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The Forests, Trees and People Programme, in collaboration with the Community Forestry Unit of FAO, has been active in the arena of alternative conflict management since 1992. Conflict management has become one of the principal topics of the programme. Since 1992, FTPP partner institutions have been involved in various training programmes, workshops and other activities related to conflict management, including the development of case studies on natural resource conflicts and literature searches.

Activities prior to the e-conference

In September 1993, an inter-regional workshop on `Dispute Management and Community Forestry' was held in Costa Rica. The FTPP colleagues in Latin America developed case studies and shared their findings in this workshop, which contributed to the working paper, `The Role of Alternative Conflict Management in Community Forestry'.

The workshop highlighted the characteristics of resource conflicts in Latin America, including: power imbalances, deceit, misinformation and distrust. The discussions and case studies showed that conflict management in Latin America had to take into consideration the large power disparity seen between contending parties and different stakeholders, as well as the inequities, structural factors, cultural specificities and diversity of conflicts. Effective conflict management should also consider time, legal information and rights. The inter-regional meeting showed the pertinence of conflict management to community forestry and motivated coordination of additional activities, including regional workshops.

The first regional workshop, held in Kathmandu, Nepal (10-13 October 1995), presented cases of natural resource conflicts occurring within the context of community forestry. The workshop revealed the need to increase training in conflict management for those closely involved with community forestry, the need to better analyse conflict situations and develop a methodology regarding the collection of data on case studies and how to address them based on the information collected.

The second regional workshop, held in Quito, Ecuador (13-16 November 1995) was built around findings of the Costa Rica workshop (1993). It began the process of developing a theoretical framework for analysing conflicts and conflict management, identifying terms and concepts associated with conflict management, understanding common aspects of conflict management in the region and learning from case studies. The workshop advanced the understanding of the necessary conditions for managing conflicts as well as a theoretical framework for understanding them.

A third regional workshop, in Niamey, Niger (4-8 December 1995) accentuated the need to address conflicts in community forestry. The workshop raised issues such as recognizing the capacity and right of formal and informal local institutions and strengthening the capacity of local institutions to manage natural and conflicts. The participants stressed the importance of strengthening the capacities of technical and administrative actors to analyse and anticipate conflicts. The workshop emphasized the need to guarantee land-tenure rights to farmers/herders, migrants and communities. Participants, however, did not feel that the proposed changes required legislation reform, but rather forums to manage the conflict before situations deteriorated.

E-Conference structure and background

The products and findings of the regional activities and workshops fed into the global electronic conference (e-conference) on `Addressing Natural Resource Conflicts through Community Forestry' held by the Community Forestry Unit and FTPP. The e-conference was coordinated with the assistance of FAO/UNDP's SARD-Forum. It lasted four months, January - May 1996 and was structured as a forum for dialogue and information exchange on natural resource conflicts, community forestry and conflict management by individuals and institutions of various disciplinary and regional backgrounds.

The e-conference had a main electronic plenary room with facilitation6 and five electronic rooms for working groups (e-working groups). The agenda for the plenary was divided into five sessions. Each session addressed conflicts and conflict management issues in the context of a region, or theme closely related to community forestry. Each session was opened with a discussion paper on each of the topics to be addressed. The discussion papers provided a point of departure for the discussions. An introductory issues paper was followed by four regional papers7 which presented information in a regional context on natural resource conflicts taking place with potential, upcoming and ongoing developments in natural resource conflicts and their management. The regional papers outlined characteristic features of the region and provided a basis for comparison between the regions. Four thematic papers identified how gender, legal issues, indigenous knowledge, power and equity related to conflict management. The themes selected were those a steering committee composed of members of different disciplinary and geographical backgrounds felt were the most pertinent to community forestry and natural resource conflicts. The thematic papers presented a global perspective of the topical issues while still being rooted in practical and empirical information.

The discussion papers were followed by a statement from the authors and an opening statement from a few selected conferees. The opening statements highlighted strengths and weaknesses of the paper and provided additional information from personal experience or research. Conferees were invited to make contributions regarding a specific region or topic during the e-conference. The messages received from conferees were circulated in the plenary. Wherever possible, the moderator added an introduction or follow-up questions to each contribution. The moderator also linked the different discussion topics.

In addition to the regional and thematic areas of discussion, the e-conference presented `virtual' (hypothetical) cases8 on natural resource conflicts. These hypothetical cases allowed people to discuss various mechanisms for addressing natural resource conflicts in a fictitious context.

The five different e-working groups addressed the subject of analytical tools and methods in Asia, East Africa, West Africa and Latin America. Conferees were invited to join any (or all) of the e-working groups. The e-working groups were provided with the following recommendations to:

identify what local, national and regional methods and tools are in place for analysing and managing conflicts;

The e-working groups had much flexibility. Discussions focused on relevant issues identified by members of the e-working group. Conferees who subscribed to one, or several, of the e-working groups had access to both the plenary and e-working group discussions. Conferees who were not subscribed to certain, or all, of the e-working groups accessed the discussions in these working groups through summaries from the moderators of the respective e-working groups. To facilitate discussions, the e-working groups on West Africa and Latin America were held in French and Spanish respectively.

In addition to the electronic arrangement, the regional FTPP facilitators and conflict-management `focal points' coordinated regional, national and institutional non-electronic working groups (ne-working groups). The ne-working groups increased the level of participation of individuals and institutions from the regions in which FTPP is active. The ne-working groups had access to the e-conference through the focal points' electronic mail account. Each focal point would distribute copies of material circulated in both the e-conference plenary and e-working groups. Each of the ne-working groups were provided with the nine discussion papers prior to their discussion. They would then discuss this material and provide a synthesis of their discussions to the e-conference plenary via the focal point. Any additional, relevant material collected by the ne-working group was sent to the e-conference secretariat in FAO. With this arrangement the e-conference reached institutions and individuals who did not have direct access to electronic mail or preferred to participate through a working group.

The electronic medium enabled a large audience with diverse backgrounds to engage in open discussions regarding concepts, various approaches, practices and tools, the strengths and weaknesses of the latter in different conditions, analytical frameworks and specific case examples. There were 463 conferees subscribed from 55 different countries9. The conferees in the e-conference included academics, project managers, field researchers, field workers, foresters, trainers, NGO representatives, lawyers and programme coordinators. The conferees were from diverse disciplinary backgrounds including sociology, anthropology, economics, forestry, law, alternative dispute resolution, education, communication, public policy, agronomy, etc., representing grassroots institutions, NGOs, GOs, research institutions, bilateral and multilateral institutions, universities and donors. Many of the conferees were familiar with at least one of the two fields of conflict management and community forestry, and interested in understanding and developing the interface between these two fields. The e-conference was valuable for the FTPP regional programmes, which were able to learn about which institutions and individuals were involved in the subject area and how.

Conferees were invited to contribute to the e-conference discussions with information regarding their experience and interpretation of the situation in the regions. The flexible agenda for the e-conference allowed for conferees who joined the event after its opening (or those who had been unable to follow certain discussions due to other obligations) to make contributions regarding previously discussed issues independent of the topics of the ongoing discussions. Therefore, discussions could extend over any length of time during the course of the entire e-conference.

6. There was a moderator/facilitator and an assistant moderator/facilitator. Throughout the document reference to the moderator includes both the moderator and assistant.

7. Summaries of the regional discussion papers can be found in Annex C

8. These virtual cases are available in Annex D.

9. The number of countries here represents the countries from which the conferees had access to e-mail, not the total diversity in nationality. For example, conferees from different nationalities were subscribed from the USA, but only recorded as if from one country in this country count.

E-Conference objectives

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