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Samba Traore(2) and Henri Lo(3)

Prepared for the global electronic Conference on the theme: "Addressing Natural Resource Conflicts through Community Forestry"`
Original: "Les Conflits Relatifs a la Gestion des Ressources Naturelles et la Foresterie Communautaire en Afrique de l'Ouest"
Translated and Adapted by: Robert Faye, Dakar Senegal.


The purpose of this paper is, on the one hand, to bring to the fore the relationship between natural resource conflicts and community forestry, and to appraise the role of community forestry in improving the handling of conflicts arising in use and management of natural resources.

The ecological diversity that characterises this region, and various historical, social, cultural and linguistic contexts inherited from the colonial era influence frameworks of reference of major conflicts, actors, institutions and approaches and mechanisms for managing conflicts.

This document highlights a number of ecological, social, demographic and -increasingly-economic stakes in the different eco-geographical zones. Understanding these stakes, which constitute the real causes of conflicts, is essential to better identify mechanisms and tools for their management.

This paper presents examples of common conflicts, the actors involved, a review of settlement mechanisms employed and their strengths and weaknesses. The difficulty in managing conflicts lies in the poor performance of the so-called modern conflict settlement structure (administrative or judicial), and the total disruption of customary conflict settlements.

The final part of this study, examines the relationships between community forestry and existing forestry legislation in the region, and between forestry and production activities and mechanisms. The paper also describes and analyses principles underlying community forestry conducive to a improved management of natural resource conflicts.


O.M.V.S :

Organisation pour la Mise en Valeur du fleuve Senegal {Senegal River Basin Development Organisation}

C.F.A :

African Francophone Community

O.A.P.F :

Operation Amenagement et Production Forestiere (Initiative for Forestry Development and Production)



Acronyms Introduction

1. From Forest Resource Preservation to Natural Resource Management.

2. The Issue of Natural Resource Conflicts.

2.1. Stakes and Types of Conflicts.

2.1.1 Stakes.

2.1.2 Types of Conflicts and Actors.

2.1.3. Natural Resources: Source of Conflict.

2.1.4 Mechanisms for Conflict Resolution.

3. Natural Resource Conflicts and Community Forestry.

3.1 Land Tenure Legislation, Conflicts and Community Forestry.

3.2 Community Forestry, Agriculture and Livestock.

3.3 Peasants, States, and Land and Forest Legislation.

3.4 Community Forestry and Decentralisation.

3.4.1 Administrative Structures and Decentralisation: Stakes and Conflicts.

3.5 Improving the Management of Natural Resource Conflicts through Community Forestry.





This regional discussion paper must be assessed in relation to two important observations:

The first is the history of conflicts related to natural resources cannot be disassociated from institutional and legal frameworks existing in the countries where they are inventoried and analysed. These frameworks are the result of various influences that have left their imprint on the political and social history of the countries.

Colonisation was an outstanding period in the history of these countries. Legislation (codes, laws, decrees) and social and administrative organisations inherited from this period, whether they gave priority to an association or assimilation policy - to mention only the British and French examples - favoured certain modes of access to resources and the emergence of quite different conflicts, institutions, rules and resolution tools.

The separation of large homogenous ethnic and linguistic groups into radically different political and cultural spheres is one of the principal characteristic of the colonial era still with a visible impact. This created different frames of references. One of the more illustrative cases is that of Cameroon, where two ethno-linguistic groups, francophone and anglophone, live within the boundaries of this country. These two groups, with different influences and paths, have developed different approaches to resource use and distribution, and equally different institutions and mechanisms for managing and resolving conflicts. Several other examples illustrate this phenomenon: in the Gambia, Guinea Bissau and Senegal where one ethnic group has evolved into different socio-political contexts; Togo, with it's French and German influences; and Cape Verde, where the Portuguese colonisation reinforced the insular situation, limiting contacts with other countries in the region. All of these have created different approaches to resource use and distribution.

Consequently, cultural and ethnic groups which originally were identical, and others which, although quite distinct, are compelled by history to live together, have had to adapt themselves to new situations and develop appropriate conflict management tools and strategies.

The second observation relates to the diversity of the ecological areas which influences - -or are conditioned by - various economic, cultural, social and political factors resulting in potential conflicts and problems of a different nature. Hence, the mechanisms and management tools for addressing conflicts resulting from these issues have to be different and require specific analysis. West Africa, encompasses both the Sahelian zones, characterised by increasing scarcity of natural resources and the tropical humid areas, where despite relative abundance of resources, like in Cote d'Ivoire, continuous depletion is resulting due to over-exploitation.

Conflicts in countries with humid forests like Cameroon and, to a lesser extent, Cote d'Ivoire, are basically of an economic nature and involve local, national and international actors. The analysis of such conflicts differs from the conflicts between stockbreeders and farmers in the Sahel, associated with management of scarce resources.

This spectrum of ecogical zones, social, political and cultural situations, and most of all economic stakes, reflected is the "heterogeneous" character of the sub-region and the need to exchange experiences.


Forest resource management policies in West African countries share several common features since a large part of legislation is inherited from former colonial authorities. As a result, the problems faced at the legal /institutional level have close similarities and consistently require urgent and in-depth policy reforms. These reforms are under way in most countries of the sub-region. An example is Senegal, which has just adopted a new forestry code attaching more importance to grassroots communities, in a context of privatisation and liberalisation: The same trend is witnessed in Mali, while the rural code in Niger seeks to "establish a legal framework for property rights, tenure rights, and management of natural resources that are essential for agricultural production and livestock, by eliminating uncertainties associated with property rights, which are viewed as a major hindrance to the investments needed to enhance productivity."

In most countries of the sub-region, there is a gradual decentralisation of decision-making processes in the management of forest resources and the involvement of local communities in these processes. Formulation of almost all forestry policies in West African countries invariably occurs through a top-down and technocratic approach, characterised by the omnipresence of the State. Along with the excessively sectoral nature and objectives of these policies, which are mainly concerned with protection and conservation, this approach has confined communities to playing the role of "project consumers." The second generation of projects, following the poor results obtained from the previous approach, incorporates community policy instruments as a response to populations' needs and aspirations. The expression of local needs has extended beyond the provision of ligneous species, despite the severe shortage of fuelwood during the periods of drought. The local needs include food, cash income, and other essential survival requirements, since drought and desertification had considerably altered production system.

The shift from community reforestation projects to community forestry reflects a qualitative headway in the interpretation of populations' aspirations and priority needs (other than fuelwood), the formulation of project objectives, and the role to be played by populations in implementation of projects. After the previous top-down approach, people are henceforth encouraged to give their opinion about decisions affecting their lands (selection of species to be planted, sites to be developed, beneficiaries of resources, management of facilities and structures, and even financial contribution to investments), and become fully involved in decisions associated with the project.

As a consequence, forestry within rural communities has been promoted through non-forest activities which nonetheless contribute to food security and income generation and overall-social welfare. Although the planting of trees is the main goal, the concept of forestry goes far beyond this activity and encompasses henceforth the bulk of non-ligneous resources. This has clearly established the correlation between the diversification of activities aimed at meeting the communities principal needs and the objectives of natural resource management. Such an approach will strengthening farmers' organisations, with the objective of better preparing them to take on design and implementation of various development projects.


Conflicts are a continual fact of life in all societies. In a way, they are the symptoms of disruption or transition within societies. Transition may be positive when it expresses the need for change and/or the ability of institutions to adapt to social, economic and/or environmental conditions. From this standpoint, conflicts contribute to the preservation of social balance by capturing certain challenges, changes and developments within a given society or in terms of governance.

Transition may, however, be negative. The institutional changes from conflicts may be detrimental to certain groups or social categories, such as the poor, women, and minority groups. Natural resources conflicts may evolve into ethnic, political, and religious conflicts.

More often than not, conflicts reflect imbalances in power structure within communities and attempts by the weak at changing or challenging the established order. More specifically, conflicts associated with natural resources stem from different perceptions of the parties involved regarding who should benefit from the resources. They also constitute an indicator of resources availability, evolution of tenure rights and systems, and of accessibility and control over resources. Settlement of the ensuing social strife is critical if the parties are to adopt the necessary changes and adjustments with respect to resources and the environment. A clash of interests makes it unquestionably more difficult to utilise and manage resources.

2.1. Stakes and Types of Conflicts

2.1.1 Stakes

Natural resources and conflicts are closely related. The increasing scarcity of resources, along with the institutional reforms implemented, have resulted in keen competition and/or restrictions which often are a source of conflict.

The classical approach to addressing conflicts is through the actors. However, the apparent parties involved, whether the conflict is between farmers and stockbreeders or between grassroots communities and the State, are not an accurate indication of realities and stakes. Explaining conflicts through the interests at stake allows for a broader understanding of the problem, since it is these interests which constitute the underlying causes of conflicts. Effectively understanding underlying causes for conflict would improve selection of appropriate management methods.

The interests at stake are varied. But as an illustration, we can note three major categories of stakes:

(i) The Dynamics of Demographics as a Social Stake

Population increase, along with its uneven distribution, accentuates the current imbalances in resource availability, inducing pressure on the environment. As the number of parties competing for natural resources increases (at the family, community, and national levels) and possibilities for migrating become scarce, the occupation of scarce land is a cause for rivalry. Hence the outbreak of conflicts between actors who have no apparent reason for confrontation. Conflicts between stockbreeders and farmers often results from competition for control over resources which are becoming increasingly scarce (water and fodder, and land respectively), rather than the expression of a clash between Fulanis or Bambaras, or Fulanis and Wolofs.

There are, therefore, significant disruptions in the mechanism of land and natural resource management in favour of new practices, mainly as a result of physical and ecological change.

(ii) The Economic Stake

Traditionally, certain natural resources had primarily a cultural or social value. Under this value system, the stake was to recognise a groups' rights over natural resources, which contributed to strengthening locally their social and political status. Today, however, this cultural aspect is overshadowed by a set of factors, each of which represents a potential threat to the status of actors with respect to natural resources. Although the cultural aspect was traditionally multifaceted, the growing monetisation of certain natural resources, such as wild plants, medicinal plants, and wood, in a context of crisis, structural adjustment and devaluation become a source of conflict. Currently it is the economic and monetary value of most resources which whets appetites and therefore exacerbates conflicts. A good example of this is Cameroon, where there is an upsurge of conflicts between populations and the various forest companies.

In certain areas rights over natural resources are increasingly being claimed by the beneficiaries of such rights because of the economic interests at stake. Simultaneously, such rights are also often claimed by more powerful and more structured economic networks. This phenomenon can be illustrated with the three examples below.

The first example is the case of Gol of Fandene (Senegal). Gol is located in the rural community of Fandene, in the region of Thies, west of the peanut basin. Due to drought this arid area with stony soil has not been put to use for the past 25 years. Overnight, traditional tenure rights resurfaced, because the prospective path of the Cayor Canal (supply Channel from Guiers Lake in Northern Senegal to meet the priority of drinking water for Dakar, but also to provide irrigation opportunities) ran through this area and powerful political/financial interest groups in Dakar also have their eyes on it.

The second example of economic interests at stake associated with a blood-letting conflict and the violation of traditional tenure rights takes place in southern Mauritania. Manantali and Diama dams, built by the Senegal River Basin Development Organisation (OMVS), are the cause of the conflict. The significant hydro-agricultural potential of these dams have led certain social categories not traditionally involved in agriculture to encroach upon and confiscate other groups' tenure rights. This has been carried out with massive deportations and colonisation of forlorn lands. Such colonisation of most lands in southern Mauritania (Senegal River valley) took place in favour of very powerful economic networks and groups from the north. They decide on everything from Nouakchott.

Another example drawn from Burkina Faso concerns the development of Diedougou plains, Sourou Division, traditionally inhabited by Dafing and Samo stockbreeders, where the government allocated developed land to Mossi farmers from the Yatenga region and the central plateau, at the expense of indigenous populations.

These situations of conflict have been compounded by structural adjustment policies and the devaluation of the CFA franc. The latter has induced an increase in market value of certain natural resources, thus facilitating and encouraging exports. The most striking case in a sector other than that of forestry concerns the fisheries in coastal countries. Within the domain of forest resources, the case of fuelwood and timber in central African countries constitutes the best example.

The tremendous financial benefits are the principle cause of all types of conflicts because they create inequalities hitherto unknown in traditional systems.

(iii) The Ecological Stake

The worsening climatic conditions, along with new farming techniques and new methods for the exploitation of natural resources, has led to the degradation of soils and the ecosystems. This ongoing degradation, in particular in the Sahel, creates immense pressure on the land, since it spurs competition for the scarce areas where resources are still abundant. A permanent conflict arises in the attempt to strike a balance between the preservation and regeneration of such resources and people's vital needs. This is the case of peripheral parks and other reserves and state-owned forests.

In general, better conditions mitigate both competition for strategic resources such as water, grazing lands, certain fodder trees, and gathered produce like gum arabic, and ensuing conflicts mitigate.

2.1.2 Types of Conflicts and Actors

Examining the typology of conflicts based on the classic approach, we can note that conflicts may arise at all levels of relationship.

We can categories these as:

In summary, conflicts arise:

2.1.3. Natural Resources: Source of Conflicts

Conflicts stem from and revolve around natural resources which are essential to countries of the region. The market value of certain resources makes competition for possession of the resource a source of serious conflicts. These include lands, both as a component of and support to other resources, forest resources, including all services from the forests which are vital to certain communities, pastoral resources and fish resources. The economic value is a significant factor at this level.

Other resources are sources of conflicts because of their strategic value for economic and social development. Access to such resources constitute the underlying cause of conflict at this level. Water is part of this category. Whether it is a matter of surface or ground water, competition for control and/or use of the resource is significant. For instance, access to water is essential for livestock (streams, pools, wells and tubewells). Yet, agriculture is given priority in most national policies; agricultural activities often take place around watering places, thus preventing or limiting access to this essential resource by other sectors. Another strategic resource is wood, which often brings face to face communities, on one side, with forest companies and the State, on the other side.

2.1.4 Mechanisms of Conflict Resolution

Resources and land which are a source of conflict are often subject to particular legal frameworks and control by States which, in their great majority, claim to be "etat de droit" (4). The legal framework ruling the resources and land provides a mechanism for resolving conflicts at all levels.

Since all procedures for conflict resolution are founded on the State and its institutions, these mechanisms are either of an administrative or judicial nature. In such cases the frameworks for the resolution of conflicts are hierarchical and compartmentalised, ranging from local technical services to the local administrative authority (sub-divisional officer, district officer, region governor) to the upper authority, which may be a ministry or the department under whose responsibility lies the resources within a given ministry. These administrative mechanisms for conflict resolution are not very effective because of the clumsy and time-consuming procedures causing the substances of conflicts to weaken before reaching the top rung of the judicial ladder. This is especially the case when the conflict has political or partisan implications.

The judicial mechanism, like the administrative one, is not very effective due to the slowness and complexity of procedures. The complexity and cost (cost of lawyers, registration fees, etc.) associated with the procedures discourage parties from lodging claims (except in violent conflicts, in which case the matter is automatically submitted to the administrative or judicial authorities). This is compounded by the physical distance between legal institutions and their potential users, and the conduct of certain administrative procedures which can be carried out only in the capital city (Regional court, Supreme court, Council of State, etc.).

In general, the difficulties lie in the fact that colonial and post-independence eras have completely upset traditional conflict management structures, which are no longer as recognised although they still exist. The problems mentioned above show that these traditional systems have not been replaced by more operational and widely recognised institutions.

The collapse of formal and state conflict resolution mechanisms often pushes to the forefront more effective mechanisms and actors in the management of conflicts. "Structured" informal conflict resolution methods range from peasant groups (farmers, stockbreeders, and those involved in forest activities) resorting to methods including arbitration, dialogue, and forms of prohibition and sanction against offenders, to religious leaders (imams, parsons, pastors, traditional leaders of rituals, etc.), whose influence and eloquence can effectively contribute to the resolution of conflicts, because they have a solid knowledge of the parties.

Popularly endorsed local leaders frequently play a significant role in conflict management by virtue of the constituents' trust in them and their ability to appease tensions which arise between constituents. In 1986, for instance, a political leader in the Senegal River valley (Senegal) put an end to a conflict between the tenant of a recession basin and the rural community, where neither the divisional officer, nor traditional leaders and the Supreme court had succeeded.

Resolution structures advocating dialogue and consensus may constitute in certain circumstances alternative mechanisms for the management of natural resource conflicts.

Both the social influence and the recognition of the third party's authority are essential to the management and resolution of century-old conflicts. For example, the village leader of Boni, Mopti region, Douentza Division in Mali, has such an authority among Fulani stockbreeders and Dogon farmers in the region that any attempt to resolve a conflict without his intervention is doomed to fail.

Is it that these traditional and informal methods provide all the necessary tools and can by themselves ensure the management and resolution of natural resource conflicts?

Traditional and informal mechanism for conflict resolution, and the strategies it promotes, are often more appropriate for conflict management because:

Similarly, since the effectiveness of traditional methods lies in the shared values within a single community, such methods are not effective when protagonists do not share the same values. An example of this is a conflict between a community, or one of its members, and a private entrepreneur. In the latter case, the community will always refer to local rules and customs, while the private entrepreneur would prefer employing the provisions of a modern act. This emphasises the conflict between the legitimacy of traditional institutions and the legality of so-called modern structures.

Community forestry has an important role to play in the implementation of alternative conflict management mechanisms, since it seeks to create the conditions for sustainable management of natural resources as a basis for the welfare of communities.


Community forestry appears in many respects as an opportunity, not as the panacea to management of natural resources, in particular forestry sector. Based on its approach, community forestry may constitute a basis for conciliation between different levels, demands and actors. This would contribute to more effectively managing disputes among natural resource users, communities. administrative structures, etc.

Consequently, it appears necessary to shed light on the type of relationships existing between community forestry and all mechanisms for the management of natural resources and the conflicts related to this, including various legislation and institutional frameworks, before specifying the this.. offered for an appropriate response to the issue of conflicts.

3.1 Land Tenure Legislation, Conflicts and Community Forestry

Most of the existing land tenure legislation in the region do not establish a link between tenure systems and forest resources. This results in an almost total lack of legal mechanism for resolving conflicts. Where these exist, they pay little consideration, if ever, to the community.

Land tenure legislation creates an incongruency between the dominant activity, or the activity considered as such, with respect to the goals of forestry. This is clearly seen in the case of the Mauritanian Decree N_ 87127 of June 5, 1983 dealing with tenure reform. This decree does not mention provision of the forestry code (Decree N 82-171 of December 15, 1982). In fact, the solutions to problems regarding forest management contained in the forestry code could have been found within the land tenure code, thus enabling more appropriate ways of resolving conflicts related to forest management.

Ignorance of forest management mechanisms in Mauritania can be illustrated with two examples drawn from the land tenure code, especially from Decree N 84-009. Indeed, Article 2 of this Decree states that: "To be legally protected, the development of land must consist of buildings, plantations, crops or compensating dikes". The spirit of this provision on developed lands focuses more on agriculture and housing than on forestry. Even though this article mentions plantations, it is mainly concerned with small-scale home plantations. There is no mention of the protection of natural forests or afforested areas.

In Article 13, the absence of any reference to community forestry in the resolution of conflicts is conspicuous. This article reads as follows: "If no amicable agreement is achieved, and if demanded by the social order in cases where the reallocation (of lands individually owned) does not jeopardise the productivity of lands, sharing operations will be carried out `in the presence of members of the concerned community' by a commission presided over by the regional prefect and including:

This provision on the resolution of disputes has three features:

i) the "passive" role of the community concerned;

ii) the excessive weight of the government services through the various local branches;

iii) the lack of any reference to the head of forestry services, among others, while that of agricultural services plays an important role.

This is also the case throughout the forestry code of 1982, where no reference is made to the role to be played by communities using forest resources. In this code also, administrative government services constitute the only actors.

To a lesser extent than Mauritania, the Senegalese land tenure legislation does not consider communities in the field of forestry. Although Act 64-66 of June 17, 1964 dealing with the national domains (state-owned lands) provides for the management of forests by communities, through the Act 72-25 of 19 April 1972 establishing rural communities, these two cornerstones of Senegalese land tenure legislation and management of local communities confine the latter to a very marginal role in the management of conflicts, simply because the management of forest resources, whatever the type of forest (natural, state-owned, community or village woodlot) has long been under the sole responsibility of the powerful forestry administration. Resolution of conflicts took place only at this level, if they can really be considered resolutions. Even the new forestry code adopted in February 1993 (with a decree adopted in 1995 for its implementation) does not clearly define the role to be played by communities in the management of conflicts involving natural resource. However, it does recognise grassroots communities as institutional partners, after acknowledgement of failure and renunciation of direct intervention in favour of the participatory model.

By creating usufruct rights, the new forestry code seeks to provide grassroots communities with what they have always viewed as a "gift of nature," with the objective of facilitating preservation initiatives. Despite all these new opportunities, the role of government services presides over the whole process.

As in all the other legislation, the land tenure code in Mali is still restrictive with respect to the consideration of forestry concerns and community participation. Drawbacks in the Forest and Land Tenure Malian code originate mainly from the difficulties faced in the management of lands and forests. This led Initiative for Forestry Development and Production (OAPF), the body responsible for forest management, to implement a genuine strategy for community forestry, with the involvement of exploiters and neighbouring villages in the conflict management process. Actually, forest logging contracts granted by Initiative for Forestry Development and Production (OAPF) to certain villages bordering major forests around Bamako (Mandingo, Sounsa and Faya Mounts) implement the principle of previous authorisations given by villages (the authority of these village was removed when the forests were brought under state control in the '30s), to any individual willing to log in those areas.

While the Forest Service tries to manage latent or open conflicts with bordering villages, for improving the preservation of resources, the needs of communities in Bamako, in terms of fuelwood and timber, are so high that many of those involved in this sector and in marketing channels are supplanted. This creates other dispute that will have to be managed.

The answer to this thorny problem might lie in a better development of community forestry principles.

3.2 Community Forestry, Agriculture and Livestock

Clashes between stockbreeders and farmers are the most frequent, apparent and violent conflicts in the sub-region. These continual tensions have a historical, as well as cultural and geographical root. From an historical standpoint, both activities have always shared the same land and maintained some complimentarity. Actors belong sociologically and culturally to the same environment. Such confusion and sharing of space has always had the potential for conflict on farming and stockbreeding areas, and in forests which were mere seasonal passages for farmers and stockbreeders. Intercommunity conflict management strategies have turned permanent imbalances between farmers and stockbreeders into the best guarantee of sustainable management of spaces and natural resources.

However, where the latent form of sector specialisation in land use planning and country legislation constituted a form of management, actual conflicts have arisen. Thus community forestry, as it is viewed by legislation and development policies, does not deal with these two categories in the same way. Often forest areas which pastoralists, aware of the growing degradation of resources because of climatic factors, have an interest in conserving, overlap with lands on which farmers want to extend their activities since the lands of these "protected areas" are more fertile. In such cases, the stockbreeders' security over this land is put into question due to agricultural expansion, resulting in potential conflicts. This is further reinforced by priority given to agriculture in most national and sectoral policies, while stockbreeding is confined to a secondary level. Because governments, especially in the Sahel, confuse food self-sufficiency with self-sufficiency in cereals, forests which constitute buffers between farmers and stockbreeders become coveted areas where local strategies clash with each other.

When properly applied in its basic principles, community forestry may be an answer to both management and land use strategies. It may help to meet the needs of sedentary communities as well as those of nomadic stockbreeders. In this case, there is need to establish more effective mechanisms for the prevention and management of conflicts geared to the concerns of actors.

From a cultural standpoint, the indigenous mechanisms and know-how regarding conflict management is invaluable. However, they tend to be overlooked in favour of so-called modern conflict resolution methods. Local strategies are very adaptive. This its seen even when access to water tightens. In such cases stockbreeders turn into agropastoralists in order to occupy part of the coveted space and thus lift constraints_ Thus in the solution to managing these potential conflicts sedentary and semi-sedentary life constitute an answer to various strains of living, and do not fundamentally threaten mobility which is a basic principle of the "opportunist" management of land and resources through transhumance.

3.3 Peasants, States, and Land Tenure and Forest Legislation

Due to the inconsistencies in the various codes, there is no integration of sectoral policies in the countries concerned. We can note, for instance, in land and forest legislation of Senegal, as well as Mali, Burkina Faso, and Mauritania(6), there is a clear distinction between land and forest issues. This makes it difficult to comprehend obvious interdependencies between the two sectors, not only from a physico-ecological standpoint, but also from socio-economic perspective. States thus establish forested areas which almost entirely ignore land legislation, which from a legal perspective gives rise to inconsistencies at the time of coming into force. Although the forestry sector is developed independently of land tenure policies, especially when planning and managing land use (agriculture, pastoralism, and forestry), the omission of community forestry principles could be an obstacle to effective management of land.

The Senegalese government realised the role of communities when developing its new forestry code which encourages management at the grassroots level. This forestry code takes into account agricultural societies, pastoralist, and rural communities, through production contracts, land use contracts, and other agreements based on forest development plans. The design of such tools as forest development plans depends on local communities' ability to generate local development plans. There is a shortage of technical, human and financial resources, making it difficult to achieve complete involvement of the communities. For this reason, forest and land use management still remains in the government's domain.

Difficulties in understanding such phenomenon are not only due to inadequacies within every country. It is equally due to the lack of information exchange and framework for consultation between countries and researchers in the same region. There is also limited by the lack of complimentarity of policies, methods, and approaches at the regional level.

In Cameroon, the development of forest resources is inconceivable without state intervention. In the field of forestry, this country's unique management plan for resources is formally negotiated with the objective of specialising land through administrative zoning. This is mainly a result of the large forest concessions and exploitation. Such an approach takes into account both community and state-owned forests in the management of conflicts. This mixed management method brings different actors of varying strength together: the government, through the forestry department, villagers standing for both their economic and their cultural interests, and powerful forest companies, not to mention local authorities.

3.4 Community Forestry and Decentralisation

The way the administration operates is another source of conflict in all countries of the sub-region. This is especially the case with the "new" decentralisation and/or regionalisation policies which, despite the hopes raised, constitute real "time-bomb" as far as the management of natural resources is concerned.

3.4.1 Administrative Structures and Decentralisation: Stakes and Conflicts

The inadequacy of legislation is compounded by inconsistencies in sectoral policies. Agricultural policies, especially those dealing with extensive agriculture, seldom take into account the demands of livestock and forestry. Because of the priority given to agriculture, extensive agriculture policies result in clearings that are detrimental to other activities, while degrading soil and other resources. This existing trend is likely to be aggravated by decentralisation policies which, at present, constitute a major concern of countries in the region.

As it appears in the various policies, decentralisation constitute a potential source of conflicts among the different administrative structures involved, and between these administrative structures and local communities. This is the case, even for a country like Senegal, which is now embarking on the final stage of decentralisation, because the objective is to transfer responsibilities from the government to lower levels, while maintaining the dominance of the government, which diverges from true decentralisation.

Conflicts regarding capacity sometimes occur between local communities (urban vs. rural districts, rural communities vs. regions), especially with respect to shared resources. This raises critical land management issues. The difficulty in arriving at a consensus on land use planning will eventually constitute a major cause for resource degradation, in view of the conflicts likely to arise.

Local communities constitute the locus of grassroots implementation and development initiatives, and therefore of community forestry. This justifies providing local communities with certain powers in decision-making. This should also apply to the case of protected areas under classical management plans. These involve serious threats of conflict because they do not take into consideration the collective dimension of natural resource management, although communities are often displaced from certain areas to which they no longer have access.

3.5 Improving the Management of Natural Resource Conflicts through Community Forestry

The principles and approach underlying community forestry unquestionably constitute a mechanism for conflict management. Among the advantages of community forestry we can mention:

The strength of this approach lies mostly in its ability to bring to the fore the protagonists, on an equal footing with respect to resources coveted, and in a position to discuss in order to reach a `modus vivendi', then a consensus for the use of resources. The example of the bush management committee initiated by a villager of Boulou, Sapouy Division, Burkina Faso, and bringing together native Nunis, migrant Mossis and Gourmantches, and Fulani stockbreeders was an opportunity for all these groups to put aside their ethnic differences to address serious problems they were all facing (accelerated resource degradation jeopardising all activities) shows that antagonisms can be offset when the focus is on collective interests.

In practice, its a question of identifying the impact of the community forestry approach on the sharing of power, and promotion of dialogue and collaboration with the objective of improving management of natural resource conflicts at each stage (prevention, resolution, implementation of decisions, follow-up, and consolidation of the solution) of conflict management.

The advantages of community forestry as an effective management of conflicts related to natural resource should not overshadow the need to strengthen the approach, taking into account:


Rather than concluding a debate that has just been launched, we will highlight the limits of this paper and pose questions which will enable better understanding of the real interests at stake in the various ecological zones concerned in the region, apparent and bidden actors, and management mechanisms and tools implemented. This approach will also make it possible to capitalise on relevant community forestry experiences for the management of natural resource conflicts.

The document is limited because the Sahel constitutes its main focus, at the expense of other ecological zones (humid tropical areas in general, forest areas, Benin Gulf). This, of course, limits not only the range of potential conflicts and actors, but also the various institutions and conflict resolution tools. The same goes with Portuguese-speaking countries (Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau). Has the type of colonisation that they have experienced brought about new approaches to the management of natural resource conflicts? Which institutions are in charge of such conflict management?

Strengthening institutional aspects is also very important.

These limits make it necessary to explore other avenues, including:

On considering all these issues, the electronic conference constitutes a good opportunity for an exchange of information and experiences on the various eco-socio-cultural settings chiefly governing types of conflicts and their management methods.


(1) Within the "Sub Saharan component - West/Central Africa" of the Forest, Trees and People Programme (FTPP), the activities are implemented mostly in 5 focal countries, which include Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Senegal in West Africa and Cameroon in Central Africa. The others countries of the region can join the FTPP Network and benefit from the diverse publications, tools, methods, and other products developed within the framework of the Forest, Trees and People Programme (FTPP).

(2) Pr Samba Traord is a lawyer, Unit of Studies and Research in Legal Sciences, Lecturer at the University of Saint-Louis

(3) Dr Henri Lo is a geographer and environmental specialist, lecturer at The Institute of Environmental Sciences of University C.A.D in Dakar

(4) "Etat de droit" conveys the basic idea that the state is governed by the rule of law rather than by arbitrary and extra-legal actions.

(5) C. Lund's account of this aspect in a study entitled "Waiting for the rural code Reflection on the land reform in Niger, n_ 44, September 1994, is eloquent : "it is clear that traditional leaders, in particular district chiefs, play a pivotal role in rural societies and it is risky to call the in question or to be audacious enough to appeal against their decisions. These revelations are worrying when one knows that the rural code that Niger has recently adopted reinforces the power of "custodians of the traditions"

(6) Although the stated overall objective of Niger's rural code is the establishment of an all-inclusive and integrated legal framework, agriculture is accorded priority


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