11. Recent changes affecting collective action at village level

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11.1 State regulations of resource use: their nature and drawbacks
11.2 Other recent changes on the rural scene
11.3 Conclusion: A tentative appraisal of on-going processes

In the previous chapter, we have attempted to characterize traditional rural societies in terms of their relations with the surrounding environment. By traditional societies we mean societies that are relatively closed to external influences, in particular to those forces which bring in their wake the market mechanism, significant and more or less continuous technological change, new sets of values and aspirations centred on consumption and individual development, as well as a centralized state system bent on organizing and regulating economic and social life over an unified national space, in a formal legalistic way, and on the basis of rational principles. Since the colonial period in most Third World rural societies and even before in some of them, the above forces have affected village life in such a marked way that it is no more possible to consider these societies as traditional. In this chapter, it is therefore important to assess the nature of the changes involved and the extent of vulnerability to such changes of village-level arrangements with respect to CPR use. Only then will we be able to gauge the ability of village communities to manage natural resources in present circumstances and to identify the conditions under which their resource management initiatives are more or less likely to be successful, a task which will be accomplished in Chapter 12.

This chapter is divided into two sections. In the first section, we essentially draw the lessons from the centralized approach to environmental management that has been followed by many governments in the Third World. In the second section, it is argued that village arrangements for solving problems of access to, and/or conservation of, local-level CPRs have evolved under the joint impact of several aforementioned factors.

11.1 State regulations of resource use: their nature and drawbacks

A centralized approach to resource management: a review of some experiences

In most developing countries, governments have chosen to centralize management of local-level natural resources, vesting it in administrative bodies and possibly granting medium- or long-term leases to private agents or companies. State assumption of resource ownership has usually been predicated upon the preconceived idea that private and communal tenure pose a serious threat to resource conservation and sound exploitation, or that an equally serious threat arises from the simple absence of any local control over the resources (that is, from an open-access situation). Or again, as pointed out by Lawry, the State's principal objective in centralizing control could be 'to assert its political authority over local interests, not to impose a new resource-management regime' (Lawry, 1989a: 5). The latter possibility probably applies with special force to Sub-Saharan Africa. In this region, indeed, national States are young and fragile structures which have been established in a fluid political set-up where it was deemed important by the new rulers to weaken local organizations and to break the independent power of local customary chieftains (see, e.g., Coquery-Vidrovitch, 1985; Young, 1986; Bayart, 1989). In any event, by assuming ownership of village-level, natural resources, governments have dismantled rights of local customary authorities over village commons, thereby sometimes perpetuating the colonial policy legacy.

Thus, for example, the State of Mali took over control of all resources at independence in 1960 and 'in the process supplanted the authority of local groups to regulate access to and use of local resources' (Lawry, 1989a: 4). In the Niger River delta, this has actually meant that the traditional grazing-control system known as the dina (see above Chapter 10)—whose political basis had already been eroded under French colonial rule came to an end and, together with it, Fulani hegemony in the area on which it was based (ibid.). A similar shift in the locus of resource control took place in the fishing sector since fishing groups were divested of their traditional rights over local fisheries. All waters entered the national domain of state property and customary dues received by local water masters were replaced by state taxes imposed on all operating fishermen irrespective of their ethnic origin and place of residence. Outsiders thus obtained legal free access to the waters of the Niger River delta provided that they met their fiscal duties vis-à-vis the new independent State (Jeay, 1984b; Kone, 1985). It may be noted that, in this case, the Malian State has gone farther in the way towards centralization than French colonial rulers since the latter recognized customary rights of local communities and tribes over well-delimited, small water bodies. What they ignored, and sometimes actively opposed, by contrast, were rights over large and more or less open water spaces. They indeed adhered to the so-called Grotius doctrine according to which the sea may not be the object of any appropriation because it is inalienable by nature and because the abundance of fish resources actually deprives exclusive access rights of any positive value (see, e.g., Christy, 1983).

In the Sahelian countries, in general, forestry management under independent governments has been more in line with colonial policy than inland water management. The French West Africa forest service was established in 1935 and charged with overall responsibility for managing the woodstock. Following metropolitan French forestry tradition, the forestry department in West Africa was granted relatively extensive controls over the exploitation of the woodstock not only inside but also outside national domain lands. Accordingly, 'small forestry agencies were set up by French administrators in each colony to implement central policies elaborated through a bureaucratic process and imposed through the colonial administrative hierarchy' (Thomson et al., 1986: 399). The new legislation introduced far-reaching changes in the regulation of woodstock use. First, state forests were created which were subject to exclusive forest service control concerning woodstock and land use. Second, and much more importantly, 'this legislation centralised the forestry service's authority to regulate the exploitation of the 15 most valuable species of trees outside, as well as inside, the state forests'. For example, cutting live specimens, or lopping off branches above the height of 10 ft. was prohibited without prior authorization (which could however be obtained free from the forestry service if trees were destined for personal use) or without a cutting permit (which was sold to holders if the wood was to be harvested for sale).

Essentially, independent governments of West Africa inherited the centralized approach of their colonial predecessor by maintaining the institutional framework contained in the French forestry code (Thomson et al., 1986: 399-400). As pointed out by Toulmin, current forestry legislation in the Sahel relies heavily on direct state regulation of how trees and their products can be used by local people and forest codes 'consist largely of lists of restrictions or prohibitions on forest use, with permits issued by the forest service for certain allowable activities' (Toulmin, 1991: 27). Moreover, 'Even trees on farms are subject to such restrictions and farmers must pay for a permit before cutting or using a tree that they themselves have planted. Community-based management of forest resources is also not allowed for within these codes, or is permitted only in terms of increased restrictions on use' (ibid.).

Just consider the case of Mali whose Forest Code is typical of forestry legislation in the Sahel and is not markedly different from the first code promulgated by the French in 1935. The area of general jurisdiction of the Forest Code is the 'forest domain' which actually comprises as much as 90 per cent of the total land area of Mali. (Cultivated land which has been left fallow for more than five years is considered part of the forest domain.) Moreover, all protected species listed in the code (including Acacia albida, nere, and karite, three of the most common and economically important tree species in Mali) are protected wherever they occur in the country, even within cultivated fields (Lawry, 1989a: 13-14). In the Sahelian zone, uprooting or cutting of trees or bushes in order to provide animal feed is forbidden while cutting of branches less than 1.5 m. from the ground is prohibited. 'These restrictions apply to all species of tree, native and exotic, and all trees occurring on individual holdings' (ibid. 13).

Subsistence cultivation and grazing are permitted within the so-called 'protected forests' (a territorial unit defined within the forest domain) while they are strictly forbidden in the 'périmètres de restauration' (another territorial unit corresponding to areas undergoing planned reforestation or considered in need of special protection) and forbidden except in special circumstances and under controlled conditions in 'forest reserves' (e third territorial unit in the forest domain classification). Individuals collecting wood, including fuel wood, from the forest domain for commercial purposes must secure a permit from the forest service. On individual holdings, listed species may not be harvested unless the farmer has obtained a permit which is however free. By contrast, collecting deadwood in 'protected forests' for domestic use does not require any permit (Lawry, 1989a: 14).

'Those who violate rules, including those who fail to secure a free permit, are subject to citation by forest agents and payment of fines.' Permit fees and fines are important sources of forest service revenue, part of which is distributed as commissions to forest service personnel. Forest agents indeed receive a percentage of all fine revenue generated by their individual enforcement activities (Lawry, 1989a). Note that temptation to evade the permit obligation is all the greater as there is no guarantee that farmers would be issued permits upon request: forest agents are 'generally disdainful of farmer-management ability', being convinced that 'without their guidance, farmers would cut down trees before reaching maturity, would coppice trees improperly, and so forth' (ibid. 15).

In India, too, the State came to consider forests as resources to be protected against their former users. Since this experience is especially well documented from colonial times onwards, and since it is probably typical of forest policies followed elsewhere under British rule or influence, it is worth looking at carefully. As early as 1850, a commission mandated by the British colonial administration prepared a report one conclusion of which was that Indian forests were being destroyed mainly due to local people's mismanagement (Agarwala, 1985). Five years later, active steps were taken towards establishing a forestry department which would be in charge of elaborating and enforcing a scientific forest policy. A German botanist, D. Brandis, was called to lead the new department. The first forestry law dates back to 1865 when, for the first time, legal restrictions were imposed on the collection of forest products by a central authority. The same law also enabled the government to declare as government forest all lands covered with trees, shrubs, and bushes provided, however, that such a measure did not adversely affect the rights of individuals or communities (Fernandes and Kulkarni, 1986: 87). The 1865 law was revised a first time in 1878 when three forest categories were distinguished—protected forests, reserved forests, and village forests—with the former being the most strictly regulated from above and the latter being the locus of the largest local autonomy. Gradually, a shift nevertheless took place in the direction of increasing centralized control. Thus in 1894, an official report stated that:

The sole object with which State Forests are administered is the public benefit. In some cases, the public is the whole body of tax-payers, in others, the people on the track within which the fores' is situated: but in almost all cases the constitution and preservation of forests involve in greater or lesser degrees, the regulation of rights and restriction of privileges of users in the forest area which may have previously been enjoyed by the inhabitants of its immediate neighbourhood. This regulation is great and the cardinal principle to be observed is that the rights and privileges of individuals must be limited otherwise than for their own benefit, only in such degree as is absolutely necessary to secure that advantage. (Cited from Fernandes and Kulkarni, 1986: 86-7)

The idea that people must be 'protected against their own improvidence' gained growing acceptance. The tribals, in particular, were deemed to be incapable of managing surrounding forest resources themselves and it was therefore considered the duty of the government to regulate village forests and meadows so as to conserve them (Beck, 1994: 194). A second revision of the 1865 law occurred in 1927 under the Indian Forest Act, 1927. This Act essentially enlarged government's prerogatives to control forests (the government became empowered to acquire almost any land for the 'public benefit') and increased the role of the forestry department while simultaneously restricting further the rights of local people, thus giving rise to strong popular protest movements known as 'forest satyagrahas' (Bandyopadhyay and Shiva, 1987: 26-7). Partly as a response to these protests, the government of Madras made an interesting attempt, going in the opposite direction to that followed so far: as a mattes of fact, it chose to give local people more responsibility in the management of their forests through an elected forest panchayat. In this, it was actually following the recommendation made by the Royal Commission on Agriculture (in its 1928 report) with respect to forest areas where woods are interspersed with cultivable patches of land (Shingi et al., 1986: 7- 11). Unfortunately, in the face of active opposition from forest officials, attempts to establish village forests on land not vested in government were implemented only in piecemeal fashion (Guha, 1985: 1947).

Another noticeable exception to the centralized tendency of colonial forest management policy, and one which has proved more successful and more lasting than the attempt made by the Madras presidency, is the Van Panchayat Act passed in 1931 following protracted resistance by the hill villagers in the middle Himalayan ranges of Uttar Pradesh (Uttarakhand). Under the provisions of this Act, villagers could create community-managed forests from the forests controlled by the Revenue Department. Any two villagers could thus apply to the deputy commissioner of the district to create a panchayat forest located within the village boundaries (Agrawal, 1994: 269-70). The Van Panchayat Act prescribes the formation of village forest councils and determines the frequency of their meetings as well as certain fundamental management tasks to be duly performed by them. More specifically, villagers must (a) demarcate the boundaries of their panchayat forest; (b) protect it from illegal tree-felling, fires, encroachments, and cultivation; and (c) close 20 per cent of the forest area to grazing every year. As for daily operation, it is chiefly governed by rules that village forest councils have themselves crafted, possibly aided by government officials. The above legislation, which represents a pioneering attempt at devising co management arrangements with user communities (see Chapter 13 for further probing), is still in use nowadays and, according to Agrawal, it has 'facilitated the efforts by residents of nearly four thousand villages to create local institutions that would permit them to use and manage a significant proportion of local forests' (ibid. 270; see also Chapter 10, sect. 2).

At independence, however, the government of India was not to reverse the main trend of colonial forestry policy. On the contrary, it clearly opted for strengthening it through a series of legislative and other measures aimed at enhancing government's control over forest resources and multiplying restrictions imposed upon tribal populations in view of the continuous degradation of these resources. From the following excerpt of a governmental report published in 1960-1, it is evident that priority was given to national over local interests:

Villages in the neighbourhood of a forest will naturally make greater use of its product for the satisfaction of their domestic and agricultural needs. Such use, however, should in no event be permitted at the cost of the national interests. The accident of a village being situated close to a forest does not prejudice the right of the country as a whole to receive the benefits of a national asset. The scientific conservation of a forest inevitably involves the regulation of rights and the restriction of the privileges of users depending upon the value and importance of the forest, however irksome such restraint may be to the neighbouring areas.... While, therefore, the needs of the local population must be met to a reasonable extent, national interests should not be sacrificed because they are not directly discernible, nor should the rights and interests of future generations be subordinated to the improvidence of the present generation. (Government of India, 1960-1 129)

A considerable degree of distrust in tribals' ability to manage local-level forest resources is apparent in the above statements: it is the tribals who bear full responsibility for depletion of these resources which must consequently be protected against their inhabitants. Such distrust was displayed in the actual policies followed on the field by forest department officers. The judgement was all the more unfair as the government did not make any serious effort at integrating the tribals into forest conservation endeavours, and as it did not show similar reservations about the private interests to which it often conceded exploitation rights with a view to extracting maximum revenue from the Indian forests. Later, in 1976, the position of the government was reasserted even more bluntly in the report of the National Commission on Agriculture (NCA). There, running counter to the conclusions of several other reports (such as the one issued by the Task Force on Development of Tribal Areas in 1973), the NCA recommended that the rights of tribal populations over the forest be significantly curtailed since they were obviously unable to maintain them in a proper state:

Free supply of forest produce to the rural population and their rights and privileges have brought destruction to the forests and so it is necessary to reverse the process. The rural people have not contributed much towards the maintenance or regeneration of the forests. Having overexploited the reserves they cannot in all fairness expect that somebody else will take the trouble of providing them forest produce free of charge. (Government of India, 1976: pt. IX, 25)

Such radicalization of the top-down control approach adopted by the government of India in matters of forestry finds its final expression in the Indian Forest Bill of 1980 which proved to be much more distrustful of local capabilities than any Forest Act passed by the British (see Kulkarni, 1986). The rigidity of the government's prejudices concerning these capabilities is particularly noteworthy in view of the fact that two reports issued in the meantime or almost simultaneously (one as a result of an Inter-State Conference of Forest and Tribal Welfare Ministries held in 1978, and the other issued in 1980 by the Task Force on Taking Forestry to the People created at the initiative of the Secretariat for Agriculture and Co-operation) in fact decided on the need for associating tribal communities in forest-related programmes, treating them as partners in benefits accruing to forest areas, granting them individual rights on the trees and their usufruct, and initiating broader development projects so as to diversify the employment and income-earning opportunities open to them (Government of India, 1981a: 40; Shingi e' al., 1986: 22-4).

Let us now look more closely at the Indian Forest Bill of 1980. This Bill increased still further the possibility of the government appropriating forest areas and, accordingly, it further reduced the tribals' rights over them, in so far as it provided that

'Forest includes any land containing trees and shrubs, pasture lands and any land whatsoever which the State Government may, by notification, declare to be forest for the purpose of this Act' (Government of India, 1981b, Indian Forest Bill, 1980: 2). Indeed, the Bill so much enlarged the scope of centralized forest administration as to make it almost boundless. On the other hand, the same division of forest areas into three zones (protected, reserved, and village forests) as that adopted under the British colonial administration is retained. Whenever a villager would like to claim a right over a product yielded by a protected or reserved forest, or meadow, he must address his demand to the competent forest officer who is free to grant or to deny that right. The chapter on village forests is very general so that it is difficult to make out precisely what rights local inhabitants have over these forests. In addition, the government is allowed by the Bill to transform village forests into protected or reserved forests through simple notification in the Official Gazette if, for example, it considers that the local population threatens the existence of the forest nearby (see Fernandes and Kulkarni, 1986; D'Abreo, 1982).

Moreover, the Bill lays down in a very detailed manner all the acts that are prohibited in protected and reserved areas, as well as the sanctions accompanying them. For instance, if a person is found using dried wood as fuel, or grazing cattle or collecting minor forest produce in these areas, he is liable to a fine amounting to as much as Rs 1,000 (a family earns a maximum income of Rs 20 per day!) and to a one-year imprisonment sentence! Administrative officers are thus vested with enormous powers over local people, and this is all the more disquieting as section 128 of the Bill provides that 'No suit or criminal prosecution or other legal proceedings shall lie against any public servant for anything done by him in good faith under this Act' (Government of India, 1981b, Indian Forest Bill, 1980: 64). Additional evidence of the repressive character of the new law as well as of the huge powers conferred upon forest officers is found in section I I 1: 'All offences under this Act shall be cognizable and any Forest Officer or Police Officer may, without a warrant, arrest any person against whom a reasonable suspicion exists of his having been concerned in any forest offence (ibid. 58). The orientation of the 1980 Bill has been confirmed in the Report of the National Committee on Development of Backward Areas (1981):

'It is clear that rights on the forests as were envisaged in the early days cannot be sustained in the same form. The situation has considerably changed and any effort to go back to the old form will be disastrous.... The broad approach outlined by the National Commission on Agriculture will have to be followed. (Government of India, 1981a: 40-1 )

It is remarkable that, in 1982, still another committee, known this time as the Committee on Forest and Tribals in India and constituted by the Ministry of Home Affairs, took a view completely opposite to the hard-line centralized approach followed by the government. Instead of considering tribal people as destructive agents unable to take a long-term view about their resources, the report issued by this committee sees them as potentially active partners in the struggle against deforestation and as inhabitants in need of regular means of subsistence. A number of recommen cations made in this report under the heading 'Forest Policy' are worth quoting here:

(i) Forest policy and forest system should be directed towards managing a renewable endowment of vast potential for subserving national, regional as well as local developmental goals. In fact, the individual tribal, the local tribal community and national interest should be regarded as three corners of a triangular forest policy.

(ii) Forest policy must fulfil three sets of needs (a) ecological security; (b) food, fruit, fuel, fodder, fibre, timber and other domestic needs of particularly the rural and tribal population; and (c) cottage, small, medium and large industries including the requirement of defence and communications.

(iii) A national forest policy should recognise the positive role of the people in maintaining forests and environment in unambiguous terms and not merely in its implication.

(iv) Wherever community rights exist on forest land, they should be recognised and adapted to serve the urgent needs of the soil and water management and re-afforestation of denuded tracts by suitable species.

(ix) A programme of large-scale plantation should be taken up with the help of tribals giving them rights on the trees planted by them in assigned areas and their usufruct. (Government of India, 1982: 63-5)

Given the above statements, it is not really surprising that the central government of India chose to somehow disown this report by preventing its widespread diffusion.

The government of Nepal followed an even more radical policy by nationalizing all (nonregistered) forest and waste lands—including private and village-controlled forests—in 1957. Later, under the Forest Act of 1961, the definition of forest land was extended to include all land adjoining forest areas and left fallow for two years (Arnold and Campbell, 1986: 430). According to Bromley and Chapagain, this centralized bureaucratic approach to forest management 'upset centuries of traditional patterns of resource control and of the village governance structure over resource use; the existing political structure, with its attendant rights and duties, was rendered quite irrelevant' (Bromley and Chapagain, 1984: 869). In reaching the decision to nationalize all forest lands, the Nepalese government was led by several considerations and motives. First, alarmed at the rapid population growth rates, it was seriously concerned with curbing the process of forest depletion/degradation. Second, since malaria control programmes had made the lower hills and plains habitable, relatively pristine areas were being cleared for agriculture, a process which the government was anxious to hold in check. And, third, the conviction arose in government circles that the State was to be more effective at managing forest resources than a large number of isolated villagers (ibid.).

In Pakistan, we are told that the bureaucracy in the post-independence period has been unwilling to share control with the rights-holders in the areas of guzara (village) forests (which are demarcated from the state reserve forests). This was true even under the co-operative scheme (in the Punjab province) instituted during the 1940s as an alternative to the panchayat system. As a matter of fact, the guzara Co-operative Societies were placed under the general direction of the civil administration and they were "completely disregarded' by this administration which eventually got rid of them in the early 1960s (Azhar, 1993: 121 -3). True, a pilot programme to revive forestry co operatives in the West Frontier province has recently been started on a modest basis. Under this scheme, each co-operative is in charge of the management of a specific forest area in accordance with a plan approved by the forest department. They receive technical assistance in preparing the management plan and have access to the services of field foresters paid by the provincial government. No other subsidies are given, and all other forestry costs (replanting felled areas, maintenance, extraction, and so on) are borne by the co-operatives which are entitled to retain at least 40 per cent of the revenues from the sale of trees. Yet, an evaluation study cited by Michael Cernea reveals that guzara farmers 'see government interference and the intrusion of party politics as a mortal threat to these cooperatives' (Cernea, 1989: 62-3).

In Botswana, in the 1960s the government introduced new institutions as part of a national development strategy. As a result, 'the traditional resource management pattern, very much "chief-community" centered, lost a great deal of its autonomy. Local chiefs, virtually stripped of their traditional jurisdiction, now have to come to terms with modern institutions, which although foreign to most rural dwellers, ultimately control their community resources' (Zufferey, 1986: 69). The central piece of the new system of land management is the Tribal Land Act of 1968 which gave to the Land Boards (LB) and the Subordinate Land Boards (SBL) the control and custody of the country's natural resources, mainly agricultural lands and pastures. Despite the intention of the government to integrate local participation into the land-planning and administration process (through the LBs and SLBs acting as the official representative bodies at the local level over land matters), the power and controls established under the Act have remained considerably centralized and local input into the formulation of land policies has been minimal (ibid. 82-3). Most important policy decisions are legal prerogatives of District Council and Land Board authorities, subject to ministerial or presidential approval (SLBs being essentially advisory bodies). Particularly noticeable is 'the extensive number of prerogatives directly attributed to the minister'. Thus, 'Grants of common law land rights and the conditions attaching to the grant of customary land rights require either the approval or the written consent of the minister. Transfer, change of user, prohibitions on grant of land, and appeals against transactions of common law land rights also are immediately subject to consideration or consent of the minister' (ibid. 84-5).

This kind of example could be multiplied ad infinitum. The aforementioned country casestudies are nevertheless sufficient to demonstrate that many Third World governments, under the influence of colonial rule or not, have adopted a centralized, top-down, and bureaucratic policy approach in order to improve the management of village-level natural resources.

What needs to be added, before looking more closely at the causes of government failures in resource management is that projects supported by foreign donors have often suffered from the same inadequacies as those mentioned with respect to projects undertaken by national governments. In particular, they have typically failed genuinely to involve village communities in the management of local resources and they have been typically conceived as essentially technical projects to be implemented by administrative and legal procedures (Jodha, 1992: 33). In Jodha's words, 'the key focus had been on techniques and funding rather than on resource users' (ibid. 72), thus ignoring the simple truth that 'participation in development cannot occur as just an add-on to technical programs' (Cernea, 1989: 1). Thus, for example, in India during the 1980s, the 'community woodlot' schemes supported by the government and the World Bank have produced disappointing results: because of their failure to rely on appropriate actors, they have ended up 'as administratively led interventions with little results other than diminishing the CPR lands left available to the poorest people' (ibid. 33; Cernea, 1991). Much the same can be said of so-called 'social forestry' projects since most of these projects are actually a far cry from the theoretical vision of social forestry which is 'to induce a large number of small farmers to plant fuelwood trees systematically for their own needs and on their own (and other available) lands' (Cernea, 1989: 4; see also Fortmann, 1988). At the root of the problem is the fact that 'the planners of financially induced social forestry programs often do not yet realise that consideration of [these] social factors has to be woven into the very fabric of such programs from the outset' (Cernea, 1989: 8). To take a last example, from two visits in a World Bank supported, pasturecentred project (during early 1970s) called 'drought proofing of drought prone areas' in the state of Rajasthan (India), Jodha drew the following account which is reminiscent of the conclusions reached by Bromley and Cernea (1989) with respect to similar projects in Africa:

The key decision makers about project activities were district officials from the soil conservation, planning and statistics departments, important officials of the district and village panchayats, and a few village influentials who managed to present their private land as CPRs in order to capture benefits from the project. Villagers in general were unhappy with the project as it not only reduced their usable resources but it provided no chance for their complaints and views. Shortly after the end of the project (during the second visit of the author), in 8 out of 13 cases, all the physical and institutional arrangements provided by the project had disappeared. Of the remaining five cases (that showed a visible impact from the project), three belonged to influential individuals as their private grazing cum fodder collection fields. (Jodha, 1992: 34)