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Persson (2003) describes the various phases that have characterized the forestry debate during the past 40 years as: industrial forestry, social forestry, environmental forestry and sustainable management of renewable natural resources. He concludes that we may now be in a fifth phase, which places emphasis on poverty reduction, governance, institutions and the rule of law. Many of the issues-based partnerships and alliances that are currently operating (and are described earlier in this paper) reflect the topics in the final phase of this list. However, there is also a change of mood afoot with rapidly emerging public awareness of the potential of climate change to have a severe impact on global environmental and economic systems. This is likely to impinge on the forest debate, with more emphasis given to issues such as payment for environmental services and avoided deforestation. Persson concludes his analysis with the statement that forestry itself will do little to influence the rate of deforestation, as the main reasons for deforestation lie outside the forestry sector. In spite of this rather pessimistic assessment, there is little doubt that discussion and debate about forestry will continue.

It is evident that a significant change is underway at all levels, from international to local, in the way that forest debates takes place, consensus is developed and action is carried out. The old top down “government knows best” approach is giving way to alternative approaches, primarily because of the ever increasing voice and influence of civil society. Multi-stakeholder processes have emerged onto the global scene and been adopted as appropriate institutional vehicles for ensuring that:

However, this change has not been universal, and even where MSPs have been adopted the results have not always reflected the concerns of many of the interest groups. Edmunds and Wollenberg (2003), in an analysis of forest management decision making in China, India and the Philippines, note that the institutional arrangements and interests of state bureaucracies remain dominant, despite the increasing involvement of diverse interest groups.

Many MSPs such as Model Forests, remain relatively small enclave developments, and some have only a tenuous link to national policy processes. However, there seems to be little doubt that where MSPs have been applied effectively at national and sub-national levels they have produced outcomes that are reasonably durable and, on balance, socially acceptable.

A clear message from the experience of the past decade is that, unless there is buy-in from all affected stakeholder groups to policy and practice, the outcomes are likely to be contested to the extent that they will be unsustainable. In the current environment, MSPs offer the best hope to negotiate acceptable outcomes that will be more durable and lead towards sustainable forest management. However, the outcomes should be seen as operational “treaties” and not set in stone for all time. They will need to be continually re-negotiated in an on-going policy cycle of contest, debate, consensus, limitation, re-contest, etc.

Many MSPs have been stimulated by the interests of international organizations. Some are linked to national frameworks, such as a national forest policy or national forest programme (NFP), while some have a more specific regional or local focus. At the national level, it would seem desirable to bring the MSPs operating within a country under a common framework such as a national forest policy or programme. This would enhance coordination, sharing of information and provide opportunities for the exchange of ideas and mutual learning. However, this would need to occur in a way that does not diminish the autonomy of individual MSP initiatives or seek to impose the ideas and/or control of a single interest group. NFP processes, where they exist in any effective form, could focus on developing frameworks and institutional capacity for MSPs to operate. However, there might be a need for capacity building of participants involved in the NFPs to enable them to adopt the characteristics of MSPs that have been shown as being necessary for efficient and effective functioning. This refers particularly to ensuring that all relevant stakeholders are engaged in the process, and effective participatory techniques are applied so that marginalized and disadvantaged stakeholders can be empowered to negotiate effectively. However, an important caveat is that unless there is local ownership of the processes coupled with sufficient political will to engage effectively and respect the negotiated decisions, capacity building is unlikely to lead to improved outcomes.

Persson (2003), in his review of assistance to forestry during recent decades, takes a rather pessimistic view of the effectiveness of much of that assistance. However, he does conclude that much can be done by strengthening what he refers to as the “basics” in order to achieve the overall objective of sustainable forestry. These are areas in which most developing countries have problems. They are:

At least some of these “basics” can be addressed with relatively low cost approaches using institutional arrangements of partnerships, alliances and MSPs.


Many of the processes described in the previous sections are concerned with enhancing the quality of dialogue about forest issues where the major participants are often like-minded. They are less concerned with negotiating specific outcomes where the issues are highly contested. However, there are several forest issues in the Asia-Pacific region which are highly contested. Serious application of multi-stakeholder processes to these issues has the potential to contribute to outcomes that are likely to be more durable, and at the same time lead to enhanced social, economic and environmental impacts. It could be useful to support the piloting of activities to explore the application of multi-stakeholder processes in situations where serious conflict exists. Among the issues that could benefit from such application include:

In addition to focusing on specific issues such as those listed above, there are several activities that international organizations could undertake to build the capacity of forestry (and other) agencies to facilitate and promote more generalized multi-stakeholder dialogue and decision making including:


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