The opening speech for the e-conference on `Addressing Natural Resource Conflicts through Community Forestry' by Marilyn Hoskins, Senior Community Forestry Officer and Michelle Gauthier, E-Conference Coordinator, Community Forestry Unit, Forestry Policy and Planning Division, FAO.
15 January 1996
Welcome to the e-conference on `Addressing Natural Resource Conflicts through Community Forestry'! All of us on the team (made up of the Community Forestry Unit (CFU) of FAO and the Forests, Trees and People Programme (FTPP) facilitators and collaborators throughout the world) are excited about the potential of this e-conference. We are glad others have joined to share ideas on this important topic. The e-conference starts today and runs through May.
Community forestry supports successful, local management and equitable distribution of priority goods and services from tree and forest resources. Many are working on this issue, but we believe that much of the good work being done is not recognized. Many issues have been inadequately analysed to guide community forestry practitioners to better understand the optimal use of available tools. There are also times when it may be advisable to work on improving the context rather than address conflicts or disputes directly. Addressing community forestry-related conflicts is central to community forestry.
Our work at FAO on this topic began with a literature search in 1991. Our Latin American FTPP colleagues developed case studies and shared their findings in a 1993 workshop. From this, we produced a working paper entitled `The Role of Alternative Conflict Management in Community Forestry' (available soon in the e-conference library).
Since FTPP is a decentralized programme, each active region (East, West and Central Africa, Latin America and Asia) plans its own programme of activities in support of community forestry, based on national analysis of opportunities and constraints. It became clear that many collaborating individuals and institutions felt conflicts were a major issue in community forestry, and each region independently identified this topic as the top or near top priority.
FTPP has been active in collecting information through case studies, meetings and national workshops. Regional workshops took place in Asia (Kathmandu, Nepal, October 1995), East Africa (Nairobi, Kenya, October 1995), South America (Quito, Ecuador, November 1995) and West Africa (Niamey, Niger, December 1995).
Many of you in other groups (projects, NGOs and government organizations) are involved in addressing the environmental, social and political dimensions of conflicts related to forestry and ecological problems. This e-conference is seen as a way to invite all interested people to share successful as well as unsuccessful experiences, and to deepen analysis of the local factors related to conflict management. Everyone will have their own goals for participation and they should make them known.
Regional collaborators hope to develop a better understanding of their local situations, as well as learn from others' ideas, identify future partners and strengthen their own networks. Each regional group is developing a plan of action for future activities within their region.
The Community Forestry Unit of FAO shares the regional collaborators' aims. We are focused on exchanging available information globally. All our material, such as case studies, will either be available in the electronic library or can be ordered in hard copy. We also want to arrive at a shared understanding of key terms as they are used indifferent regions. It was very difficult to even agree on a title for the e-conference. For example, `conflicts' are usually understood as deeply ingrained in the social fabric and difficult to resolve. `Disputes' are often seen as more minor episodes and more easily resolved. Since conflictual situations related to natural resources are complex and important, and because they should be addressed through community forestry, the term `conflict' is being used. The term `management' was seen by some as exerting control over the process and the term `addressing' was used as an alternative. Meanings of terms should become clearer as discussions continue, but there will be no attempt to have everyone from different cultures and languages agree to use the same terms.
Available case studies and other literature on conflict management include interesting descriptions. Usually the parties involved are identified but seldom does one learn about their differing perceptions of the conflict, power balance between the parties, options of different groups, and the history of relationships and intervening influences -- or even expected future relations. Most case studies do little to disaggregate underlying causes of the conflicts, including changes in access to resources and the speed of that change. Seldom is there analysis of the full context. Often there is insufficient consideration of people's expectations and understanding of local institutions and mechanisms for addressing conflicts. Similarly, local people often have incomplete knowledge of national policies and laws or the perspectives that outside groups bring to conflicts. Processes that the conflict or dispute and its settlement have gone through are often missing. Because various descriptions do not focus on the same issues, it is difficult to make a framework for comparison or abstract lessons for the future.
If you can provide examples, discuss and identify the key elements to consider, we can build a more effective outline for future case studies and a framework for analysis. We can also strengthen the ongoing annotated bibliography to be posted in the electronic library or available by regular mail. We will contact each of you whom we quote or whose material we edit to use in the final econference outputs.
FAO wants to identify professionals/institutions in the field with which to work, especially in strengthening national groups who are already interested in this topic. A number of institutions have announced that they wish to train in this field, but they have little material adapted for such training. A global plan will be made for supporting future activities. Ongoing work relating to legal structures can be informed by the work of understanding conflict/disputes more effectively. Also, as an international organization, FAO has a role in policy advice and a future workshop is planned to look at these issues.
We will be working on the development of an analytical framework and a series of outputs to help guide efforts at the global level. We hope to facilitate access to available tools for addressing conflicts, but even more importantly, to understand the broad cultural context in which they should and should not be used, where they are apt to work and who has the role and responsibility to use them in a particular moment and context. We recognize, for instance, that in many countries, especially in Asia, mediators are common (even for arranging marriages). In these cases, training conflicting parties in face-to-face negotiation skills may be culturally less viable than working with centres to provide mediation services. We believe that community forestry practitioners, who are outsiders of a conflict, should be very careful about importing outside tools and organizational mechanisms into communities that have their own working mechanisms. We also believe when power is unbalanced, building alliances to help strengthen the hand of the weaker group or working to strengthen equity through the legal structure may provide more long-lasting results. Fostering a negotiation process may yield `coerced harmony', where the weak will surely lose.
One more important aspect of this question for community forestry is that conflict is present between rural development agents and local people in some locations, because of the perceptions these groups have of each other. Although not a conflict over resources, unless perceptions can be modified to a situation of trust and respect, the partnership that is essential to successful community forestry cannot be built. A special look at this issue will be important.
This form of conferencing is new to us and to many of you. We will all need to contribute to its success. Only with all of our heads together can we hope to move this field forward and provide materials and tools that help us understand more fully the complexities, the similarities and differences., Together we can determine what role we can play in more effectively analysing situations and strengthening skills for reducing conflicts that may disrupt the equity in benefits from tree and forest resources. We aim to understand the role of community forestry in this context. It is a big challenge and we look forward to this exciting opportunity.
TO: All E-Conference Participants and Discussants
FROM: Marilyn Hoskins, Senior Community Forestry Officer, FAO
The official closing of the e-conference is scheduled for Sunday, 28 April 1996. My closing remarks follow this message. Next week, you will be receiving further communication from Michelle Gauthier, E-Conference Coordinator and members of the secretariat on logistical matters and follow-up activities. It has been a pleasure!!
The bittersweet task of closing this e-conference on `Addressing Natural Resource Conflicts through Community Forestry', sponsored by the Forests, Trees and People Programme (FTPP) within the Forestry Department of FAO falls on me. Sweet, because I know all of the e-conference secretariat, indeed all of us in the Community Forestry Unit, have had an exciting and informative four months. The energy level here has been incredible and we have learned a great deal, both from the substantive discussions and from what we've seen of the e-mail medium as a means for networking and exchanging information and ideas. I feel privileged to serve in this role at the close of this e-conference. But however much we might think of this moment as an important beginning, and whatever confidence we might have in the newly established channels of communication, closings are always hard.
The e-conference convened in January 1996 to explore the interface between conflict management and community forestry. We did not necessarily know it then, but some of the kinds of specific questions we would be addressing were: How might a forester and a social scientist in East Africa, trained in techniques of conflict resolution, facilitate the development of a forest management plan, involving all representative 'stakeholders', which included the transfer of ownership from the state to local communities? What tools would someone need for analysing latent gender-based conflicts brought on by community forestry initiatives in India? If a Latin American country wished to re-write its forestry laws, what role might a trained mediator from an NGO play in facilitating the process? In the process, we examined natural resource conflicts in different regions of the world and dealt with issues as varied as gender relations, power imbalances, the viability of traditional methods of managing resources and resolving disputes, and laws relating to tenure and community-based forest management. We were even presented video material from Ngorongoro, giving voice to people who are normally voiceless, detailing their perspective of an ongoing conflict involving Masai pastoralists in Tanzania.
In our discussions of such topics in this e-conference, sometimes more implicitly than explicitly, we have examined how the field of conflict management can contribute to community forestry. To a large extent community forestry is the people and social policy component of forestry, its goal being to promote improved livelihoods of communities through more effective management of tree and forest resources. Those involved in community forestry concern themselves with cultural issues such as gender roles, the division of labour and the seasonality of work, with needs analyses and what they might reveal about species selection or the multiple purposes to which different trees are put, and with how a knowledge of issue areas such as these might lead to policy changes and better policy implementation. In our discussions, a broad definition of conflict management has been used, implying that activities can be either proactive or reactive, the former including strategies for fostering communication between diverse stakeholders (as in `policy dialogues', for example) and the latter, including strategies and tools for managing actual conflicts (including mediation or negotiation). We have also realized that conflict is not always negative. It can play a positive role in bringing about essential societal and institutional changes that may result in more equitable and sustainable use of resources. Towards the end of the e-conference, examples from different regions of the world were presented that illustrated conflicts associated with power differentials and also ways in which different actors have worked to create a greater balance of power. However, conflict management is not always positive; there are ways the formal legal system might protect the interests of weaker parties better than informal or extra-legal systems.
In fact, we've spent considerable time discussing national legal systems and the public institutions that have jurisdiction over natural resources and play an important role in the frequency, intensity and outcome of conflicts among competing interest groups. Legal systems and policies that recognize and reinforce community-based rights and management systems can provide some political balance. Such laws and policies can also contribute to a reduction in the frequency and intensity of conflicts, and promote an atmosphere in which natural resources can be managed sustainably. Part of the challenge is to shift and expand prevailing legal and institutional arrangements to encompass an appreciation of local values, rights and aspirations, particularly those of materially impoverished rural constituencies, which in many developing countries still comprise a majority of the citizenry.
The e-conference conceded that approaches or tools of conflict management may not be directly transferable from one culture or region to another, and it is unlikely that there is one model or set of training exercises that would be appropriate globally. Indeed, we looked critically at local indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) to understand how they have dealt with various conflicts that arise within or between communities. The dynamic nature of IKS was acknowledged as well as some of the inherent weaknesses and biases that may be promoted by these systems, especially the marginalisation of women or certain groups within the community.
Progress was made by the e-conference in the development of tools and methods for analysing and managing conflict. Due to the complex nature of conflict, contemporary tools for participatory planning, assessment, monitoring and evaluation need to be adapted and reinforced with conflict management techniques in order to be effective in uncovering, analysing and managing conflicts, especially in situations of latent conflict.
On a more logistical note, there were more than 463 subscribers from 55 countries by the end of the e-conference, making this one of the largest e-conferences held to date through the SARD-Forum conference facilities. The more than 100 evaluations that we have received thus far indicate an overwhelmingly positive response. People spoke of making new contacts. Indeed, networking is one of the obvious strengths of the e-mail medium. I would like to think that the `virtual relationships', which linked Boston and Nakuru, Enschede and Baltimore,
Cochabamba and Dakar, not to mention members of the secretariat with specific subscribers, will be long term! It is clear as well that there are drawbacks to using the e-mail medium for a conference. As one participant wrote: "It is difficult to lead a conference of this sort into consensus or agreement. You cannot even get people to answer specific questions or comment on particular things! It works, in fact, as an inverse funnel, generating more ideas, not agreeing on them. It seems to me the real benefit is in the serendipity. Every individual gets something out of it for him/herself, through inspiration from other individuals, even if there is no final statement as such. I can imagine this is frustrating for the moderators and facilitators, but it is fine for the participants."
The expenditure of energy, not to mention resources, was considerable. The limitations and frustrations were real. Yet there is no question that e-conferencing can bring more people together from more diverse places, including people who would never attend an FAO conference. The medium is accessible to more parts of the world than most people would imagine, and is, I think, a proven means of gathering and sharing information - even if `consensus building' is difficult. To this extent, e-conferencing does appear to be cost effective. It is true that something less than 20 percent of the subscribers actively contributed to the discussions, but the evaluations also indicate that many who did not comment participated actively by sharing the papers and e-conference discussions with colleagues and using the materials for training. In this sense, the participation level was perhaps as high as that at conferences held in real space and time.
A great deal was learned and the e-conference has considerably advanced the field of conflict management in relation to natural resource conflicts. Reading through my file of comments and responses, I feel that much of the discussion was superb. I foresee an explosion of writing on the themes of this e-conference in the next few years, and believe that these papers and comments will be cited in articles and dissertations as being seminal in the development of the literature in this field.
I would like to thank and congratulate all those who have participated: those who presented the well researched and thought-provoking discussion papers; those in the regional working groups; those who took the time to contribute to the discussions; those who presented case studies from their experiences; and all those who have taken the time to read all the considerable material (two megabytes in all!) that has been generated by the e-conference. I want to also thank the e-conference secretariat, which so embodied the spirit and culture of the FTPP and Community Forestry Unit: Michelle Gauthier who has coordinated this e-conference since its inception; Garry Thomas, Violet Matiru, Anna Sherwood and Diji Chandrasekharan who facilitated the discussions and handled the logistical aspects of the e-conference; Jon Anderson for his role in developing and facilitating the discussion of the `virtual conflict' cases; Colleen McVeigh, Daniel Shallon, Francesca Gentile and Stefania Colletti for their help during the preparatory period and Jon Lindsay for his advisory role. And it is no exaggeration to say that none of this would have been possible without the backstopping of some good people at the SARD-Forum (e-conferencing facilities), Bob Hart (INFORUM) and Malcolm Chapman and Serban Pencescu (both of UNDP/DAIS).
This moment represents another kind of transition for me. Closing this e-conference is my last official act as Senior Community Forestry Officer. I am retiring after nearly twelve years heading the Community Forestry Unit here at FAO. One of the joys of following the e-conference has been reading the contributions of many of you whom I've known for years, feeling connected to your work. After the e-conference, I hope everyone feels renewed commitment to facing the challenge of developing the field of natural resource conflict management. I look forward to following your progress and continuing to collaborate with you.
TO: All E-Conference Participants and Discussants
FROM: Michelle Gauthier, E-Conference Coordinator
With the end of the e-conference on `Addressing Natural Resource Conflicts through Community Forestry', I thought it appropriate to retrace our progress with the field of conflict management in community forestry as we continue developing our. global and regional action plans and proposals for future activities.
The FTPP formally launched its programme on `Conflict Management in Community Forestry' in 1992 in response to requests from various countries and after conducting a literature search on material relevant to conflict management and community forestry. During these initial stages, FTPP discovered that although the field of alternative conflict management was developed and well documented in some regions e.g., Europe and North America, there was very little published information about the topic from the regions of Asia, Latin America and Africa. Additionally, given the great diversity of the countries and regions where there are community forestry activities, the programme realized that there was need for each of the regions to develop its own agendas and priority areas. At the same time, it was acknowledged that it is important to promote an atmosphere of networking to exchange information, experiences and lessons learned.
Some of the activities undertaken in the field of conflict management with the support of the FTPP, prior to or concurrent with the e-conference, include:
Though FTPP, in collaboration with various NGOs, government agencies and research and academic institutions, has been actively involved in understanding the nature of conflicts and in developing tools and techniques for managing them, there is need for greater exchange of information and knowledge.
Hence, one of the main the objectives for holding the e-conference was to provide a forum for people and institutions involved in community forestry to exchange experiences and knowledge on conflict management. Subscribers, representing a wide range of institutions, both with and without direct access to e-mail, participated in the discussions through national and regional working groups in several countries e.g., West Africa (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Niger and Senegal), in East Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania), in Latin America (Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela) and in Asia (Nepal). These groups, which were coordinated through the national and regional focal points, were involved in the e-conference discussions. Each of the groups developed their own strategies for participating in the conference which included holding satellite conferences, wherein the material from the conference was distributed and discussed, some of the groups were involved in developing practical methodologies for analysing and managing conflicts, while others prepared case studies and collected bibliography material.
Therefore, in addition to the information that was generated through discussions and circulated directly through the e-conference plenary room, other materials were produced and exchanged between the e-conference secretariat and the regions. The Community Forestry Unit in Rome received material by regular mail and fax, such as videos, case studies, training materials, reports from working groups, proceedings of satellite e-conferences, abstracts of publications, bibliographies and announcements of upcoming events in conflict management. These materials are available at the e-conference secretariat and also from the regional representatives.
As we continue to acquire a better understanding of natural resource conflict management, there is a need to develop mechanisms for disseminating the findings and knowledge acquired to the resource users as well as to policy-makers. Therefore, based on the recommendations made by the participants, the working groups, the FTPP facilitators and other cooperating institutions, the following activities will be undertaken in collaboration with FTPP:
CFU will organize:
If you have any questions or would like more information, please feel free to contact me or Anna Sherwood, or any other member of the Community Forestry Unit in Rome. Tel: (39-6) 5225-4341 or 5225-6103, Fax: (39-6) 5225-5514, E-mail CON-MGT@fao.org
Michelle Gauthier, E-Conference Cooperating-ordinator
TO: All E-Conference Participants and Discussants
FROM: Garry Thomas and Violet Matiru, E-Conference Moderators/Facilitators
Now for a closing word from your moderators/facilitators, a full week after Marilyn Hoskins' closing remarks, six days after we saw her off to Washington, where she presumably has begun her `retirement'. What have we done since then? We each took some vacation, almost our first days off since January - and now it's back to work, focusing on our several writing projects before our consulting contracts end later this month. And then we return to Ithaca and Nairobi respectively.
I think you know, from both our public and `back channel' communications with you, that despite the frustrations intrinsic to this medium, we have greatly enjoyed our roles and tasks in this e-conference. We've learned a tremendous amount from the two megabytes (!) of information that came in and went out (and yes, we read every word!). We, like Marilyn, have valued this opportunity to connect with so many good people. And yes, we talked about you: the `virtual relationships' we imagined, the `lurkers', the two `break-ins', the people we would especially like to meet. We'll honor one of you next week with an E-Conference Award when our secretariat regroups to draw out of a `hat' one of the many postcards we received in response to our March 28 communication. Stay tuned for this announcement, as well as a few other closing remarks, some logistical (including how to join Working Groups), some more substantive.
We've had a few messages and several testimonials since Marilyn Hoskins' closing remarks, some of which we'll forward to the plenary and/or Working Groups, while these `rooms' remain open over the next weeks. At this point, we refer you to the tribute by one of Marilyn's colleagues, Gabriel Campbell, to the generous sentiments and attempt at closure by Julia Wondolleck, and to the challenge made by Adam Behrendt (with an assist from Nihal Jain). To paraphrase Campbell, maybe there can be no fitting end to this e-conference, but each of these contributions does help.
We thank you.
TO: All E-Conference Participants and Discussants
FROM: J. Anderson, Virtual Conflict Facilitator
Another escalation of our virtual case was in the works - an escalation which, through a series of convoluted yet plausible twists, led to international conflict and ended with nuclear holocaust. The management of this latest escalation promised to be quite challenging. Alas, we have run out of time.
I would like to thank everyone involved in the virtuals. At this end we had alot of fun with them (some said too much). We hope that you all found them thought-provoking and useful. Several of the cases that we developed but did not use are now in the e-conference library.
I hope that the thoughts, the ideas and the dialogue from the e-conference continues in other forms and in other places over the coming years.
TO: All E-Conference Participants and Discussants
On behalf of Malcolm Chapman and Serban Pencescu, I would like to congratulate all of you, both organizers and conferees. As Marilyn Hoskins noted in her closing remarks, this e-conference on conflict management was by far the largest, most complicated e-conference we (INFORUM and SARD-Forum) have been involved in organizing. I hope to continue working with the group at FAO and others as you build upon what you have begun here with this e-conference.
We (UNDP, FAO and INFORUM) view the electronic services we have set up on the UNDP computer in New York as a pilot effort. We are still not sure exactly how we will proceed (as usual, the problem is finding some money), but your experience in the conflict management conference will definitely be used as an example of how people can be brought together and share information without the expenses of travel and per diem associated with face-to-face meetings (although, I know from past experience in organizing other e-conferences, people always hope to someday SEE and TALK TO the people that they `met' electronically!).
I really wish I would have had some time to at least skim through many of papers that I saw you exchanging. My own technical area is farming systems research (working primarily in Latin America), and I was reminded of some of the interesting discussions with farmers and community leaders that we had when I was involved in on-farm research activities, as well as some interesting conflicts, as we (farmers and researchers) tried to understand each other's objectives. But, alas, I read almost nothing.
Finally, please feel free to contact me especially if you have any suggestions about how to organize future electronic conferences.
Thanks to everyone,
Bob Hart INFORUM, Executive Director