Environmental degradation evident in many countries today is often the result of conflict over access to forest and tree resources within communities, between communities, and between communities and outside entities. People in forest-based communities compete with one another for scarce forest resources for a variety of domestic uses, while at the same time growing needs of local rural and urban areas and of world markets have led to commercial exploitation of these same forests. Competition-led conflicts are invariably complex because the different forest products have many different users, and decisions about use have long term effects. When national-level decisions and policies dealing with common resource management are made, they often ignore traditional rules of land and tree tenure. Growing inequity of access, as well as lack of confidence in future access, cause people to cut down forests and resist conservation efforts, as some individuals act in their own immediate interests rather than the community's long-term interests. Under such circumstances, traditional means of conflict management are often ineffectual in dealing with natural resource disputes; the resulting sense of powerlessness leads to estrangement of local communities from the national political process. At the same time, government agencies attempt to impose their authority upon local communities, for example by limiting forest access to larger entities to whom they provide permits, often with little success in controlling either local or external use. In the conflicts that ensue, between parties of such uneven power and with such disparate viewpoints, it is not only the environment that suffers.

The field of alternative conflict management, more generally known as alternative dispute resolution, has developed in the past few decades as a means to address conflicts over natural resource use. When the costs of conflict are great for all participants in a dispute, when the issues are highly complex, and when building good, long-term relationships among the parties is important, alternative conflict management has a number of distinct advantages over adversarial strategies of goal attainment, such as lawsuits or forceful confrontation. The goal is to use approaches that lead to mutual-gain agreements that are more likely to be fair, are in more parties' perceived self-interest, and are more capable of being implemented. Alternative conflict management techniques are process-oriented, in that there is a focus upon engaging mutually aggressive parties in such a way that they communicate better, enter into good faith negotiations, seek mutually beneficial agreements ("win-win" rather than "win-lose"), and agree upon frameworks for implementation. However, the success of alternative conflict management must also be measured in terms of problem-solving, moving beyond simple promotion of better communication toward promotion of better livelihoods and more sustainable forest resource management.

At a time when negotiated agreements in life and death situations around the world are systematically broken, sometimes within hours of their being reached, it is not surprising that people might be cynical about the extent to which agreements in disputes over natural resource use might be upheld. This highlights the need for monitoring and enforcing mechanisms, as well as the importance of good faith negotiations and win-win agreements. While the argument can be made that agreements are more likely to be upheld if all those who have the responsibility for implementing an agreement are voluntarily involved in the negotiation process, alternative conflict management approaches are obviously no panacea. But even if the negotiated agreements do break down, the very process of negotiating with the state or commercial interests can be a "transforming experience" for local populations, making the community more effective in managing future negotiations.

The Forests, Trees and People Programme's interest in alternative conflict management began in 1991, when, in response to requests coming from various countries, a literature search was carried out examining the relevance of the conflict resolution literature to community forestry. Negotiation and mediation were identified at that time as potentially useful tools for strengthening the common management of forest resources. It was felt that adopting alternative conflict management strategies was consistent with such FTPP goals as integrating participatory approaches into forestry activities, addressing equity issues, building on local knowledge systems, and strengthening human and institutional capabilities in community forestry contexts. In October 1992, the FTPP formally launched a pilot programme on Conflict Management and Community Forestry, asking RESOLVE, a Washington-based environmental dispute resolution centre with considerable Latin American experience, to commission a number of case studies and to help organize a Latin America regional workshop at the University for Peace at Escazu, Costa Rica, 19-25 September 1993 (see Appendix A). In addition to the experience and insights from RESOLVE, the ideas and experience of the 41 participants at this workshop have contributed considerably to the content of this working paper.

In the past year, there have been a number of global FTPP-assisted activities in the area of conflict management, several of them directly attributable to the workshop held in Costa Rica. Two very active working groups have been formed in Peru and Ecuador, and the FTPP has co-funded a number of case study write-ups in those two countries on conflicts over tenure and petroleum development respectively. The two Asia representatives to the workshop have been involved as FTPP resource people in Asian and Pacific regional and national workshops in Fiji, India and Thailand, working with FTPP partner institutions in each of those countries. In addition, in collaboration with local NGOs, case studies have been commissioned in Indonesia and Nepal. Finally, the lack of training in conflict management for extension workers has been identified as a major bottleneck in the sustainable management of forest resources in several West African countries, and it is likely that case studies will be fielded in 1994 and workshops will be held in 1995 in that region. Similar discussions are under way in East Africa as well.

This working paper has deliberately been prepared rather as a preliminary "concept paper" than as "workshop proceedings," and it is written for a global audience rather than the primarily Latin American audience of the workshop. It was written by Garry Thomas, Christine Pendzich and Tim Wohlgenant. Also included are three of the commissioned case studies, contributed by Mauro Barbosa de Almeida, Zulema Lehm and Carlos Villarreal. Appendices include the outline that the writers used in preparing the case studies, the list of names, institutional affiliations and addresses of all workshop organizers and participants, and the workshop agenda.

The idea of a working paper, of course, is that it represents a work in progress. We are very aware that this paper deals largely in abstractions, and that even in its Latin American discussions of conflict management methods are more at the conceptual than the descriptive level. It is the plan of the FTPP that there will eventually be a fuller discussion of alternative conflict management in a forthcoming Community Forestry Note, informed by African, Asian and Latin American examples of forest-based disputes and efforts to negotiate or mediate such conflicts. Before such a paper can be written, however, all those working in this field need to collect and share more descriptive case study materials from the regions, perhaps all employing an outline similar to that provided in Appendix D, to permit better comparisons.

We therefore solicit relevant examples or case studies, recommended bibliography and more general suggestions as to the importance of the field of alternative conflict management to community forestry. The working paper is an attempt to share current information with those concerned about and working on these issues, and readers are encouraged to send comments, information and suggestions to the Community Forestry Unit, Forestry Department, Food and Agriculture Organization, Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy.

Marilyn W. Hoskins
Senior Community Forestry Officer
Forestry Policy and Planning Division
Forestry Department


Conflict is an integral part of the human condition. What varies from culture to culture is its scope and scale, whether it is valued or avoided, and, of greatest relevance to this paper, the manner in which it is managed or resolved. There certainly are societies which do not readily acknowledge conflict and which have strong biases towards resolving their differences through consensus; there are others which embrace conflict and are more confrontational, resorting more often to the court of law. Whether societies view conflict as being almost abnormal or close to a core value, there are, in every case, institutionalized means to deal with it.

While it would be an exaggeration to say that contemporary Asian, African and Latin American societies bear no resemblance to their primordial and colonial pasts, the intrusion of the "modern" has significantly changed these regions' institutional as well as physical landscapes. Even as local communities have become culturally less homogeneous and economically more differentiated, the state has been absorbed into a larger world system and new power relationships have emerged. One consequence of the new political order is that, in many cases, traditional means of addressing conflicts over natural resource use have been rendered ineffective, and local legal systems have been displaced by the legal apparatus and political value system of the state. Physically, the environment has become degraded -- forests clear-cut, agricultural soils exploited, streams polluted and watersheds left unprotected -- as local parties to natural resource disputes have seen their needs ignored, their efforts undermined and their long term objectives jeopardised at the expense of short term interests. As demands placed upon the natural environment have increased to the point that forests and forest resources cannot be used sustainably, so have conflicts over their use become more frequent and intense.

People living in rurual communities in Latin America, Asia and Africa have always relied upon forests and trees to meet a myriad of needs. Fuelwood continues to be an important energy source throughout these regions, meeting nearly 50 percent of domestic fuel needs in Africa and approximately 20 percent in Asia and Latin America. In addition, food and medicine derived from forests contribute to rural people's health and nutrition, while many populations depend upon this natural resource for non-wood forests products, animal fodder and construction materials. Finally, as farm size and agricultural productivity decline under increasing population pressure, the rural poor look more and more towards commercial logging as a source of income and wage employment.

Forestry professionals have come to realize that efforts to address problems of deforestation and environmental degradation must be built upon the active participation of members of rural communities. Rural women and men have more knowledge about local needs than policy makers or outside experts, and it is they who have the greatest vested interest in the sustainable use of local resources. When rural people are not involved as partners in the design and implementation of forestry projects, government efforts to address local as well as national objectives chronically fail. The same can be said of efforts at environmental conflict management: forest resource decision-making has a greater likelihood of succeeding if it includes the informed participation of all stakeholders involved in a conflict. This clearly must include the people living in the communities near or in the forests, who have the greatest interest in the sustainable management of their forest resources.

This paper will focus upon disputes that arise over the use and management of forests and forest resources. It will examine alternative conflict management as a possible "tool" to address these kinds of disputes, which often confront and confound community forestry efforts. It also looks at the relevance of alternative conflict management in the context of Latin American forest-based communities. Appendix A discusses the themes and findings that came out of the FTPP Latin American workshop on "Dispute Management and Community Forestry" held in Costa Rica in September 1993, many of which are of more than regional interest.

The Need For Conflict Management Skills in Forestry Contexts

Conflicts may arise in community forestry contexts when people compete for access to scarce forest resources, such as water or valuable timber, when women in a community have different interests or needs than men, or when those interested in a resource are unable to participate in managing its use. Disputes also surface when local traditional practices conflict with imposed national policies and when outside entities do not work with local communities. Identifying the source of conflicts in community forestry disputes allows for better understanding of both the interests of the parties involved and the incentives that might lead to a dispute's resolution.

No two conflicts are the same, but some effort can be made to categorize conflicts by levels and entities involved, even if "entities" and "levels" are not always clearly distinguishable nor mutually exclusive. One useful typology identifies three major levels of conflict involving communities: conflicts within communities; conflicts between neighbouring communities; and conflicts between communities and outside entities. The following brief examples of conflict resolution methods, drawn from Asia, Latin America and Africa, do not all fit neatly into these three categories, and do not reflect all the complexity or variety of disputes found in these regions, but they are illustrative:

To the Garahwali people of India, the worship of Bhumidevata signifies the people's veneration of land and nature. Another feature of Garahwali society is the strong preference for settling disputes within the community, using a traditional opinion leader or a representative of the local panchayat (village council) as mediator, rather than taking cases to the courts or police. These people are said to love justice as much as they love nature. In cases where people feel they do not get justice through mediation, they turn to prayer and the practice of non-violence to achieve resolution of a conflict. This value given to pious and patient behaviour provides a release of anger, which they view as unhealthy, at the same time it resolves community problems. It has even helped serve to remove corrupt officials. It remains to be seen, however, whether this traditional approach to conflict management can save the trees and forests which the Garahwali venerate, at a time when unprecedented demands are being made upon the land. (Tewari 1994)

In the Brazilian Amazon, rubber tappers (seringueiros) are among more than 300,000 people who rely on the harvest of non-timber forest products for subsistence and cash. Because the land-use and tree-tenure system does not confer legal title to the seringueiro communities, they find themselves competing with others who rely on clearing land for their livelihoods. This situation has repeatedly erupted in violent clashes, especially between the seringueiros and cattle ranchers.

For generations, Serere and pastoral Peuhl have coexisted in a reciprocal relationship in central Senegal. In recent years, however, the government has embarked upon the construction of a large canal through the area to bring water to the capital. Lands that were abandoned by farmers to the herders because of low rainfall and poor millet yields have assumed more value. The possibility of irrigating land that has become too dry for agriculture might lead one to predict that the Peuhl and Serere would now compete for land that had only been ceded informally to the herders. Instead, the two groups have continued their complementary relationship in order to prevent wealthy interests from the cities from laying claim to the land. Faced with the possibility of a larger conflict, the two communities have developed a strategy based upon an alliance against external "aggressors" and have employed mechanisms to resolve their internal conflicts through dialogue. The territory they jointly control now supports a land use system that integrates herding with the production of the Borassus palm. (Gueye 1994)

The Pacific coastal region of Colombia includes areas with some of the highest levels of biodiversity found anywhere in the world. As a potential gateway to Pacific Rim markets, the region is targeted for large-scale infrastructure projects, such as port expansions and highways. Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities, living in the region and traditionally reliant on the forest for their livelihoods, are working with outside environmentalist groups to develop strategies which will help them to confront emerging conflicts of interest, and allow them to preserve much of the biological wealth that now surrounds them. They are also organizing within communities to meet the challenge from outside commercial logging interests, which until now have harvested trees with few constraints.

As these example indicate, local communities are often aware of the importance of managing their natural resources in a manner that will provide for their immediate needs as well as those of the future; obviously this does not preclude conflicts from developing over common resource use, whether within a community or between communities or between communities and commercial interests wishing to exploit local forests. The use of other examples would demonstrate that communities' interests may also diverge from those of government agencies -- as well as those of outside environmentalist groups -- whose goal is to establish policies for forest conservation.

Efforts to enhance involvement of local populations in forest resource decision-making can be strengthened by building local community capacity for managing conflicts that inevitably arise at various levels. Use of conflict resolution skills within a community, facilitating the reconciliation of differences among local interest groups, for example, will enable a community to represent its needs and interests to outsiders more effectively during the planning process. When outside interests clash with communities over the use of forest resources, community leaders can use improved negotiation skills to address the conflict before it becomes violent or poses other major costs to the local population. If local people are able to negotiate the factors which shape decisions that affect them, the decision-making process might be more just and, in the end, communities will feel more empowered.