Governments throughout Asia and the Pacific region are creating exciting and innovative opportunities for achieving sustainable forest management and biodiversity conservation goals by decentralizing authority and responsibility for resource management. The trend to decentralize is driven by a range of factors, including efforts to reduce central bureaucracies and cut budgets, a history of government forest management failures, increased economic liberalization and market orientation, and growing commitment to more equitable forest management.
Throughout the region, innovative legislation and policies are strengthening the hands of local governments and communities in managing forest resources. The various initiatives have led to greater access and control of forest resources by local people. In turn, forest protection and management have often improved and resource pressures been reduced.
While the decentralization trends are very promising, many programs have encountered major challenges, disappointments and setbacks. To explore the issues and challenges facing various decentralization and devolution initiatives, the Philippines Department of Environment and Natural Resources/Forest Management Bureau (DENR/FMB), the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (FAO/RAP), and the Regional Community Forestry Training Center (RECOFTC) jointly organized the "International Seminar on Decentralization and Devolution of Forest Management in Asia and the Pacific". This publication is a result of the seminar. The seminar was convened in Davao City, Philippines, from 30 November to 4 December 1998.
The importance of forest management decentralization and devolution issues is underscored by the large number of participants that attended the meeting and the broad support given to the seminar by various international organizations. More than 180 participants from 21 countries participated in the five-day seminar, which included a day of field visits to various sites on the island of Mindanao where many of the experiences from the Philippines in decentralization and devolution can be observed.
The main objectives of the seminar were to:
One of the main issues that arose from the seminar was the recognition that decentralization and devolution are two very distinct processes. Experiences in the region indicate that decentralization does not automatically result in devolved forest management. Many of the papers in this publication indicate the need for greater understanding of how these policies are actually implemented at the local level and how these policies affect local forest management efforts.
Experience reveals that local government units or local forest bureaucracies are often given responsibility to undertake activities but not the authority or appropriate budget resources to make meaningful decisions. For decentralization policies to have significant impact, those who are delegated responsibility need greater authority and decision-making power to implement programs.
Discussions and presentations at the seminar pointed out that it is not only a lack of human and financial resources at the local level that has led to slower acceptance of decentralized forest management policies, but reluctance within forest and other government bureaucracies to relinquish control.
On the other hand, increasing democratization throughout the region has led to the emergence of numerous alliances among local organizations and networks attempting to create opportunities for more meaningful decision making for local people. There is a need to bridge the gap between governmental reform (decentralization) and the exciting changes taking place at the local level. Only then will decentralization policies have their intended affect of spurring rural development and promoting forest conservation.
We hope this publication will assist those in charge of formulating and carrying out forest management policies to better understand the key issues and challenges that underlie effective implementation of decentralized forest management.
Ram B. Singh