts (9939) and Google Scholar (1990)
(for complete search strings, see Malkamäki et al., 2017). In Google
Scholar, only the ﬁrst 200 hits as sorted by relevance were exported for
screening. All search results were then merged into a single database
before removing duplicate studies. To complement these database
searches, we searched for relevant literature from 48 organisational
sources, which include research institutes (e.g. French Agricultural
Research Centre for International Development), civil society organi-
sations (e.g. World Rainforest Movement) and intergovernmental
bodies (e.g. International Tropical Timber Organization); the list can be
accessed through Malkamäki et al. (2017). Although searches were
conducted in English, also French, Portuguese and Spanish studies
identiﬁed in these searches were included in screening. Fig. 1 sum-
marises the key stages in the review process.
Of the 20,450 individual search results, only 111 studies met our
inclusion criteria of relevant populations, intervention/exposure, and
impacts. We were unable to acquire the full texts of 72 additional
studies for screening, and excluded previous versions of studies using
the same data (e.g. working papers that preceded journal articles).
These 111 studies underwent data extraction using a standardised data
extraction sheet (Appendix 1), the design of which relied on principles
common to qualitative meta-synthesis, including systematic coding of
variables (CEE, 2013). When studies presented multiple case studies
from distinct geographical or institutional contexts, we coded such
cases separately. Thus, we have more “case studies” than the total
number of included “studies,” and will retain this terminology to refer
to them separately.
We soon realised that characterising the impacts either as positive,
negative or mixed was challenging. Some studies did not provide a clear
indication or statement of the nature of impacts, which meant that case-
speciﬁc, deliberative interpretations by the authors of this paper had to
be made in order to assign a characterisation, while also ensuring inter-
reviewer consistency in interpretation. After assigning characterisations
for the reported impacts within each case study, we also tracked pos-
sible associations between impact categories, noting whether they were
of a mutually reinforcing (negative impacts leading to negative impacts
or positive impacts leading to positive impacts) or negating (positive
impacts leading to negative impacts or vice versa) nature.
The data extraction sheet also included a quality appraisal of in-
cluded studies, which included nine criteria (Table 2). The baseline
criterion for study inclusion was that key results and conclusions had to
be logically derived and supported by the data and methods presented.
Of the 111 studies, only 92 studies met this criterion, of which six were
published in Portuguese, nine in Spanish and 77 in English; no French
studies met the criteria for inclusion in this ﬁnal set. We further divided
these studies into two groups based on additional quality criteria that
were considered critical. Group A studies had to consider confounding
factors that could have inﬂuenced the validity of their data and
methods, and they had to use an appropriate comparator in their re-
search design (with/without; before/after). Only 22 studies (25 case
studies) met these two criteria. The remaining 70 studies (80 cases) are
categorised as Group B, even though there was considerable variation
Working deﬁnitions of impact categories.
Category Working deﬁnition
Land Impacts caused by the process of land acquisition and its direct consequences, including changes in formal or customary access to land with or
without compensation, concentration of land ownership, and changes to availability of and access to local food or fuel.
Employment Impacts related to wage employment, including labour intensity, working conditions and the roles of outsourcing and migrant workers. Local
processing and nurseries, which depend on the physical presence of the plantation, are included.
Livelihoods Impacts on conditions for engaging in previous or other livelihood activities; not including cash income and wage employment.
Cash income Impacts on monetary earnings at individual, household and community levels, and changes to income-based poverty levels.
Infrastructure The delivery - or lack thereof - of roads, schools, clinics, electricity and water-related infrastructure.
Health Impacts on health due to injury, pesticide usage, disease vector or change to nutritional status.
Cultural ecosystem services Impacts on human well-being related to changes to ecosystem function that support recreation, traditions, aesthetics, identity and sense of place.
Regulating ecosystem services Impacts on human well-being related to changes to ecosystem function in regulating water quantity and quality, soil fertility, shade, erosion and
Social Impacts on social fabric (migration, demographics, trust, equity, conﬂict, legality, morality) and social ties among residents, between residents
and migrants, or between residents and investors.
Fig. 1. Literature searches and screening results.
A. Malkamäki et al. Global Environmental Change 53 (2018) 90–103
among studies with respect to their quality, with eight of them con-
sidering confounding factors and 14 using a comparator in their study
design. Variation in Group B is even more pronounced in terms of
general additional criteria, although it should be noted that a few stu-
dies in Group A did not meet all general additional criteria either. Se-
lected details of all included studies are provided (Appendix 2). The raw
data and a record of studies excluded at diﬀerent stages of the review
have been made (data set) accessible.
Because of the insuﬃcient number of cases using common statistical
methods, we were unable to perform any quantitative meta-analyses of
the data. Although descriptive statistics were used to provide an over-
view of the evidence base, studies were synthesised qualitatively based
on their reporting of impacts in each of the nine impact categories.
3.1. Overview of the evidence base
3.1.1. Temporal and geographical distribution
The publication years of all 91 studies are shown in Fig. 2, indicating
increasing research interest in the subject area in the past ten years (al-
though there is another small peak in published literature between 2005
and 2008). Based on an analysis of incentives provided for plantation
establishment and the timing of data collection, research tends to be
conducted soon after plantations are introduced for the ﬁrst time or
changes in government policy encourage their further development. For
example, South American tax incentive programmes attracted new in-
vestments into pulp mills and plantations at the turn of the last century
(Almeida et al., 2008;Carámbula and Piñeiro, 2006). In Australia, in-
vestments into plantations in the early 2000s also followed the in-
troduction of favourable tax regulations for projects under the Managed
Investment Scheme (O’Toole and Keneley, 2010). Investments into
plantations and the corresponding rise in associated studies in Eastern
Africa and the Indochinese Peninsula, especially into rubber in Cambodia
, are generally more recent, reﬂecting investor interest in ac-
quiring and selling carbon credits and government policies granting land
concessions to investors (Gironde and Peeters, 2015;Lyons and Westoby,
2014). Of the 71 cases specifying the incentives underlying plantation
establishment, 76% report that government support played a key role in
promoting investments in capital-intensive plantations.
Of the 82 case studies reporting the timing of plantation establish-
ment, most examine the impacts between ﬁve to 15 years after estab-
lishment (Fig. 3). More than half of these (52%) also deal with impacts
within 15 years after plantation establishment, which may lead to an
overemphasis on front-loaded impacts.
The geographical locations of the 105 cases by plantation type
(primary tree species and designated commercial purpose) are mapped
in Fig. 4. Even though we did not restrict our search to a speciﬁc
geographical area, recorded cases are concentrated in Australasia,
South America, Southern Africa, and Southeast Asia. However, some
areas known to have signiﬁcant coverage of large-scale tree plantations
were not represented in our evidence base. These include the northern
countries of South America, the Iberian Peninsula, and the southern
United States (which was represented by only one case). Our evidence
base thus shows a geographical bias towards certain regions or even
certain countries, such as Cambodia and Chile.
3.1.2. Methods used in the studies
Most studies were qualitative in nature and based their reporting of
impacts on local perceptions (Table 3). Studies using quantitative in-
dicators are more commonly paired with quasi-experimental research
designs in our sample. In both groups, socio-economic impacts have
been studied using a range of methods, with key informant interviews
being most commonly reported. We also recorded potential conﬂicts of
interest in 18 out of 92 studies (20%).
3.1.3. Aggregate summary of the impacts
Altogether, the 105 cases reported 251 impacts that were grouped
under nine categories (Fig. 5). The most frequently reported impacts are
those related to “employment” (22%), “land” (21%), “social” impacts
(20%) and “livelihoods” (12%). Most impacts are reported from
Southeast Asia (34%), South America (29%), Africa (23%) and Aus-
tralasia (12%). While most categories provide a rather balanced re-
presentation across continents, it appears that impacts related to “land”
are more common to Africa and Southeast Asia in relation to other
Applied quality criteria.
Key results and conclusions are logically derived and supported by the data and
Critical additional criteria
Confounding factors that could have inﬂuenced the validity of data and methods are
A clear and appropriate comparator is present
General additional criteria
Key terms and concepts are clear, replicable and reliable
Data collection methods are clear, replicable and reliable
Sampling selection is explained
Sampling selection is justiﬁed
Data analysis methods are clear, replicable and reliable
Key conclusions and recommendations are logically derived and supported by the
Fig. 2. Studies by publication years.
Fig. 3. Case studies by time between plantation establishment and data col-
It is worth noting that Vietnam and Thailand have been characterised by the
expansion of smallholder tree plantations since the 1990s, rather than expan-
sion in large-scale plantations by external actors (Hall, 2011;Sikor, 2012).
A. Malkamäki et al. Global Environmental Change 53 (2018) 90–103
Although only studies in Group A have a comparator and consider
confounding factors, reported impacts across categories and groups A
and B lean towards negative assessments (Fig. 6). Of all the 53 impacts
in category “land,” of which most are reported from Southeast Asia
(51%) and Africa (28%), 81% are characterised as predominantly ne-
gative impacts. For “employment,” “social,” “livelihoods,” “regulating
ecosystem services” and “infrastructure,” the corresponding ﬁgures are
41%, 69%, 48%, 79% and 28%, respectively. Two impacts are char-
acterised as “neutral” (plantations not aﬀecting well-being for better or
worse), two as “unmet” (plantations not having contributed to well-
being as per objectives) and two as “unreported” (plantations aﬀecting
well-being; unreported whether the change is for better or worse).
When examining, for example, employment intensity, poverty rate or
value accumulation, the baseline status clearly inﬂuences whether the
impacts are perceived as positive or negative. Impacts are intended as
measures of marginal change rather than in absolute terms.
Only 13 cases in our sample consider gendered dimensions of im-
pacts. Ethnic dimensions are considered by 25 cases, all of which
concern minority groups within the wider community. Interestingly,
Fig. 4. Geographical distribution of case studies by plantation type.
Overview of the methods used.
25 case studies
80 case studies
105 case studies
Frequency Percentage Frequency Percentage Frequency Percentage
Qualitative 936% 52 65% 61 59%
Of which, perception-based 667% 45 87% 51 84%
Quantitative 10 40% 13 16% 23 22%
Of which, perception-based 550% 754% 12 52%
Mixed 624% 15 19% 21 19%
Of which, perception-based 233% 853% 10 50%
Quasi-experimental 20 80% 11 14% 31 30%
Non-experimental 520% 69 86% 74 70%
Household-level surveys (e.g. village) 624% 20 25% 26 25%
Area-level surveys (e.g. municipality) 416% 45% 88%
Key informant interviews 832% 37 46% 45 43%
Focus group interviews 14% 45% 55%
Mixed 624% 15 19% 21 20%
Fig. 5. Geographical distribution of impacts by category.
A. Malkamäki et al. Global Environmental Change 53 (2018) 90–103
the presence or absence of management certiﬁcations that can include
grievance mechanisms was mentioned in only 27 cases. However, in
cases where plantations are not certiﬁed, certiﬁcation is unlikely to be
mentioned. Their actual eﬀects on impacts are considered in only ﬁve
cases. However, ownership structure is usually well-covered in our
sample. Land being formally owned by the government is much more
common to Africa (42% of cases on continent) and Southeast Asia
(26%) than in South America (7%) and Australasia (6%). When as-
sessments of impacts are contrasted with geographical locations and
ownership structure at the aggregate level (Fig. 7), neither of them
seems to explain variation in impacts. Similar to the other contextual
factors (gender, ethnicity, certiﬁcation), a more nuanced picture can
only be drawn by analysing the cases separately.
Impacts were also found to fall into overlapping categories and the
categories themselves may share overlapping characteristics (Fig. 8).
Hence, community well-being is manifest as a complex spatial-temporal
and social-ecological system. A total of 81 associations between cate-
gories from 52 case studies are found; 91% of them are of a mutually-
reinforcing nature. For impacts on previous livelihood activities, for
example, and for which the loss of land tends to be detrimental
(Daranth et al., 2015;Myllylä and Takala, 2011), the labour oﬀered by
plantations can oﬀer some relief (at least for some) (Bleyer et al., 2016).
Associations are most frequently observed between categories “land”
and “social” (16%) and “employment” and “social” (15%), within
which a clear tendency of negative impacts to accumulate is found.
How certain categories were framed led inherently to the recording
of either positive or negative characterisations. The “land” category, for
example, tends to emphasise the often-inevitable land losses caused by
plantation establishment. Some categories were also broader than
others, such as that of “social” impacts. Hence, we refrain from making
statistical comparisons of characterisations between categories that are
not directly comparable, focusing rather on building a synthesis of the
cases under each category and naming the most interesting and illus-
trative examples (for a discussion of the signiﬁcance of such mixing of
means and ends for environmental management, i.e. “category mis-
takes,” see Wallace and Jago, 2017).
3.2. Impacts by category
The immediate impacts after land acquisition are reported by seven
Group A cases and 46 Group B cases. Overwhelmingly, these cases are
characterised by negative impacts. When in place, formal land titles for
local residents seem to provide greater bargaining power over land
transactions, enabling, not guaranteeing, a higher acceptance of plan-
tation investments. However, property formalisation as part of planta-
tion projects has also become a means for dispossession, as demon-
strated in some Southeast Asian cases.
Within Group A, there are three cases characterised as having mixed
impacts, two as positive and two as negative. Pirard et al. (2017)
compare perceptions of impacts across plantation types in Indonesia.
They ﬁnd that government-managed pine and teak plantations with
longer rotations in Java permitted a greater access to land and re-
sources than acacia plantations that were more recent with shorter
rotations for fast-growing species in contested areas on Kalimantan,
which were viewed as more intrusive and competitive for land.
Manzanal et al. (2011) report on negative impacts following the ear-
marking of vast areas for commercial forestry by the government in
northern Argentina. This reportedly led to a concentration of ownership
and higher land prices, pushing the families without formal title or
investment capacity to out-migration. In neighbouring Uruguay, those
with recognised land titles are reported to have beneﬁtted from the
concentration of land into foreign hands and the subsequent rise in land
prices, by selling or leasing their lands to corporations in anticipation
of, for example, early retirement (Piñeiro, 2012). In this same case,
Fig. 6. Share of impacts by group and category.
Fig. 7. Share of impacts by geographical location and ownership structure.
Fig. 8. Associations between categories.
A. Malkamäki et al. Global Environmental Change 53 (2018) 90–103
acquisitions by corporations were seen more positively than acquisi-
tions by foreign pension funds aimed at securing ﬁnancial assets in
plantations with limited management, and hence fewer jobs created. In
Cambodia, villagers lost access to natural forests as part of the for-
malisation of government land as concessions; with only the few having
formal land titles reported to have received reasonable compensations
for their land (Gironde and Peeters, 2015). Tanzanian villagers entered
a leasing arrangement with the government-owned corporation and
received regular cash transfers in exchange (not speciﬁed how much
and for whom), but found themselves prevented from expanding rice
production to meet the needs of a growing population (Johansson and
Changes in access to land is also the main impact reported in Group
B cases. An overwhelming majority report perceptions of negative im-
pact, with 36 cases mainly from Africa and Southeast Asia ﬁnding
people losing customary access to land or forest with little or no com-
pensation (see Purnomo et al., 2014 for a prime example from In-
donesia). In Mozambique, Bleyer et al. (2016) found that the closer the
plantation is, the more diﬃcult accessing vital resources becomes
(which is one of the rare cases considering the eﬀect of distance). Eight
cases also correlate the land loss with reduced food security. Friis et al.
(2016) report on decreased rice production due to land conversion in
newly-formalised Laotian concessions, while Ehrnström-Fuentes and
Kröger (2017) report that food security reduced due to a combination of
decreased local production due to land conversion and a general in-
crease in food prices in Uruguay. Ehrnström-Fuentes and Kröger (2017)
also stress that the concentration of land in the hands of foreign cor-
porations has inﬂated prices and intensiﬁed competition over land;
consequently, farming activities of the poorest landowners in rural
Uruguay are reported to have become unviable. Similar ﬁndings from
privately-held plantations in southern Brazil and New Zealand indicate
that the concentration of land is a more prominent issue in regions with
relatively secure land titles (Almeida et al., 2008;Wall and Cocklin,
1996). An interesting mixed impact in Group B is reported from Thai-
land, where a corporation bought the land titles from previously in-
debted smallholders; despite the land loss, this one-time compensation
enabled some to recover economically and invest elsewhere (Barney,
Land being seized by coercion is reported in 13 cases. While recent
examples come from Cambodia and Laos where the granting of con-
cessions to private investors has displaced local land uses in rural areas
that are not oﬃcially recognised (Gironde and Peeters, 2015;Kenney-
Lazar, 2012;McAllister, 2015), examples dating back several decades
come from South Africa and neighbouring Swaziland, from times when
plantation development was driven by the government (reported in
Chirwa et al., 2015;Menne and Carrere, 2007;Tropp, 2003). The South
African “land grabs” have also led to a diﬃcult land reform process
(Chirwa et al., 2015).
There are 12 Group A case studies and 44 Group B case studies
reporting employment-related impacts, the majority of which report
negative perceptions. The presence of local processing appears to be
correlated with more positive impacts on employment; on the other
hand, in permissive institutional environments, characterised by weak
labour regulation and/or implementation, the presence of sub-con-
tracting was linked to inferior working conditions.
Within Group A cases, there is frequent debate over the job creation
per unit area of tree plantations relative to other land uses. One case
from Tasmania, Australia, describes eucalypt and pine plantations as
generating an average of 0.33 and 1.8 jobs per 100 ha between 2006 to
2008, respectively, while other primary sector land uses created slightly
more jobs (Schirmer, 2009). In Indonesia, the rate of residents with
employment experience was never lower than a third for any given
settlement across teak, pine and acacia plantations – this is considered
as an indication of substantial job creation on plantations, with little
variation in perceptions between men and women and migrants and
natives (Pirard et al., 2017). With new infrastructure and increased
demand for services to support forestry operations, however, secondary
(i.e. manufacturing) and tertiary (i.e. service) sectors are reported to
have expanded and started hiring people in New South Wales, Australia
(Schirmer et al., 2005). Generally, cases point to the need to have local
wood processing to improve employment impacts, although this in it-
self is insuﬃcient. A case from New Zealand shows that only the pre-
sence of these additional processing jobs can enable plantations to
generate more employment per unit area than agriculture, yet such jobs
are commonly created in urban centres and so are often distant from the
site of plantation establishment (Fairweather et al., 2000).
Our sample also shows that plantation jobs are often temporary,
part-time, or both. For instance, the one case from the southern United
States documents the employment of migrants from Central American
countries on guest visas, who do not enjoy the security of permanent
contracts (Sarathy and Casanova, 2008). Another case from pine
plantations in south-central Chile states that less than 5% of contracts
are permanent (Unda and Stuardo, 1996). Similarly, the outsourcing of
basic plantation jobs to contractors is said to have worsened conditions
for sub-contracted workers in Laos (Barney, 2007). Another case from
corporate-owned eucalypt plantations in Uruguay shares the main
features of other cases and leads to a mixed characterisation
(Carámbula and Piñeiro, 2006): these plantations generate precarious
employment, one of the reasons lying with the responsibilities of con-
tractors, not having standards for wages and contracts in place; how-
ever, with more people coming into the area, the tertiary sector pro-
vides more jobs compared to areas that see only grazing or small-scale
Group B largely backs the ﬁndings of Group A. One frequent ﬁnding
is that plantations do not oﬀer stable employment, but instead bring
mostly temporary jobs without beneﬁts associated with permanent
contracts, as reported in cases from Brazil, Indonesia and Mozambique
(Almeida et al., 2008;German et al., 2016;Tyynelä et al., 2002). Pirard
and Mayer (2009), however, note that village-based male workers
travelling distances up to 50 km from their homes for particular plan-
tation-related tasks, the total labour needs for these workers by the
public-private acacia plantation in South Sumatra is quite evenly spread
or staggered through the year, and from year to year through the seven-
year rotation. Liberian corporate-owned rubber plantations serve as
counterexamples, where signiﬁcant employment opportunities with
substantial beneﬁts are reported to have been created, albeit alongside
a lack of transparency in formation and distribution of salaries among
workers (Verité, 2012).
A few cases in Group B report on the exclusion of women from
plantation-related work for various reasons, such as their traditional
family roles (Bleisch et al., 2006;Negede et al., 2015;Ramos and
Bonilla, 2008). An older case from Malaysian rubber plantations argues
that women’s lower cost of labour makes them attractive to employers
(Heyzer, 1981), possibly induced by wage discrimination. However, a
high rate of women’s employment is found in plantation nurseries in
Uruguay, with women receiving wages higher than the regional
average (Cárcamo, 2007).
Thirty-one cases fall in this category, 10 in Group A and 21 in Group
B. Here, prior land use, the associated trade-oﬀs following conversion to
tree crops, and time since plantation establishment play key roles in
determining the nature of impacts.
In Group A, two impacts are characterised as positive due to the
small-scale tree planting opportunities that emerged after the establish-
ment of corporate-managed tree plantations in China and Uganda
(Ainembabazi and Angelsen, 2014;D’Amato et al., 2017b). Two other
positive characterisations from Indonesia are linked to the perceived
beneﬁts of complementary livelihood opportunities such as resin tap-
ping, fuelwood collection and intercropping on the long-standing
A. Malkamäki et al. Global Environmental Change 53 (2018) 90–103
government-managed teak and pine plantations (Pirard et al., 2017). In
South Africa, a government-managed plantation operator granted access
to plantations and thereby supported other livelihoods based on the free
collection and sale of timber and fuelwood; however, the range of
available non-timber forest products (NTFPs) was found to be greater in
other ecosystems, leading to a mixed characterisation (Mensah et al.,
2017). In Pelluhue, Chile, a quarter of participants, perceived an increase
in opportunities for small-scale enterprises following establishment of
corporate-owned pine plantations; however, a quarter of participants
also perceived a reduction in the range of possible uses of the plantation
compared to the natural forests they replaced (Alfonso et al., 2016).
Negative impacts were mostly related to the loss of, or restrictions to
previous livelihood activities. For example, a case concerning
Cambodian villagers reports that livestock grazing came to an end once
customary access was suppressed, and access to ﬁshing and hunting
areas were reduced following the establishment of rubber concessions
(Gironde and Peeters, 2015). In Chile, eutrophication of coastal waters
was linked to the increased run-oﬀ of nutrients from pine and eucalypt
plantations on steep slopes, pushing ﬁshermen further out to sea in
search of target species and reducing the overall productivity of ﬁsh-
eries (Van Holt et al., 2017).
As in Group A, one of the main negative impacts reported in Group
B was the reduced access to and availability of NTFPs after plantation
establishment. Where plantations replaced or reduced the extent of
natural forests, the resulting reduction in NTFPs had negative impacts
on livelihoods across a range of countries, including Cambodia, Chile
and South Africa (Daranth et al., 2015;Karumbidza, 2005;Navarro
et al., 2005). Negative changes to livelihood activities due to rubber
concessions displacing customary shifting cultivation systems were also
reported in Cambodia (Prachvuthy, 2011). Instead, in Niassa, Mo-
zambique, the seasonal jobs that emerged were viewed more positively
as being complementary to traditional agriculture (Nube et al., 2016).
Environmental issues caused by plantations were also reported to in-
directly aﬀect other livelihood activities, thus demonstrating a clear
interaction between “livelihoods” and “regulating ecosystem services.”
In Ecuador, for example, the reduction in ﬁsh populations in rivers was
perceived to be the result of plantation-induced changes to soil and
water (Ramos and Bonilla, 2008).
Positive impacts in Group B were related to changes in livelihood
activities made possible by plantation establishment such as partly
enhanced conditions for beekeeping in Uruguayan eucalypt plantations
(Malkamäki et al., 2016), and improved agricultural production in Laos
following the introduction of intercropping between rows of planted
trees (Levall and Prejer, 2013). An enabling factor in both cases was the
permissive attitude of the corporate owner of the plantation, although
the risk of communities losing their self-determination is noted. In
Argentina, the free collection and sale of a valued mushroom (Suillus
luteus) abundant in pine plantations of private landowners provided a
complementary source of income for the poorest households and
women in particular, although the contribution of this new income to
overall livelihood conditions remains unclear (Fernández et al., 2012).
Ofoegbu (2014) reports on similar impacts from South African corpo-
rate-managed plantations. Acciaresi et al. (2015) found changes in
perceptions in a long-term study from central Argentina, where only
18% of informants representing diverse local stakeholder groups saw
the introduction of government-owned pine plantations as positive in
the 1980s due to its displacement of sheep herding, while 30 years later
89% thought plantations were positive. This change was driven by the
perception of sheep herding itself becoming ecologically unsustainable
during the period; moreover, residents, including most herders, wit-
nessed a recovery of the soil following plantation establishment. Si-
multaneously, local eco-tourism was stimulated, oﬀering alternative
livelihood opportunities. While most herders had changed from no-
madic to localised herding practices, those who did not change their
practices remained in opposition.
3.2.4. Cash income
In this category, there is one case in Group A and six in Group B
dealing with actual monetary earnings of residents. The only case in
Group A ﬁnds that income-based poverty has not decreased in areas
near Chilean privately-held pine plantations, in contrast to expectations
(Unda and Stuardo, 1996). Areas with more than 20% aﬀorestation rate
are also reported to have a higher incidence of poverty than areas with
less than 5%. The most aﬀorested areas also see the highest proportion
of indigenous people relying on subsistence agriculture and the highest
incidence of poverty in Chile, although this seems to have been the
baseline status preceding the arrival of plantations.
Within the six Group B cases, four cases come from Indonesia and
three of them show positive impacts. Although Tyynelä et al. (2002)
note an increased average household income at the community level in
West Kalimantan, these beneﬁts are not evenly spread among house-
holds due to disparities in accessing jobs on acacia plantations, of which
ownership has been contested. In a similar context in South Sumatra,
residents view the work on plantations as providing minor, but com-
plementary ﬂows of additional cash income during the months when
village-based agricultural work is not available (Pirard and Mayer,
2009). Firdaysy (1999) notes that contrary to expectations, the in-
cidence of income-based poverty did not change after the establishment
of a rubber plantation in Lampung. However, one case from West Ka-
limantan reports signiﬁcant contributions to household income and
well-being at both the individual and community levels due to liveli-
hood interventions undertaken by the corporate investor, including
intercropping of subsistence crops and engagement of locals in small-
scale tree planting (Greenhill et al., 2017). Here, the direct involvement
of residents in tree production through the large-scale plantation
(combined with intercropping) also helped to meet seasonal income
The other two cases in Group B report impacts on cash income that
did not directly result from employment opportunities. Andersson et al.
(2015) found a correlation between an increased area of tree planta-
tions and increased income-based poverty among communities in
south-central Chile. However, tree plantations are reported to account
for only 2.1% of the total area of the municipalities in the sample, and
the inﬂuence of the confounding factor related to possible changes in
land use in the remaining areas remains unclear. Finally, negative
changes to pre-existing income sources were reported in Laos by Baird
and Fox (2015), where only a fraction of residents earned income from
working on the rubber concessions and their wages were adjusted ac-
cording to ﬂuctuations in commodity prices.
There are four cases reporting on infrastructural impacts in Group A
and 14 cases in Group B. Within Group A, three negative infrastructural
impacts are reported, although both Manzanal et al. (2011) and Peeters
(2015) report on perceptions of neglected infrastructural development
in Argentinian pine plantations and Cambodian rubber concessions,
respectively, rather than the eﬀects of infrastructure creation per se. In
Tanzania, a government-managed teak plantation is reported to have
cut access to existing roads and paths that villagers were no longer
allowed to use (Johansson and Isgren, 2017). In Indonesia, acacia
plantations were perceived as opening up inaccessible areas with road
infrastructure development, although corporations managing the
plantations did not intentionally carry out infrastructural improve-
ments, leading to a mixed characterisation (Pirard et al., 2017).
Of the 14 cases reporting on infrastructural impacts in Group B,
most reported impacts are characterised as positive, whereas cases re-
porting positive and mixed impacts alike found that investments by
corporations have improved infrastructure through the construction
and provision of roads, housing, electricity, water, and other social
services, including schools and medical clinics (e.g. Bleyer et al., 2016;
Ofoegbu, 2014;Palma, 2008;Potter and Lee, 1998;Westoby and Lyons,
2016a). Nevertheless, the issue of who really wanted and could access
A. Malkamäki et al. Global Environmental Change 53 (2018) 90–103
the beneﬁts remains largely unclear, and where land and livelihoods
were reportedly displaced, e.g. in Uganda, infrastructural improve-
ments were seen as secondary priorities (Westoby and Lyons, 2016a).
Similar to Group A, cases reporting negative and mixed impacts cite
insuﬃcient or absence of infrastructural development, or else unequal
access to the infrastructure that was created. For example, Leys and
Vanclay (2010) ﬁnd that the lack of infrastructural investment for wood
processing in New South Wales, Australia, hampered local socio-eco-
nomic development; on the other hand, Bues (2011) ﬁnds that a cor-
porate that was granted a concession by the Cambodian government
had blocked villager access to existing roads in Ratanakiri.
The evidence base for health impacts is very limited, with only two
Group B cases. Both report negative impacts, which are related to the
working conditions on Chilean pine plantations and at a Uruguayan
eucalypt nursery (Cárcamo, 2007;Navarro et al., 2005). Both cases cite
the use of pesticides as causing deterioration in worker health.
3.2.7. Cultural ecosystem services
Within this category, no cases qualiﬁed into Group A. Nine cases
under Group B are found, of which only one includes a comparator.
Seven report negative impacts such as disruption of traditional land-
scapes and related feelings of belonging and identity in Ireland and
Australia (Fléchard et al., 2007;Williams et al., 2003). A case from
Chile cites the diﬃculty of passing on traditional knowledge about
natural environments and livelihoods after plantations replaced natural
forests and disturbed sites of cultural value (Barreau et al., 2016;
Ehrnström-Fuentes and Kröger, 2017). A Brazilian case by Azevedo and
Fialho (2015) speciﬁcally report on negative impacts on the local
gaucho culture, caused by the increasing number of wild boars near
plantations after their establishment that damaged livestock central to
the culture. Tomlinson et al. (2000) state that government-managed
pine plantations reduced opportunities for tourism in New Zealand,
although Palma (2008) ﬁnds, a few years later, that corporate-managed
pine plantations oﬀered a new venue for various recreational activities
elsewhere in New Zealand. Acciaresi et al. (2015) also report on the
contribution of plantations to local eco-tourism in Argentina after en-
vironmental management attitudes and standards were improved in the
3.2.8. Regulating ecosystem services
As with cultural ecosystem services, impacts on regulating eco-
system services were often linked to changes in livelihood activities.
Eight Group A cases and 16 Group B cases were identiﬁed. Six Group A
studies dealing with acacia, eucalypt, pine and teak plantations in
Australia, Chile, China, Indonesia and Tanzania ﬁnd negative impacts
on water quantity or quality, and associated soil and nutrient cycles
that aﬀect agricultural productivity (Alfonso et al., 2016;D’Amato
et al., 2017b;Gordon et al., 2012;Johansson and Isgren, 2017;Pirard
et al., 2017), although the Indonesian teak and pine plantations with
longer rotations are reportedly perceived to have improved water ﬂows
and controlled for erosion (Pirard et al., 2017).
Of the 16 Group B cases, 13 cases report negative impacts mainly
concerning water quantity or quality, but also address impacts on soil
erosion and wild fauna (e.g. Ehrnström-Fuentes and Kröger, 2017;
Oliveira, 2011;Olwig et al., 2015). Vihervaara et al. (2012) report di-
verging opinions on the impact of eucalypt plantations on water
availability for other uses in Durazno, Uruguay, with half of re-
spondents being very worried and the other half being slightly or not at
all worried. Positive characterisations include enhanced control of ﬁre
outbreaks with help from established ﬁre brigades, and increased fer-
tility of soils previously considered unsuitable for agriculture (species is
left unreported) (Myllylä and Takala, 2011;Wall and Cocklin, 1996).
The linkage to human well-being in this category is primarily drawn
from perceptions of impacts rather than measured ecological changes in
the delivery of regulating ecosystem services after plantation estab-
lishment. The impacts seem to be similar regardless of the tree species,
although eucalypt plantations represent 46% of the cases in this cate-
Under social impacts, 15 Group A cases and 36 Group B cases were
identiﬁed. In Group A, most cases report on negative changes to social
fabrics after plantation establishment. Plantations are expectedly re-
ported to have increased tensions between residents and other groups
or actors, rooted in conﬂicts over land acquisition, competition over
jobs, and the exclusion of residents from decision-making.
In cases from Ireland and Australia, small-scale aﬀorestation by
residents is perceived to be less conﬂictual than that done by large-scale
corporations (Schirmer, 2007). In the southern United States, the ar-
rival and constant relocation of sub-contracted migrant workers has
kept them from integrating into communities and also restricted their
access to help in the event of injury (Sarathy and Casanova, 2008). A
Cambodian case highlights the absence of credible grievance mechan-
isms, hampering the possibility of re-establishing trust following vio-
lations and disputes between residents and investors (Peeters, 2015). In
Laos, the oﬃcials are reported to have violated the previously re-
cognised right to access land (Barney, 2007), while in Argentina, people
were forced to illegally clear new land after losing their customary
access to land and consequently had criminal charges pressed against
them (Manzanal et al., 2011).
There is some evidence that plantations have also increased intra-
community conﬂicts. An example of residents losing their trust to for-
estry comes from Australia, wherein plantation development had relied
on government subsidies in the early 2000s that crashed after the ﬁ-
nancial crisis of 2008, leaving behind perceptions of mismanagement
among the aﬀected communities. Those working in forestry felt frustra-
tion that their work was undermined by past wrongdoings by other re-
sidents. Community structure is also reported to have changed in
Southeast Asia, as those who lost their customary access to land after
plantation establishment in Cambodia left to ﬁnd low-skilled jobs in
Vietnam (Gironde and Peeters, 2015). In Laos, the same phenomenon
was attributed to a complex set of linkages between ecological de-
gradation and village socio-economics, while remittances sent back home
reportedly helped the families to make new investments in their land
(Barney, 2007). Unda and Stuardo (1996) also report on how the dis-
placed livelihoods in Chile led to out-migration following land acquisi-
tion and conversion, leaving residents, many of which were indigenous,
with fewer children and forcing schools and other services to close. Po-
sitive cases in Group A ﬁnd increases in populations in other areas; for
example, declining populations in rural Uruguay increased after timber
harvests, rejuvenating the countryside (Carámbula and Piñeiro, 2006).
Cases in Group B reported mostly negative impacts on social ties.
Changes in neighbourliness and moral standards are reported across
geographical contexts (e.g. González-Hidalgo and Zografos, 2017;
Myllylä and Takala, 2011;Tropp, 2003), and three cases report on in-
creased crime, the fear of increased crime following the arrival of
outsiders, and dense tree stands providing cover for criminals (Bues,
2011;Heyzer, 1981;Ramos and Bonilla, 2008). Residents themselves
have also been charged as criminals for organising resistance to tree
plantations (e.g. Baird and Fox, 2015;Navarro et al., 2005), although
extensive resistance in Sarawak, Malaysia, is reported to have led to
previously non-existent legal protections on land access rights of in-
digenous groups (Barney, 2004). In Australia, in both Tasmania and the
South West, the certiﬁcation of eucalypt plantations and active stake-
holder dialogue is reported to have brought the residents and private
investors closer together (Dare et al., 2010). Kenney-Lazar (2012) and
Machoco et al. (2016) - in Attapeu, Laos, and Zambezia, Mozambique,
respectively - also cite the many broken promises of corporate investors
and the government to have cemented distrust between them and the
A. Malkamäki et al. Global Environmental Change 53 (2018) 90–103
In Group B, the skewed distribution of beneﬁts from plantation
projects is frequently reported to have led to increased inequality
among residents (e.g. Ehrnström-Fuentes and Kröger, 2017;Tomlinson
et al., 2000;Tyynelä et al., 2002). Corporate responsibility programmes
in African countries were also criticised either for favouring elites in
charge of distribution or being conditional on the generosity of in-
dividual corporations (Bishop, 2006;German et al., 2016;Westoby and
The study of the local socio-economic impacts of large-scale tree
plantations has focused on impacts related to land acquisition, creation
and conditions of wage employment, and changes to conditions of
various livelihood activities. Frequently, such impacts are also inter-
twined with changes in local social relations. Our ﬁndings largely
corroborate the dynamics observed in other large-scale land-based in-
We found that residents holding formal titles to land seem to have
more positive attitudes towards plantation establishment, although
such cases are few and do not exclude the co-existence of negative
impacts elsewhere. In our sample, issues with land acquisition are more
prominent in regions with weak recognition of access to land at an
individual level, predominantly in Cambodia and Laos (Dwyer, 2015;
Inguanzo, 2014). Residents with secure land titles, found in Australia
and Uruguay with well-functioning land markets, seem to have bene-
ﬁtted from increasing value of their land owing to intensiﬁed compe-
tition. However, prices or compensations throughout our sample have
rarely been perceived to be fair. There could be many reasons for this,
one of them possibly deriving from the information asymmetries be-
tween residents and investors (or elites) (Asiama et al., 2017).
Negative impacts accrued due to land acquisition are accentuated
when plantations do not bring suﬃcient employment opportunities to
compensate for livelihoods that were frequently based on customary
access to land. Jobs on large-scale tree plantations are often seasonal
and precarious, and tend to become available only during land clearing
or tree planting (although these tasks could also be phased by com-
partments on very large plantations). Labour per unit area on tree
plantations is unlikely to match that of agriculture or biofuels
(Deininger et al., 2011b;Hunsberger et al., 2017;Pirard and Mayer,
2009), although the picture could change if the additional value-adding
steps - from seedling production through wood processing – are ac-
counted for (Hassan, 2003). However, such steps may not occur locally,
nor treat women and men equally, and have tended to be more pro-
minent in higher-income countries.
Sub-contracting in forestry is a common practice (Garforth et al.,
2005); based on our sample, this tends to be as commonly associated
with inferior working conditions as in most other sectors (ILO, 2016).
One explanation could be that tree plantations rarely occupy the most
fertile soils suitable for agriculture and instead tend to expand in re-
mote areas, wherein labour regulations are diﬃcult to enforce
(Deininger et al., 2011a). The use of migrant labourers is also common
in forestry, arguably due to their greater acceptance of physically de-
manding forestry work and temporary contracts (Lenard and Straehle,
2010). Possibly this could be also due to their possession of more re-
levant skills, which could become necessary for the few permanent jobs
available. Increased competition over jobs and land, and new or re-
inforced ethnic divisions, were also seen as a source of social tensions
locally (Norton and de Haan, 2012), although such cases in our sample
took place mainly in the populous nations of Southeast Asia. Impacts
are likely to have gendered dimensions as well (White and White,
2012), although very few cases in our sample considered these.
Whether overall impacts are positive or negative depend on what
the prior land uses were (and therefore what was lost and whether the
opportunity cost is adequately compensated for), how long plantations
have been part of the landscape, and who wanted and could access the
compensatory opportunities. With more recently established planta-
tions, perceptions focus on what has been lost; longer-established
plantations see residents enjoying more of the opportunities arising
from plantations. This indicates that costs tend to be front-loaded and
the beneﬁts accruing over time, although such beneﬁts may not be
comparable to those that existed from previous or alternative land uses.
For younger generations there may also be few alternative options in
remote areas in the ﬁrst place (Chinsinga and Chasukwa, 2012;
It appears that forestry has favoured a highly centralised business
model, although complementary livelihoods on plantations (e.g. inter-
cropping, beekeeping) seem to have become more common recently.
Combined wage employment and on-plantation intercropping could
enhance the complementarity function of plantations in helping re-
sidents to overcome seasonal income gaps. The beneﬁts provided by
more inclusive models and corporate responsibility programmes may
also be precarious in nature. For example, access to plantation sites has
tended to be contractual to control risks associated with open access
(e.g. ﬁre) and the beneﬁt-sharing arrangements have tended to favour
local elites due to inadequate accountability mechanisms (cf. Cotula
et al., 2014). Finally, the often limited (economic and political) agency
of those aﬀected by plantation establishment over decisions and pro-
cesses that can profoundly change their lives is an important concern
regardless of the impacts being positive or negative (Vermeulen and
Cotula, 2010b). We corroborate the need to consider distributional is-
sues upfront and reinforce mechanisms for governing risks and ac-
countability also in the context of large-scale tree plantations (Goetz
et al., 2017;Moog et al., 2015;USAID, 2018).
The studies reviewed here show that the socio-economic impacts of
large-scale tree plantations have been mostly negative for those residing
inside or near to them. The degree of agreement between studies,
within the same geographical and institutional contexts as well as be-
tween groups A and B, is high for most categories (Table 4). With only
22 studies using a comparator and considering confounding factors,
geographical gaps, topical and temporal research emphases, and
methodological inconsistencies identiﬁed, strong global evidence on
the longer-term socio-economic impacts remains limited. For categories
with a high degree of agreement, conﬁdence in results can still be
considered relatively high despite limitations in evidence (IPCC, 2010).
The majority of the 251 impacts are situated under categories with
high degree of agreement between groups A and B, suggesting that
ﬁndings in Group B, in those categories, are generally valid despite
Qualitative indication of uncertainties in the evidence base.
Land Employment Livelihoods Cash income Infrastructures Health Cultural ES Regulating ES Social
7/46 12/44 10/21 1/6 4/14 0/2 0/9 8/16 15/36
High Medium High Medium High – Medium Medium High
Medium Medium Medium Limited Limited Limited Limited Limited Medium
Group A/Group B.
Within similar context, between groups A and B.
Type, amount, quality, consistency.
A. Malkamäki et al. Global Environmental Change 53 (2018) 90–103
limitations in scientiﬁc rigor. The measures of scientiﬁc validity that
were chosen to appraise the quality of the studies can also favour quasi-
experimental designs over more critical, ethnographic designs. The
diﬀerent designs and ontologies can also sometimes be disconnected or
even irreconcilable (Klenk and Meehan, 2015;Miller et al., 2017). The
discourse of evidence-based policy as a global response to global sus-
tainability challenges has also tended to overlook issues of power and
politics (e.g. who controls resources, whose voice is being heard, what
knowledge is relevant to policy), calling for self-reﬂexive and delib-
erative governance to complement evidence-based policy in sustain-
ability-related decision-making (Elgert, 2010;Emmenegger et al.,
2017). Hence, validity can be determined from multiple sources, not
merely from systematisation with confounders and counterfactuals that
can even be diﬃcult to establish in some situations.
The evidence base is largely characterised by local perceptions of
impacts, which are powerful in shaping current and future behaviour
(Sultana, 2011). Perceptions must also be understood in relation to
local expectations, preferences and aspirations, which can be complex,
multivalent and historically determined (Emirbayer and Goodwin,
1994). For the purposes of this review, however, it should be recognised
that studies may only represent a snapshot in time in an ever-changing
context. People that can hold rather divergent perceptions on tree
plantations in the ﬁrst place may feel diﬀerently, for example, once the
initial beneﬁts available during the labour-intensive planting phase
cease, and women may perceive impacts diﬀerently from men due to
their varying roles and tasks in the community (Anderson et al., 2013;
Ingram et al., 2014;Pirard et al., 2016b).
Dealing with studies drawn from diﬀerent disciplines and methods,
as well as with a wide range of often intertwined socio-economic im-
pacts, proved to be challenging. As most studies on the topic rely on
non-experimental designs, it is challenging to interpret these as either
positive or negative characterisations, or to estimate the respective
magnitudes of impacts, especially with changes over time. The lack of
clear and common indicators and coherent terminology across studies
further complicate interpretation and comparisons. Systematic reviews
also tend to fall short in capturing the explanatory nuances of quali-
tative studies (Bondas and Hall, 2007).
Studying the impacts of large-scale tree plantations using diﬀerent
methods (possibly through interdisciplinary approaches) continues to
be necessary to better understand the extent, patterns and dynamics of
speciﬁc impacts, preferably paying attention on impacts with longer
incubation periods (of which there was a relative lack of) and using
clear indicators (Adams et al., 2016;Miller et al., 2017). For example,
using a quasi-experimental before-after-control-intervention (BACI)
design could help to establish causal linkages between impact cate-
gories that were not well-represented in the sample, including cash
income, health and ecosystem services (Sills et al., 2017). The inﬂuence
of contextual factors related to plantation management and governance
(e.g. certiﬁcation) need to be also studied more carefully.
With our review identifying only 92 relevant studies out of an initial
total of 20,450 search results, of which only 22 presented a comparator
and accounted for confounding factors, strong evidence on the socio-
economic impacts of large-scale tree plantations remains limited. Most
studies on the topic have also emphasised the impacts occurring soon
after plantation establishment: changes in access to land and liveli-
hoods (negative), wage employment (mixed) and the often intertwined
social impacts (negative).
Most impacts across the nine categories can be characterised as
negative, especially when considering changes in customary access to
land and livelihoods. We also found an uneven distribution of research
among regions; it is thus probable that reports on respectively negative
and positive impacts are to a great extent determined by geographical
(and potentially topical) distribution in the sample. Positive impacts,
which are relatively few and do not necessarily come without problems,
coincide with secure individual land titles and the ability to negotiate
land transfers, complementary roles between plantations and other land
uses, and the generation of stable employment, in particular through
wood processing. Beneﬁts also tend to accrue over time, although they
may not be fully comparable to those that existed from previous land
uses. Keeping in mind that trade-oﬀs are certainly ubiquitous and take
various forms across regions, the argument that large-scale tree plan-
tations are more beneﬁcial than costly to local communities is poorly
supported by our systematic review on an aggregate basis.
Evidently, there is a need for more research that uses a clear com-
parator in the study design and accounts for confounding factors.
Further research is needed in certain regions where there is a lack of
research, for instance the Iberian Peninsula and the southern United
States. The use of other potentially relevant languages, including
Chinese, Indian and Indonesian, which were not considered here, would
certainly extend the evidence base by providing access to a larger
sample. More research is also needed on impact categories that were
under-represented in our sample, such as changes in cash income,
health, and ecosystem services. Besides, having longitudinal data that
monitors changes in perceptions and impacts over time would be ex-
tremely useful. Studies should also go beyond impact assessments and
take a closer look at the drivers of plantation-related policies that are
likely to aﬀect human well-being.
Conﬂicts of interest
This systematic review was funded through a grant from the Center
for International Forestry Research’s (CIFOR) Evidence-Based Forestry
(EBF) initiative, which is supported through the United Kingdom’s
Department for International Development (DFID) under the
International Forestry Knowledge Program (KNOW-FOR). Additional
funding that enabled the completion of this manuscript was received
from the Doctoral Programme in Sustainable Use of Renewable Natural
Resources (AGFOREE) of the University of Helsinki, Finland, and Jenny
and Antti Wihuri Foundation, Finland.
We are grateful for the three anonymous reviewers for their apt
remarks and constructive feedback. Furthermore, we thank the ad-
visory group for sharing their insights and the group of subject experts
and stakeholders who attended the ﬁrst review workshop in Helsinki in
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