Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page

3. Knowledge gap analysis

3.1 What do we know of political-institutional issues around secondary forests?

1. Geographically-localised common property resources such as woodlands, local forests grazing fields and swidden fallows are, strictly speaking, not open for use to all. They are not `open access' resources, and in most cases they are open only to those having customary rights, through kinship ties, community membership, etc. (Dasgupta, 1997). Where there is cohesion among the local communities, the local commons can be managed efficiently by the users themselves, without there being an obvious need for some external agent such as the State, for example, to assume a regulatory role, nor is there an obvious need to privatise the assets.

2. Taking the argument from (1) above, it means that there is a place for community-based forest management in most of the commons that constitute secondary forests today. In the broadest sense, we know that community-based forest management is nothing but a series of policy changes aiming to increase the efficiency and equity of forest management, through various legislative and managerial measures (Brown, 1999). These are likely to involve the decentralisation of forest management, the promotion of appropriate institutional reforms, increase in resource flows to forest-dependent populations, and the creation of new partnerships based on changes in ownership and access.

3. In fact, the core innovation in successful community-based resource management is the transfer of power from the State to the local community, from centre to periphery, not just the right to use certain products of the forest, or invitation to participate in forest management (Wily, 1998). It is this basis of empowerment that renders implementation a continuing rotation of decision-making and acting upon decisions, a process that is far removed from the linear participatory appraisal, planning and (externally-driven) implementation of much development (Wily, 1998). Above all, we have to emphasise partnership because in all cases where power and authority are being redistributed, like in community involvement in natural forest management, there is need to lodge the rights and obligations of both State and community in workable and legally binding institutional frameworks. At the same time, we have to realise that the introduction, application or formalisation of community forestry is a process of confidence building and it should be demand-driven. The local communities may not be able to achieve sustainable development on their own, but equally the State cannot achieve the same to the exclusion of the local communities, the rightful beneficiaries of that development.

4. Natural resources can be managed by local communities if, and only if their ownership status is clearly established and understood, hence the need to avoid monetary compensation, which may easily be mistaken as a salary. A suitable institutional environment facilitates this understanding and will initiate self-development by the community members themselves. This is not surprising because democratisation and associated initiatives seem to interact in important ways with tenure policies. Conditional tenure can create vulnerability, which discourages free expression of political preferences (Bruce et al., 1996). On the other hand, conferring control of land and other resources on local communities can stimulate popular participation and create new commitments to democratic processes.

5. As surprising as it may seem, we know that it takes a long time to create the sense of ownership among the local communities. This is the result of profound mistrust about government actions and policies (Bojang and Reeb, 1998). Yet it remains a fact that many government and project players remain reluctant to `let go' the extent of authority required to transmit community-based management into responsibility-driven and self-sustaining mode (Wily, 1998).

3.2 Two missing links in political-institutional arrangements for management of secondary forests

1. Every time policy makers formulate a policy, under the orthodox arrangements, it is never clear whether the policy is being formulated just as part of routine obligation or how genuinely committed the state will be to see the policy work. In other words, the level of political will and institutional commitment is very low and the residual political will or institutional commitment thrives on poorly streamlined development goals. In fact politics is what normally takes over where policy was supposed to reign supreme. This normally ends up in `panic', `emergency' or `crisis' policy formulation completely dissociating issues that should never be separated. For example, in a country that is implementing extensive land reform in an attempt to correct inequities among different strata of the society, does it make sense to implement the policy as "a matter of urgency" even without putting in place the minimum safety valves already enshrined in the environmental resources management policy (if one indeed exists)?

2. Linked to the lack of political will is the issue of values. The decision to differentiate high value forests in good condition from `wastelands' and `degraded forests', and to apply different concepts of participation in each case tends to raise doubts about the viability of community forest management since the tendency is to give custodianship of only degraded and marginal forests to the communities. The communities will therefore suspect foul play and equally go into the deal half-heartedly. Yet all this is the result of ignorance as to the real values of the different forest formations to the different stakeholders: that is something we do not confidently know about secondary forests in their diverse formats.

Previous PageTop Of PageNext Page