Chapter 6 Laws, institutions anti people

Contents - Previous - Next

Regulatory framework
Forestry services and public administrations
Involving rural people
The role of non-governmental organizations

Most countries have regulations and an administration for the forestry sector, within which forest management is implemented. But often the laws are out of date and are neither enforced nor enforceable. Institutions are weak and are not adapted to their tasks. Change is needed to create an enabling, incentive framework that will give the people of every interest group a voice in the decision-making process and a share in the benefits of forest management.

Regulatory framework

A sound and effectively implemented system of land-use planning under which areas of forest are demarcated and set aside as permanent forest estate is an essential prerequisite of all sustainable forest management systems.

Control over access is particularly important if the areas set aside are to be properly managed. This is a major difficulty in most countries in the developing world. Even formally classified forests are in effect unprotected in many areas and are subject to encroachment, illegal logging and charcoal-making and other destructive pressures - let alone the large areas of undemarcated forest that have no formal status.

In the past, forests in former colonies were regularly demarcated by colonial administrations but almost invariably in a manner that ignored local people's rights and indigenous management systems and not always on sound land-use principles. In many areas, people were forcibly excluded from areas in which they had lived and farmed and over which they had exercised traditional rights for generations. Although these reserves prevented encroachment or illegal logging in many areas, this was usually at the pace of considerable local ill-feeling towards the forest-service officers who policed them. Some countries on gaining independence immediately handed over some of their official forest lands to farmers. In many countries, however, the reserves still exist and continue to protect the forests. But the legacy of antagonism between forestry officials and the local community tends to persist and remains a serious obstacle to forest management.

Effective demarcation of forest areas is still a difficult and complex issue. The fact that the majority of tropical forests are formally owned by the state does not lessen the need for sensitivity in designating particular areas for management if a repetition of the colonial experience is to be avoided. Demarcation of forest lands without popular consultation will almost inevitably fail in its purpose, because regulation in itself will never be successful in controlling access over large areas. Similarly, arbitrary demarcation that bears no relation to the ecology or quality of the land can also lead to problems. It is essential that the designation of forest lands for particular purposes be based on sound land-use planning principles.

The enforcement of forest legislation emphasizes its restrictive, "policing" function, while at the same time restrictions on tenure and uses of trees act as a disincentive.

In some countries the basic problem is not that forests lack legal protection, but that the legislation covering allocation of land titles and fiscal policies actively encourage deforestation. In these countries, people clearing forest can claim title to the cleared land. This is a system that encourages destruction of forests; the felled trees are often not even used or sold for timber but are simply burned. The process is graphically illustrated by a number of cases in Latin America where the forest services have had to give up awarding logging concessions because the forests never lasted long enough for the concessionaires to harvest the timber. The reason was that agriculture departments were encouraging settlers to clear forests as a way of acquiring formal title to the land. At a time when the area of forest relative to the population seemed limitless and expansion of the agricultural frontier was seen as a primary national concern, such regulations made sense. At a time when reducing the rate of deforestation is an urgent concern, they are counter-productive.

Complete prohibition of forest clearing in agricultural frontier areas is unrealistic. It is nonetheless possible to reframe legislation so that rather than encouraging waste it would promote a more rational use of resources. Thus, forest land should be surveyed in advance to assess its suitability for conversion to sustainable agriculture. Areas that are designated as suitable for conversion should then be released in a properly planned and controlled manner. Arrangements should also be made to ensure that the trees on laud to be cleared are utilized instead of being burnt.

Forestry services and public administrations



Forestry services and public administrations, as the main repositories of formally recorded forestry knowledge and experience, have an important role in developing strategies for the management and protection of the world's forests. Unfortunately, many forestry services, particularly in the developing world, are ill-equipped for even their technical tasks, let alone for taking a wider role in the development of the national land-use and rural development strategies of which sustainable forest management is ideally an integral part. Without substantial amounts of additional funding from forest royalties or other government sources, it is unlikely that a high proportion of developing country forestry services and institutes will be able to meet the challenges facing them.

Forestry services are no longer required to fulfil technical functions only. Their role has expanded to cover social issues, interaction with other sectors and the integration of the forestry outputs within national development plans. The question is now whether forestry services have the means and the skills commensurate with the magnitude and complexity of the task they face.

Strengthening and reform of forest services are essential if they are to be able to make the contribution required of them in the future. The most basic requirement is that forestry should be given a greater allocation of government resources. With many other urgent pressures on the governments of most developing countries, it is difficult to see where these resources are to be obtained. But a reformed royalty system, in which all or most of the proceeds would be retained by the forestry sector, could increase the total funding available. This would also provide a greater incentive for forest services to be more diligent in the collection of fees and royalties than they are at present, although the forest service itself would have to be closely monitored by an independent body to ensure that this power not be abused.

Forest policies and forest laws have to be continually revised and updated if they are to remain relevant. The most important concept to introduce into present-day policies and laws is the need to secure people's participation in forest resource management - including participation in the policy-making process itself - while ensuring sustainability of the resource through safeguards on control. Unfortunately many countries, even those with long-established forest services, have not carried out such revisions. Another weakness in the forest services of some countries is the lack of planning capability, and often even of the reliable figures that are the raw material of the planning process. Forest services must develop channels for communication. Extension agents must provide fore to help foresters learn from farmers (or other groups), to help farmers learn from the forest service and to help farmers share information with one another. The means are required for information to flow upwards as well as downwards, so that managers and policy-makers are informed about the realities of the rural situation and the success of their programmes.


The trend of the past decade to divest the state of many of its functions and hand them over to the private sector is unlikely to end in the near future. The reduced bureaucracy, greater competition, greater accountability to the public and other benefits achieved by the privatization many public bodies keep its appeal high. In the forestry sector, the European experience, especially in Scandinavia, shows that private management of forests can work well provided there are adequate incentives and a framework of rules which are respected.

But it also has to be borne in mind that privatization in itself does not necessarily lead to the maximum public welfare, especially in the environmental area. The World Bank in its 1991 forest policy paper bluntly stated that "the free interplay of market forces will not bring about socially desired outcomes" (World Bank, 1991). The Economist magazine said in an editorial on the environment:

The market is unlikely to help. Even in an individual country it will rarely deliver what is best for the environment. The costs to individuals and companies of polluting or pillaging the environment will he lower than the costs their activities impose on the rest of society. National environmental policies therefore need government to step in and ensure that polluters carry the costs they would otherwise dump on their fellow citizens (Economist, 1 992).

A danger of the privatization of forests is that it would shift the planning horizon and the discount rate applied to investments to benefit individuals or commercial companies rather than society as a whole. As a result, investments that underpin public welfare and that have traditionally been the responsibility of governments, for example in forest or watershed management, may not be made. Another danger is that when land is privatized whole groups of people may be cut off from access to certain resources upon which they depend. It is often the poorest who depend most heavily on communal land for their livelihood.

Privatization must therefore be accompanied by consultation and by the establishment of a regulatory framework that ensures that the decisions taken by private companies are in accord with the overall welfare of society. The institutions necessary for interpreting and implementing these regulations must also have the necessary funding, competence, experience and stability. Failure to protect the forests effectively against the inherently short-term forces of the market could clearly have disastrous results. This is the main reason why in many countries privatization only affects forestry operations and forest industries. In countries as diverse as New Zealand and China public lands on which forests grow remain the property of the state in order to ensure long-term continuity in management. There is thus every reason to proceed slowly and cautiously towards their privatization.


Training is required for all people involved with the management of forests, at every level, whether in the public service, in the private sector or in rural cooperatives.

Existing forest-service staff will have to change attitudes, learn modern management techniques and learn to respond to the new demands upon them. It is no longer possible to retreat to a closed technical world inside the forest boundaries. Terms such as social forestry, participatory forestry and community forestry may be irritatingly vague to many who have been trained in the traditional way, but they represent important new dimensions in practising forestry. In-service training is required for staff in every forestry service, but at present is often lacking, especially in many developing countries. Training will have to have particular emphasis on working with and reaming from local communities, women and farmers. Confrontation was never a good idea and in today's increasingly crowded world it is futile and self-defeating. Rural development in the broad sense is the only means that will reduce and eventually eliminate the pressures causing deforestation. Forestry will involve collaboration with and participation of rural people and other organizations, both public and private, and forestry services will have to redefine their role to comprehend planning, developing an enabling environment, providing technical support and monitoring.

At the same time, it is essential to retain the professional core of forestry with its roots in accumulated knowledge and experience. There is no point in trying to turn trainee foresters into sociologists, anthropologists, agriculturalists, ecologists and extension agents all rolled into one. They must, however, be made aware of the relevance of the various disciplines, seeing their own role in a much wider context than they have traditionally done and learning how to work in multidisciplinary teams.


Research is a critical area of concern. Natural forest management involves dealing with the whole forest ecosystem, as well as the individual species, over prolonged periods. It needs to be supported by detailed research if the techniques used are to be refined and developed.

The long-term nature of forestry research requires a corresponding stability in the staffing and funding of the institutions involved. It is not only the growth and change of complex forest ecosystems that take place over long periods of time; training and development of scientific expertise are also long-term processes. The academic training of young scientists takes six or seven years, and it can be ten years or more before they are capable of original independent work in their specialization.

There is no lack of forestry research topics on which work is urgently required. They range from the fundamental to the applied, from the technical to the social, from the economic to those concerned with policy. They include detailed studies of forest ecosystems, the silviculture and biology of tropical forest species, techniques for the conservation of genetic resources and biodiversity, improvements in management and harvesting systems, market development of currently noncommercial species, protection against diseases and pests, improvements in the output of non-wood products, increases in the understanding of relationships between forests and local communities and between forests and the environment, and identification and quantification of the benefits of forests.

The range of topics extends into agriculture, since without stable and productive agriculture the survival of the forests will remain at risk. Researchers must learn from the farmers, not just of the challenges that they face but also of the solutions they have already identified. Furthermore, specialists now work with farmers to establish the farmers' conception of the ideal tree (or other plant), known as the ideotype, and then to identify the available genetic material or the role of mechanical manipulation (pruning, etc.) to use to approach the ideotype.

Many of these problems can be tackled by joint research programmes among institutions in different countries. Such links are being strengthened through new international institutions devoted to forestry research, which are discussed in Chapter 7. Nonetheless, local research must always be stressed, as must the transfer of research findings to the field, which remains a weakness still to be adequately addressed.

Involving rural people

Most forests in the developing world are on lands on which indigenous groups and other rural communities depend. It is essential that these people be involved in any proposals for the management of the forests.

Schemes that depend on setting aside forest or farming land for environmental or social reasons will not work satisfactorily unless local people feel that their legitimate demands are being met and that they are obtaining a fair share of the benefits. This will often require a much more open attitude on the part of forestry services, government officials and donor agencies.

Often there has been an assumption that rural people do not know the value of environmental protection. This view is condescending and almost invariably wrong. Rural people are only too aware of forest values and often have the solutions to the management problems associated with protecting them. The reason these are not applied is that there are other pressures, concerns and constraints. What rural people most often need from outsiders is not exhortation or advice but help in doing what they are well aware needs to be done.

It also has to be borne in mind that growing or preserving trees is seldom the first priority of rural people. An experience of a development project in the Sudan illustrates the point. After an entertaining puppet show that advised the community to plant trees, one of the community leaders spoke up: "Most of us are landless here. If you can bring us land we will first grow food for our children and then we would be glad to plant your trees for you." In other words, in this case food security was the pivotal issue around which virtually everything else fumed.

As populations increase and the pressure on the available land becomes heavier, many countries are finding that traditional common ownership systems are breaking down. People are enclosing and privatizing their lands as a means of protecting their own interests. This provides an additional incentive to invest in long-term land improvement measures. In some of the more densely populated areas of the Kenya highlands, for example, surveys have found increasing numbers of trees being planted on individual farms as the common resources decline or are privatized.

Private ownership of land, under certain conditions, may bring security to families as well as improved agricultural management and increased tree growing. But privatizing land may not always be the optimum solution, especially in the drier areas where the land is sequentially used by farmers and herders at different times of the year. In areas where common land management systems are breaking down, rather than assuming that a private tenure system will automatically bring an improvement, it is better to find out why the old system has failed and whether it can be restored.

Sometimes the best solution may simply be to trust the local population. One of the boldest moves of this kind to date has been made in Colombia, where the government has returned legal control of over 18 million hectares of land in the Amazon area to some 70000 native people. There is, of course, no guarantee that forests will be managed wisely or sustainably in the hands of local people. In Fiji and Papua New Guinea, the local groups or clans who owned the forest lands were misinformed of the true intentions of loggers, and their forests have suffered the same over exploitation and destruction as in other countries. But in Colombia there is at least a reasonable chance that the results will be more equitable socially and more favourable environmentally than they would be if control were to rest entirely with cattle ranchers or logging companies.

Another example of cooperation with local people, which is already having major success, is in West Bengal. By the early 1980s, huge areas of the natural sal forests had been reduced to degraded scrub by overgrazing, fires and the cutting of trees for poles and fuelwood. The potential for regrowth, however, remained high as the trees coppice easily. After the failure of many attempts to realize this potential by policing the forests and arresting fuelwood cutters and dealers, the forest services began to work with local communities, providing them with a share in the proceeds from regeneration of the forests. Now, local communities and the forest services are jointly managing over 250000 ha of luxuriantly growing forest which can be utilized for timber, poles, fodder and other outputs.

The role of non-governmental organizations

Over the past decade, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have become increasingly involved in forestry activities. They vary greatly m size, competence and objectives. Some are large international organizations with budgets many times greater than those of most national forestry services, while at the other end of the scale are small local voluntary groups. Many of the latter represent the village people. Their activities range from international discussions with government representatives and donor agencies to practical involvement in the problems of villagers living at subsistence level.

Most NGOs have a very different approach to their work than forest departments and other government agencies. Their goals are usually more limited, and because many have no statutory powers they must rely entirely on persuasion of the local people with whom they are working. As a result, they necessarily have to develop effective methods of communication with local communities. They also tend to be smaller, less bureaucratic and more flexible in their approach than official agencies, though this is decreasingly true of some of the larger international NGOs.

NGOs have their limitations. Some become involved in issues beyond their capacity and promise more than they can deliver. Some become self-righteous and intransigent, focused more on their image and fund-raising needs than on addressing the problems being faced at the local level. Some may have a short lifetime, may be set up purely opportunistically or may lack the resources or capacity for long-term projects. To avoid raising expectations that cannot be met, NGOs must be open and must accept scrutiny of their performance and the need for accountability.

To date, most NGO involvement has been concerned with the social and environmental impacts of forest utilization rather than the practicalities of production forestry. But in some places this is changing. In the Philippines, the government is collaborating with NGOs in the Community Forestry Programme which encourages people living near forests to carry out inventories and manage the forests for sustainable timber production.

Because, in general, NGOs do not start with a concern for timber production, which is at the heart of forestry tradition and training, they tend to take a much broader approach to forest-related issues. They are prepared to question many of the assumptions on which forestry policies are based. They are also able to fill in gaps in policies, providing support and advice for local communities which official agencies have been unwilling or unable to give.

NGOs can be particularly useful in representing women. Because of gender-based divisions of labour, women have specific needs and interests, especially in relation to the provision of food and fuel for their families, that are often not adequately taken into account in forestry projects. Social customs may also deny them a hearing in policy discussions even about projects where their attitude to what is being proposed is the most decisive factor.

Many social forestry programmes, for example, have failed because their planners did not consult the women who were expected to benefit from them but who proved unwilling or unable to carry them out. Programmes that involve extra work for women, for example, may be impossible to carry out unless there is a reduction of their workload in other areas. By involving and consulting NGOs that represent women's interests, such problems and design mistakes can be largely avoided.

The involvement of an appropriate organization representing local people may well be the key to the success of a community-oriented forestry programme. But collaboration with state agencies may create problems for the organization, such as the costs and frustrations of dealing with the bureaucracy and a restriction of the power to act independently. Working with state agencies can also reduce credibility, with the possibility that the NGO will be seen as an agent for the implementation of locally unpopular projects. These dangers can only be avoided if organizations that represent local people are genuinely allowed to be part of the decision-making process and are publicly seen to be doing so. NGOs are here to stay. They have demonstrated that they can make major contributions not just to the local implementation of forest policies but to their initial design and development. But simply involving an NGO is unlikely to bring any benefits unless there is a genuine commitment to collaborative working.

Contents - Previous - Next