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Natural resources provide numerous services and are used by a broad range of individuals, groups and institutions2. From the myriad of uses and beneficiaries stem different interests for the same resource base. Competing and incompatible interests reflect complex relationships between the dynamic social, historical, political, economic, environmental and legal factors3 related to conflict. In the context of natural resources, shift in access, use, ownership, recognition, availability, decision-making and/or value can cause conflict.

Ongoing changes in the principal conditions affect the range of actors interested in natural resources, the stakes associated with the resource, access, ownership, use, rights, availability and quality of the resource base. Growing numbers of conservationists, private companies, government and non-government projects and communities, all demanding rights to the same resource base for different purposes, are raising the potential for different types of conflict. Examples include:

Conflict management can include violence, oral agreements, mediation, negotiation and rules. These approaches, however, have been considered ad hoc and many are being weakened by formal legal institutions. The concern of community forestry is to guarantee accurate and full representation and recognition of the position and interests of the communities and their members in such conflicts. Alternative conflict management4 approaches are increasingly being used in situations which involve parties with disparate interests and power. This has heightened the interest in understanding the nexus between conflict management and community forestry.

Community forestry5 focuses on increasing the role and recognition of forest-dependent communities and groups in managing natural resources at the policy, decision-making, legislative, project/programme, local and community level. Community forestry, at the local and community level identifies current local practices, interest and resource availability and attempts to build the capacity of communities, their members and institutions. At other levels, community forestry works to increase:

Community forestry uses an assortment of tools, methods and approaches. At the community level, community forestry employs participatory approaches such as drama, mapping, participatory rural appraisal (PRA) and rapid rural appraisal (RRA). These are adequate for planning, implementing and monitoring projects and resource use. They also assist in identifying current practices, interests and resource availability at the community level. In capacity building activities, community forestry employs training, dissemination of information, workshops and drama. Community forestry also adapts these methods to increase formal institutional recognition of community practices in natural resource management. Other forums, including conventions, meetings and workshops, have also helped increase formal recognition of community-based resource management practices and institutions.

In the context of community forestry, pronounced inequities in power within and between communities and other parties characterize a variety of natural resource conflicts. In such cases, parties with limited formal recognition and support for their needs and interests bear the higher cost of conflict. Limited formal support for weak parties can influence whether conflicts are openly expressed or latent and, in turn, the conflict management process. Communities that manage their resources often have specific cultural and traditional views of conflicts and their management. These communities usually have traditional practices, institutions and laws which complement their cultural perspectives. Conflict management in the context of community forestry has to recognize these aspects plus use the existing conditions, knowledge and information.

Recently, there has been growing recognition of the role of traditional practices and the principles on which they are based. Several of these traditional practices, institutions and laws have been effective where the formal system has failed. The momentum to develop adequate conflict management strategies that recognize the value of different cultures and communities is increasing with the realization that traditional practices are becoming extinct or weakened. Principles of traditional practices, including participatory approaches in decision-making, consideration of actors, resources and stakes, mediation, facilitation and conciliation are resurfacing in what western countries call alternative conflict management.

According to Pendzich, Thomas and Wohlgenant (1995), alternative conflict management includes a variety of collaborative approaches that seek to reach a mutually acceptable resolution of issues in a conflict through a voluntary process, which was developed as an alternative to adversarial or non-consensual strategies. In the United States, alternative conflict management has evolved from a way of resolving conflicts on a case-by-case basis to the institutionalization of procedures through formal legislation. There are four basic premises to alternative conflict management. The first is that the problem is not in the conflict itself, rather in how conflict is managed. The second stresses that effective and successful alternative conflict management requires the participation of all stakeholders and legitimate parties in a dispute. The third premise states that a party will not get involved in alternative conflict management unless it is in his/her best interest. The fourth premise is that every weaker party should know that it is never against a more powerful monolithic or universally adversarial party (Pendzich, Thomas and Wohlgenant, 1995). Alternative conflict management focuses on the manner in which different parties engaged in conflict can work collaboratively in order to identify options that would satisfy different cultural values and facilitate desired changes. Alternative conflict management processes span the spectrum of proactive and reactive approaches. Some tools used in alternative conflict management include negotiations, conciliation, mediation and capacity building through training (Pendzich, Thomas and Wohlgenant, 1995).

As the idea of alternative conflict management evolves, there is an interest in identifying how the process can better contribute to addressing natural resource conflicts. Main questions involving community forestry and conflict management include:

The CFU/FTPP e-conference on `Addressing Natural Resource Conflicts through Community Forestry' raised these questions in order to better understand natural resource conflicts and mechanisms currently in place for their management.

2. From hereon, individuals, groups and institutions, may be referred to as 'parties in conflict' or 'actors'.

3. From hereon, the environmental, social, political, economic and legal conditions will be referred to as the principal conditions'.

4. The terms 'alternative conflict management' and 'conflict management' will be used interchangeably throughout this document.

5. In certain contexts the term 'community forestry' refers to the work done by individuals and institutions promoting community-based resource management. The same term also captures the idea of resource management at the community level. To avoid confusion, in this document community forestry refers to efforts made by institutions to promote local-level resource management and the expression 'community-based resource management' refers to local resource management activities.

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