Changing social, environmental, economic, legal and political conditions can create new interests and demands on natural resources. When these interests and needs are incompatible, there is a potential for conflict. In the context of natural resources, conflicts occur frequently in varying scope and intensity. They involve different parties and can span generations. Because of the diversity of conflicts, the management practices used to address them must be flexible and equally diverse. Strategies range from informal and traditional, to formal, including legal and judicial systems. Yet, with the evolving global, national and local landscapes, there is an urgent need to understand the causes of conflict and appropriate management approaches, including those in community forestry.
In 1992, the Forests, Trees and People Programme (FTPP) and the Community Forestry Unit (CFU) of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) became formally involved in natural resource conflict management. Since then, CFU/FTPP have sponsored an inter-regional workshop on conflict management, training in alternative conflict management skills such as mediation, facilitation and negotiation; case study research, and regional workshops for identifying local conflicts and management approaches. In 1995 - 1996, CFU/FTPP brought its work in community forestry and conflict management together as it opened the four month, global e-conference on `Addressing Natural Resource Conflicts through Community Forestry'.
The e-conference was separated into a main electronic plenary and five electronic working groups, all of which were moderated. Working groups addressed methods and tools for conflict resolution in Asia, East Africa, West Africa and Latin America. To extend the e-conference's outreach, FTPP regional `focal points' coordinated discussions among institutional, national and regional non-electronic working groups. After, discussions were circulated broadly across the conference network.
The e-conference also presented nine discussion papers. The topics of these papers included: an overview of community forestry and conflict management; the status of conflict management and community forestry in each of the four regions (Asia, East Africa, West Africa and Latin America); as well as four thematic topics related to gender and marginalised persons, legal issues, power and equity, and indigenous knowledge systems.
The discussions in the e-conference were not oriented towards reaching a consensus. Instead, the facilitator/moderator motivated exchange of perspectives and information. During the e-conference, conferees were invited to address issues that were brought up in different sessions. The nine discussion papers fuelled exchanges in the e-conference plenary. Case studies and examples, or personal experiences, were often used to substantiate any points being made.
This document summarizes the main issues and questions discussed during the e-conference. The summary does not reflect the chronological order of the contributions, but instead aggregates points, questions and concerns by conference session. A preliminary analysis is presented at the end of this publication that synthesizes a few key points in conflict management and community forestry.
The main objectives of the e-conference were to:
During Session 1: `Setting the Stage' the discussion revolved around methods and tools used in conflict management. The main points of 'discussion included:
Issues raised during Session 2: `East and West Africa' and Session 3: `Latin America and Asia' were specific to regional conditions.
Thematic sessions linked local, national and regional situations. The main issues discussed in Session 4: `Gender and Marginalised Issues, and Legal Issues' and Session 5: `Indigenous Knowledge Systems, and Power and Equity' were:
Questions that cross-cut e-conference sessions included:
Changes in social, political, environmental, legal or economic situations all influence conflict through its three distinct, but related dimensions: actors, stakes and resources. These dimensions must be analysed to effectively understand how they can affect conflicts, management approaches and ultimately, the role community forestry can play. Given the complex social aspects involved and the costs that can result from conflict, the selected approach has to be sensitive to the existing social equilibrium. Decisions, such as when to use a third party, with whom to form alliances, who to include in a decision-making process or how to use participatory tools for communication to identify the problem, must be made considering the impact on the parties involved, both directly and indirectly. The analysis also highlights the dynamic aspects of conflicts, which are complex and develop over time. Often, the underlying causes and the different stages through which conflict has evolved are not apparent. Thus, the different stages of conflict must be evaluated when considering power disparities and the influence of social, environmental, political, legal and economic factors.
Conflict management does not present a universal solution, but creates a process with choices. The parties in conflict must be offered more than options to address conflicts. They must be provided the opportunity to benefit from the changes in relationships, power distribution and other social, political and economic conditions that result from the process itself.
CFU and FTPP are working to address the interesting issues and challenging questions the e-conference raised regarding the nexus between community forestry and conflict management through:
The main activities planned for 1997 by CFU and FTPP in the area of conflict management and community forestry include: