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Jon Anderson, Michelle Gauthier, Garry Thomas, and Julia Wondolleck

This paper has been prepared for the E-Conference "Addressing Natural Resource Conflicts through Community Forestry," Forests, Trees, and People Programme, Forestry Division, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy, January-April 1996.


Conflicts over natural resources are an important form of contemporary human conflict. A variety of global trends -- the increasing degradation of the physical environment and diminishing resource base, the globalisation and liberalisation of economies, a growing inequity in the distribution of resources and economic benefits, the decentralisation of authority over resources, changes in political and legal systems, the changing role of the state, demographic shifts -- are all factors which have a significant effect, whether positive or negative, on the access and use of natural resources. Considering the speed and magnitude of the changes, conflicts are likely to be more frequent.

Natural resource conflicts are part of the fabric of local communities as well as integral to the global condition. Individuals compete for scarce resources; socially defined groups perceive themselves as having incompatible interests; those dependent upon a particular resource, but unable to participate in planning or monitoring its use, are marginalized. Conflicts also surface when local traditional practices are no longer viewed as legitimate or consistent with national policies, or when entities external to a community are able to pursue their interests, while ignoring the needs and imperatives of local people. In the conflicts that ensue, often between parties of very uneven power, it is not only the environment that suffers.

It is the goal of this paper to both frame and help stimulate a discussion on the integration of the fields of community forestry and conflict management, in addressing this range of natural resource conflicts. It also identifies relevant issues regarding conflicts, and suggests analytical methods and tools used to gather and analyze basic information. In the process, the paper offers definitions of some of the important concepts, principles, approaches, and tools used in the two fields. Finally, it attempts to examine the interface between conflict management and community forestry, looking at a few of the "cross cutting" themes, which are generated when these different fields of specialization are brought together.


Community forestry promotes improved livelihoods of rural communities through more effective management of tree and forest resources. It asks people and institutions, in different sectors and fields of activity, to engage in a collaborative process with forest users, integrating their professional skills and training with local peoples' knowledge and resources, in order to better address rural communities' needs. The rural communities and forest users, who depend on tree and forest resources for their survival and economic development, are the primary beneficiaries of community forestry activities. These communities work together with institutions and professionals, involved in natural resource management and community forestry, in assessing, planning, and monitoring the management of natural resources, according to locally defined concerns, needs and goals.

2.1 Community Forestry Principles, Approaches and Methods

Community forestry puts combined technical and social science methods at the service of local communities, while emphasizing the use of local knowledge, institutions, and management skills. At times, it adapts the conventional technical tools and methods of land-use planning, watershed management, market assessment, agroforestry, and forest management, to the participatory approaches of rural development, such as participatory rural appraisal (PRA), farming systems analysis, and participatory assessment monitoring and evaluation tools (FAME). At other times, it incorporates nutrition, population, and gender analysis into programme development, in order to ensure that a broader range of sectors focus on local equity issues and forest-based communities' needs in relation to food security and income opportunities. Finally, throughout the analysis, design, management, and evaluation phases of local development programmes, community forestry strives to use analytical and participatory tools, adapted to local conditions, to increase mutual learning opportunities for local people and their technical partners.

Examples of community forestry activities can be seen, as well, in sectors as different as the forest product marketing and resource assessment. Market studies have been carried out in the past, using methods that are relevant primarily at the macro level. In recent years, community forestry has helped develop a more appropriate local market information system (MIS), which is managed by local communities, working with extension agents. Similarly, over the years, many types of resource assessment have been made, again at the macro level. However, with the new International Forestry Resource and Institutions (IFRI) research programme, indigenous communities of Latin America are now making records of their forest land use and documenting their own land claims.

2.2 The Contexts of Community Forestry Conflict

Even when community forestry activities are sensitive to local values and needs, they frequently cause changes that are disruptive, which in turn, lead to conflict. Conflicts within the context of community forestry seem to be concerned especially with competition over forest resources (such as fuelwood, timber and construction materials, fodder and grazing lands, food and medicine, etc.) and decision-making rights (specifically over land and tree tenure) relating to these resources.

This conference has been organized, in part, because community forestry professionals have found themselves needing other analytical tools in order to understand better the implications of these changes. There would also appear to be a need to understand better what professionals and institutions can (and cannot) do to lessen or prevent conflicts, to understand how conflicts can be better addressed, and to know more about how to analyze the legal and policy environments.


This portion of the paper speaks to the possibility of employing conflict management approaches, in worldwide community forestry contexts, in such a manner that they will lead to the improvement of rural communities' well-being at the same time promoting the sustainability of the forest and tree resources. In the process of doing so, it will keep in mind such community forestry themes, integral to conflict management as well as the promotion of equity, self-help development, local participation and community empowerment, and the importance of indigenous knowledge systems and local capacity building.

3.1 Conflict

It is a truism worth acknowledging here that conflict is an inevitable feature of all societies. What varies from culture to culture is its scope and scale, whether it is valued or avoided, and of greatest relevance to this conference, the manner in which it is managed or resolved. Some societies do not readily acknowledge conflict and have strong tendencies towards resolving their differences through consensus; there are others which embrace conflict and are more confrontational, some resorting more often to the legal system, others to physical violence. But, whether societies view conflict as being almost abnormal or close to a core value, there are, in every case, institutionalized means to deal with it. (Pendzich et al. 1994:1) Given this diversity, it needs to be asked, can a regional or national perspective on conflict management be developed to accommodate these differences in value orientation or must one be limited to a culture by culture perspective?

Social scientists and others have had a long standing interest in understanding conflict and conflict resolution in different societies. There are those who have embraced conflict, despite its negative connotations, realizing its positive role in helping to bring about essential societal or institutional change, including possibilities for more equitable and sustainable resource use. There are also those who have focused upon conflict resolution, where there is now a body of knowledge about different tools and approaches of collaborative conflict management; these approaches are sometimes located in customary law systems, sometimes in judicial systems that are more formal, and sometimes under circumstances where more informal collaborative problem solving can complement either formal or customary legal systems. There would not seem to be reason to view these interests as being mutually exclusive.

3.2 Conflict Management

Conflict management is a multidisciplinary field of research and action that seeks to address the question of how people can make better decisions collaboratively. h is an approach that attempts to address the roots of conflicts by building upon shared interests and finding points of agreement that accommodate the respective needs of the various parties involved.

Conflict management interventions can be placed on a continuum, the two ends being defined by proactive and reactive kinds of interventions. At the proactive end of the continuum, there is the objective of fostering productive communication and collaboration among diverse interests, addressing the underlying causes of conflict prior to the outbreak of serious confrontation, using such "tools" as conflict anticipation and collaborative planning (together with the cultivation of alliances and mobilization of support), in order to effect change at the policy level. At the reactive end of the continuum are approaches to managing conflict that involve such tools as negotiation, mediation, conciliation, and consensus building, where the objective is to address conflict after it has erupted. (See Annex 1 for "working definitions" of conflict management terms.)

3.3. Conflict Management Principles, Approaches and Methods

While actual conflict management interventions obviously vary in scope and structure, case studies of proactive and reactive responses to conflict situations indicate certain principles, which seem essential to successful conflict management. The parties need to develop trust and understanding, exercise good communication skills and collect credible data. The process should foster a sense of ownership of the solution, as well as the problem, and care should be taken that the various solutions and agreements generated are capable of being implemented. In the case of "reactive interventions," such as mediation, negotiation, or conciliation, research has indicated that there are "few absolute preconditions of success," but key factors include "the parties (having) some incentive to negotiate an agreement with one another" and "those (having) the authority to implement (any) decision participate directly in the process" (Bingham 1986:xxii-xxv). Others have suggested that the parties must see their interests as being not entirely incompatible and be willing to problem-solve as co-equals (Crowfoot and Wondolleck 1990).

3.4 The Larger Context of Conflict Management

Conflict management should not be seen as a matter of which tool or approach should be used when and in what situations. It seems to us that conflict needs to be understood in the larger context of specific political-administrative cultures, specifically how decisions are made in particular formal and informal legal and political systems. There are parts of the world where the legal system is intricate, expensive, and adversarial, where conflicts are typically adjudicated, often presenting the parties with a "win-lose" decision. In another situation, the state political system might be seen as being fair and impartial, but the weaker party to a conflict might find the policy-making process incomprehensible and inaccessible. In a third situation, the formal legal system could be rooted in a particular indigenous knowledge system, where the adjudication of a dispute is preceded by consensus building or conciliation. Conflict management interventions would be different in each of these situations, helping establish means for people to find mutually agreeable ("win- win") solutions in one case, training people in negotiation and lobbying skills to effect policy change in another, or, in the last situation described, reinforcing and supporting aspects of indigenous knowledge systems.

One of the questions before this conference is, what can community forestry learn from the field of conflict management in order to better address natural resource conflicts. There have been situations where conflict management interventions have helped generate new rules, regulations, and mechanisms, and have helped lay the groundwork for increased cooperation. In the kind of natural resource conflicts discussed here, is there incentive for more collaborative processes to be developed? Can community forestry assist in "reactive" situations as well as in "proactive" contexts? What kinds of information needs to be collected and analyzed about specific contexts of conflict and conflict resolution in order to determine the kind of intervention that might be useful?


While both conflict managers and community forestry personnel are interested in addressing. conflicts, the two areas of specialisation have different orientations which affect how disputes are perceived and handled. For conflict managers the focus is on developing problem solving skills and techniques to empower people to manage disputes. For community forestry professionals, the focus is on developing problem solving skills and techniques to empower people to manage natural resources on which the communities depend.

The previous discussion of community forestry and conflict management should allow us to better define the interface between the two, an albeit fuzzy overlapping area, that provides the scope of the conference and a focus to discussion. Over the course of the conference, a better delimitation of this overlapping area will need to develop in order for us to be able to address natural resource conflicts more meaningfully, both in terms of common conceptual understandings and in terms of practical tools.

4.1 Collecting and Analyzing Data for Natural Resource Conflict

One approach to addressing natural resource conflict would be to look at different dimensions, that of the actors (or "stakeholders," groups of people, government structures, private entities, etc.), that of the resources (various categories of land, forests and trees, defined by different rights of access, use, and ownership, etc.) and that dimension of their interaction or the "stakes" (economic, political, social-cultural, environmental, etc.). Aspects of the "actor" dimension might include the different levels of interactions, people's access to resources and decision-making apparatus, different types and levels of organisation of groups. The "stakes" lie at the interface (or overlap

in two domains) between the actors and the resources, and refer to what motivates or defines the incentives in a situation, whether it be money, power, different actors' institutions or values, or an interest in conserving a resource (pastoral lands, a forest reserve or a watershed basin, endangered species, etc.). In exploring the nature of resources the following questions might be asked: Are they expandable? Jointly used? Are alternatives available? What are the ownership patterns: private, common, and public?

4.2 The Role of the "Third Party" Facilitator

The concerns of community forestry go beyond strict economic interests and address issues of equity, participation, integration and increasing the role of certain groups in the decision-making process on natural resources. In this context, the goals of conflict management processes may not necessarily be limited to reaching agreement or to the strict sustainability of resources and income generation; they may differ from conventional two- or multi-party private disputes. Conflict management within community forestry may involve choices with substantial effects on diffuse, inarticulate and hard to represent groups. In these situations, efforts need to be taken to strengthen the skills of the weaker party, in order for them to enter into direct negotiations. If negotiation is not an option, because the actors are not in a position to articulate and press their interests, then having a third party facilitator or mediator may be required. When this is the case, several questions arise: What is the role of the third party and how does it change through time? What is the goal of the process, agreement and/or equity? Who can serve in the role of third party? From what kinds of backgrounds might they come? Must they be people from outside the community? What kind of training is needed? How can this and other forms of conflict management empower groups to take a larger role in natural resource decision making?

4.3 Conflict Management as a Learning Process

Community forestry emphasizes local self-help and capacity building. During some conflict management processes, there can be transformations of awareness and recognition, minds can change, people learn about themselves and others and perhaps new patterns of significance arise. In fact this can be a major benefit of the process. In this regard, what are the most appropriate conflict management tools? How can conflict management maximise learning, understanding and capacity building on the part of participants? What types of communication and training systems are needed? Would planning tools, such as participatory rural appraisal (PRA) help in understanding the dynamics of conflict? How can capacity building be evaluated?

The core values of community forestry imply that certain other issues need to be addressed when talking about conflict management and community forestry. Some of these issues will be dealt with in specific papers during the conference, others will be identified by participants and discussants as the conference progresses. Here, we introduce four of these issues which will be developed in thematic papers.

*Indigenous knowledge systems: When addressing natural resource conflicts, either in a proactive or reactive mode, it is important to explore local perspectives and mechanisms for dealing with disputes. This includes not only the knowledge base but also the local practices and methods that are in use. It is essential to work fmm the existing base. Key questions appear to include: How are conflicts managed at the local level? What indigenous methods and mechanisms, both formal and informal exist for dealing with conflicts? What is their authority or legitimacy, in the context of the structural changes localities have experienced in recent decades? How might successful conflict management techniques be transferred between communities, at the local, regional, national, and (even) international levels?

*Equity - promoting equitable dialogue under unequal conditions: In many cases community forestry deals with groups that are not very well organised or unable to adequate represent themselves. Under these conditions dialogue or negotiation is liable to be one-sided. How can better equity be promoted? Key questions may include: What is the link between power relations and conflict management in community forestry? How do power differences (economic, social and political) impact on conflict management and dispute resolution strategies? How can powerful groups be brought to the conflict management process? What institutional and other mechanisms are needed to promote a more equitable dialogue?

*The role of minorities and women: At the heart of community forestry is participation and promotion of marginal groups. How can conflicts be managed to take into account disadvantaged groups views and needs? How can safeguards be built in? Key questions may be: What is the role, perspective and interests of minorities and women in relation to forestry and land use conflicts? How do they differ from other members of the wider community? How can they be better integrated and taken into account? What is the nature of their participation and to what extent are they further marginalised or more empowered by the conflict management process?

*Institutional change and forestry conflicts: While varying from region to region and from country to country there is, on a global level, widespread structural change in the realms of governance and economics. Some of these changes, for example in the legal or political context of community forestry, promise profound changes in the way conflicts might be managed. How will these trends affect conflict management in community forestry? How can those involved anticipate and take into account these changes? Key questions might include: Will structural measures taken - decentralisation and deconcentration of institutions, transfer of responsibilities and authority to communities and privatisation of land and the economy - improve or impede opportunities to address successfully conflicts through community forestry? How can the positive aspects be managed and the negative ones be mitigated? What are the links between land tenure, community forestry and conflict? What legal constraints and incentives promote and/or impede conflict resolution and/or management?


During the course of the conference we will be attempting to identify additional crosscutting critical issues and consider the detailed data collection and analysis needs, that require understanding in order to improve conflict management in the context of community forestry. In the discussion of natural resource conflict in the four regional papers, it will be useful to investigate regional differences in terms of these and other issues.

Community forestry and conflict management share a dynamic and critical interface. Each area contributes its approaches and methods and tools. This short paper has attempted to outline several of the emerging issues. Over the course of the next several months we look forward to an active dialogue on these and other topics which will have practical implications for the promotion of rural communities' well-being through the sustainable management of tree and forest resources.


One of the "outputs" of the conference will be a "living glossary" of agreed-upon conflict management terminology, contributed during the course of the conference. The following are definitions of terms used in this paper:

Adjudication: "the solution to a particular conflict as determined by a judge or administrative hearing officer with the authority to rule on the issue in dispute, . . . the judgements (generally) rendered according to objective standards, rules, or laws." (NIDR nd:1)

Arbitration: "a process that involves the submission of a dispute to an arbitrator (anyone mutually agreeable to the parties), who renders a (binding or advisory) decision after hearing arguments and reviewing evidence." (NIDR nd:1)

Collaborative Planning: "a process in which parties agree to work together in anticipation of a conflict, and work collaboratively to plan and manage ways to avoid the conflict." (NIDR nd:1)

Conciliation: "an attempt by a neutral third party to communicate separately with disputing parties, for the purpose of reducing tensions and agreeing on a process for resolving a dispute" (Pendzich et al. 1994:8-9).

Conflict Anticipation: "the identification of disputes at their early stages of development, targeting and educating potential interest groups, and attempting to develop cooperative responses to the future problem, thus avoiding or lowering the destructive effects of conflict." (CDR Associates 1986:3)

Consensus Building: a process leading to "an agreement (or synthesis) that is reached by identifying the interests of all concerned parties and then building an integrative solution . . . ." (CDR Associates 1986:3)

Mediation: "the use of a neutral third-party in a negotiation process, where a mediator assists those in a conflict situation in reaching their own agreement, but has no power to direct the parties or attempt to resolve the dispute" (Pendzich et al. 1994:8-9).

Negotiation, "a voluntary process in which parties meet face to face to reach a mutually acceptable resolution of a conflict" (Pendzich et al. 1994:8-9).


Bingham, Gail, Resolving Dispute: A Decade of Experience, Washington, DC: The Conservation Foundation, 1986.

Crowfoot, Jim and Julia Wondolleck, Environmental Disputes: Community Involvement in Conflict Resolution, Washington, DC: Island Press, 1990.

CRD Associates (Boulder, CO, USA), "Glossary," 1986.

NIDR (National Institute for Dispute Resolution, Washington, DC), "A Glossary of Dispute Resolution Terms," nd.

Pendzich, Christine, Garry Thomas and Tim Wohlgenant, "The Role of Alternative Conflict Management in Community Forestry," Forests, Trees, and People Programme Phase II Working Paper No. 1, Rome, Italy:Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, September 1994.

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