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Background and objectives of the study

Many organizations and institutions have been, or are currently, testing or piloting multi-stakeholder dialogue mechanisms, aimed at improving decision making in the forestry sector. However, to date, little or no systematic assessment of the effectiveness of the various mechanisms has been conducted. The FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific initiated this study to enhance FAO’s understanding and ability to support institutional adaptation and reform in the forestry sector. It is anticipated that a review of the lessons learned and experiences of the various processes will better position FAO and other international organizations to support countries in the region in developing and fostering effective multi-stakeholder dialogue and decision making processes and mechanisms. Particular attention is given to the role of national government forestry agencies in the region in facilitating, organizing, convening, and participating in multi-stakeholder processes and mechanisms, and their willingness to engage non-governmental organizations and civil society in such approaches.

Paradigm shifts in forest management

Scientific forestry, as we currently know it, arose in Europe in the middle of the 18th Century. It was aimed primarily at managing forests for the production of key products (generally timber) and it became, and largely remains, the dominant forest management paradigm in most countries. The key stakeholders of this form of forestry are governments and the timber industry. Forest management knowledge and the wisdom for its application are typically possessed by a cadre of scientifically trained foresters, generally working for government forestry agencies or the timber industry. Over time, strong regulatory frameworks for controlling forest access and use were adopted by governments and applied by their professional foresters. Many countries also nationalized many, if not most, of their forests. Hence, the power to decide most aspects of forest management became monopolized by governments (and foresters), although the timber industry, often by engagement in the political process, was also a significant influence. This paradigm remained largely unchallenged until the mid to latter part of the 20th Century.

During the past several decades, different interest groups have begun to challenge the right of one group (or a narrow range of stakeholders) to dictate the way that forests are managed, and this has resulted in a rethink of the social objectives of forest management. Conservation interests have become increasingly apparent in production forests in both developed and developing countries. In developing countries this has been particularly evident with the adoption of western approaches to biodiversity conservation that have been widely embraced, often to the detriment of local communities who found themselves to be residing in or adjacent to newly created protected areas. In many developing countries, control of forests by the state for state interests has resulted in the interests of many people who live in and around forests, and who rely on forest products for subsistence and other purposes, being neglected. This has major ramifications for local livelihoods and has resulted in a significant challenge to the relevance of conventional forest management. The strengthening voice of a wide range of forest stakeholders, together with the rapid political, social and economic changes that have been evident over the last few decades, have fundamentally challenged the industrial forest paradigm.

The International Tropical Timber Agreement (ITTA) was signed in 1983 and the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) came into being in 1986 with a mandate to promote international trade in tropical timber and the sustainable management of tropical forests. NGOs were invited to participate in many of the discussions and debates on the management of tropical forests and they became active participants by the late 1980s. This was an important milestone, as it was one of the first times that governments and NGOs had sat at the table as reasonably equal partners in debating key aspects of forest management.

This then, was the setting for the Earth Summit at Rio in 1992 (more properly called the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development-UNCED). A major consequence of the conflicts that had arisen in both developed and developing countries during the decades leading up to the Summit was a challenge to the role of scientifically trained foresters (and governments) as the major actors in deciding how forests should be managed. The challenge was mounted by a diverse group of civil society representing a wide range of interests. The pressure was irresistible.

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