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In 1986, within its Forestry for Community Development Programme, the FAO Forestry Department published a Forestry Paper entitled Tree Growing by Rural People. It presented various facets of the state of knowledge about tree-growing as it relates to community forestry i.e. forestry designed to benefit the rural tree growers/managers. However, although some of the most interesting future opportunities for community forestry lie in improving management of existing trees rather than in creating new resources, this document covered only partially the topic of tree and woodland management by rural people. It did not fully explore how rural people manage single trees or communal woodlands and how they manage their other resources in relation to trees and woodlands. Further effort was necessary to broaden and deepen the knowledge base on local management issues. In order to improve the success of management projects, more complete data and analysis was also needed on what knowledge rural people have already developed and the dynamics of their tree resource management strategies in response to changing policies, pressures and opportunities. Finally, more thorough understanding was to be developed of the results and impacts of various attempts to support rural people in the efforts to manage these resources.

Dr. Maryam Niamir, a range management specialist, has undertaken the first step in the process of filling this information gap as it relates to arid and semi-arid areas of Africa. She has reviewed an extremely wide range of literature, established contacts with researchers and analyzed the information from a perspective enriched by her own research among herders of Senegal. In this document Dr. Niamir has ably provided descriptions of a range of (but certainly not all) knowledge and management systems used mainly by African herders. The development of this study was supported by the Community Forestry Unit, and by an interdepartmental working group and a number of outside reviewers. It has been suggested by this group of experts that this study be further enriched through selected case studies to update and enlarge the information base. It would also provide the basis for training materials which will assist development practitioners in recognizing the importance of local technical knowledge and management systems for the design and implementation of successful community forestry activities.

This study is to be followed by similar research on decision making in resource management of peoples with other economic strategies. Similar documents are forthcoming on shifting cultivation, on private tree management looking at spatial arrangements (including indigenous agroforestry) as well as management of single trees for production of various products and communal management of woodlands. It is hoped that this series of studies will prove useful in pointing out the importance of local knowledge and resource management strategies as one step to more effective support to rural people in their effort to improve their current and future wellbeing through better tree and woodland management.

M.R. de Montalembert
Chief, Policy and Planning Service
Forestry Department

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