8. Organizing producer groups

Factors in successful organization
Some tools for organizing
Organizing producers for marketing and processing
Organizing for conflict management
For further reading

Previous chapters have mentioned advantages that rural producers can gain through organized efforts. The three main advantages are:

greater leverage for enterprise success, including: greater economies of scale in production, transport and marketing; a stronger basis for negotiating with middlemen and others in the processing-market chain; and a better basis for competing with larger-scale producers;

better prospects for sustainable harvesting through agreement by all local users of the forest resource, thus helping to ensure sustainable supply;

more equitable sharing of benefits from common property resources. This is important to foster the general perception of fairness in using a resource traditionally viewed as "open access".

This chapter describes factors involved in successful local organization for resource use and some tools for organizing communities for processing, marketing and resolving conflicts.

Factors in successful organization

The user group
The natural resource

Successful community organizations for natural resource management often share similar characteristics related to the local user group and the natural resource (ATI, 1995). User group here means the community with local access rights to the forest resource.

The user group

The characteristics of user groups that generally promote good community organization, which are often found in indigenous systems for common property management, include (ATI, 1995):

identification as a group. The group recognizes its members, and outsiders see the group as distinct. Not all the group's members may actively use the group's access rights; in this sense there may be "user sub-groups";

group size. The group should be large enough to support harvesting and processing at the threshold of economic sustainability. On the other hand, it should be small enough to manage common property resources effectively. In shifting from subsistence to commercial resource use, the sub-groups that use access rights may change size. This involves important dynamics of sustainable harvest rate and the threshold at which a member's benefits make participation in the group worthwhile;

control over resource. The group must have access to the non-wood resource that is recognized by legal rights or customary law. The group should be able to enforce exclusive authority over the resource and guarantee continued rights for subsistence uses even when it acquires commercial value;

mitigating income effects. Poorer community members should be represented in any change in resource use. Poorer households should have equal rights to participate in the enterprise and receive their fair share of benefits;

recurrent interaction. Frequent meetings of group members promote cooperative behaviour and adherence to the group's rules. They also make it more likely that the group will identify and penalize violations;

reciprocity. Group members realize that they will receive benefits only if they fulfil their obligations to the group. This condition, particularly in smaller groups, promotes internal self-monitoring;

disciplinary mechanisms. The group can impose sanctions or penalties that have a real deterrent effect.

The natural resource

In general, the forest resource managed by the group should be:

clearly defined. Clearly defined systems are easier to manage sustainably;

recognized by the community as valuable. Often, user groups will agree to the added effort of sustainable management only if they see that destructive over-use threatens the resource. There is generally a time lag between when resource degradation starts and when it is noticed by the community. Organizing for sustainable use should be based on the perceived value of the resource to the community.

Some tools for organizing

Community meetings
Land-use mapping
Community education

A number of references describe :how to organize communities to manage their resources (see "For further reading"). The tools include group meetings, land use mapping and community education.

Community meetings

Repeated group interaction develops a forum that builds cooperation and common values. As this forum develops through repeated meetings, shared problems can be identified and discussed and possible solutions proposed. Depending on an area's social norms regarding gender roles and public gatherings, special arrangements may be needed to ensure that women's concerns are represented in such forums.

Land-use mapping

Mapping is a tangible tool that community groups frequently find useful in organizing themselves. Maps of local land use capture geographic information that communities often need to assess efficiency of management and plan adjustments. Chapter 2 explained how mapping helps in inventories of non-wood forest resources. Mapping can also help to identify potential conflicts in land-use claims before they become confrontations. Furthermore, mapping can help forge a clear political and social identity for community members (Brown et al., 1995). Local groups often can use maps to plan and defend their land use with government agencies, funding organizations and credit institutions.

In some countries, satellite images of localities are available from government agencies in charge of cartography or natural resources. Using images of particular infrared bands, communities or supporting agencies can identify the forest and its borders with community or household clearings, water courses, etc. Once these clearings are identified, residents can help in naming them and matching land-use units with the image.

Community education

Community education develops future capacity for informed participation. In Colombia, for example, an NGO worked with communities near the La Planada Wildlife Refuge to manage a curriculum for practical instruction on community-scale development and a mobile environmental educational unit. The education was designed for adults, children, indigenous Amerindians and recent settlers (Poole, 1989). If public education successfully changes attitudes of those in and around the reserve (and in the national government), it can reduce the long-term costs of protecting an extractive reserve.

Where it is promoted by an outside organization, public education efforts must avoid eroding local language and culture, for example by providing bilingual instruction. Efforts should achieve technical and scientific advances that are in tune with local world views, and appropriate to the student groups (IAITPTF, 1992).

Organizing producers for marketing and processing

Organizing groups to market non-wood products employs the same tools used in organizing for resource management or enterprise formation (see Chapter 5). Often, a shared problem provides the focus for group formation; for example, a desire to reduce unfair treatment from market intermediaries. In respect of each problem, the new group should clarify (ATI, 1994):

• why the current situation is unacceptable;
• the root causes, including those which are in the group's control;
• options, obstacles and trade-offs to be considered in deciding how to change the situation;
• resources and information needed for individual and group action.

Experience from tree-growing and marketing cooperatives in India (Patil, 1992; see text box 8.1) suggests the following factors for ensuring success of producers' organizations:

cooperative discipline among members. Often this emerges from village or ethnic traditions of collective organization;

credible leadership. Group leaders should have expertise in management, consensus building and entrepreneurship. They should also recognize the interests of poorer members;

credible and efficient marketing system. A group's marketing structure/arrangement must ensure compensatory prices to its members;

appropriate technical support. The group should have access to enough technical knowledge to advise members and to enable them to make informed choices on species and products;

pragmatic and prompt institutional support. In particular, producer groups need to find flexible credit sources. In groups, producers are better able to negotiate customized mechanisms for collateral guarantee, for example. The group should identify other groups with shared interests and join with them to advocate for unbiased production incentives and harmonized regulations;

demonstrable success. Clearly observable success in a resource management or marketing strategy builds confidence in the group venture, ensures unified effort and makes members comfortable with justified risk-taking later. A group should carefully choose its first activities for greatest chance of success.

Text box 8.1: Tree-growing cooperatives in India

The Agroforestry Federation of Maharashtra, based in Nasik, consists of 25 district-level tree-growers cooperatives! It provides marketing and technical support to its member cooperatives and individual farmers, mainly for marketing eucalyptus wood and oil seeds of Jatropha curcas. To join a cooperative, farmers pay an entry fee of about US$ 100 per hectare of land they farm; poor farmers pay a reduced fee of about US$ 5 per ha.

The Nasik Tree Growers' Cooperative Society obtains for its members a 30 to 40 percent higher return than what they could get individually. Other benefits to members include:

• advice on market conditions at the district, region, and national levels
• lower transportation costs through combined loads
• technical advice on harvest timing and methods
• greater responsiveness to changes in regulations
• economies of scale for storage of produce at optimum locations
• collective bargaining and even cash advances during periods of storage

The cooperative coordinates members' harvests for bulk transport and efficient use of labour. Records document each member's harvests and the return. The cooperative manages a sales depot, where products are sorted by several grades of quality and sold at a fixed price for each grade. This standardization benefits members, who receive US$ 80 per tonne of produce compared to US$ 28 per tonne received by individual farmers at auction. It also benefits local retail consumers. Wholesale traders have slowly adjusted to the reduced profit margins resulting from this arrangement (Issar, 1994).

Organizing producers for processing ventures makes possible similar gains for producers. In Xapuri, Brazil, producers in 1990 organized the first shelling factory owned by Brazil nut collectors. Credit arrangements included US$ 60,000 :For the factory plus salaries for the factory manager and technical assistance (which in many processing ventures costs more than the facilities and equipment). The factory has made a tremendous difference by (Clay and Clement, 1993):

• reducing spoilage of the nuts;
• eliminating intermediaries' profits;
• providing local employment;
• dramatically increasing the price paid to nut collectors.

Organizing for conflict management

Conflicting demands on a resource can emerge when different groups compete for the same resource (for example, loggers competing with gatherers of non-wood products), or when people interested in a resource are unable to participate in managing. Such conflicts can occur within a community, between neighbouring communities, or between communities and outsiders.

Conflict management, alternative dispute resolution and resource sharing are all terms that refer to a strategy that has developed in the last few decades as a way to address conflicting claims over natural resource use. Conflict management in managing forest resources offers a means by which community groups can peacefully resolve land-use conflicts.

Different societies have different ways for dealing with conflict. In conflict management, the aim is to reach a mutually agreeable solution by using the institutional means available within that society together with an understanding of the interests of everyone involved in the conflict. In general, conflict management employs negotiation and/or mediation by a neutral third party using the following principles (Pendzich et al., 1994):

• any attempt to resolve conflicting claims must include the informed participation of all who have a stake in how the forest resource is used;

• identify the true source of the conflicts. This permits a better understanding of each party's interests and the incentives that could lead to resolving the conflict;

• each side involved in negotiating a solution must believe that negotiating is in their best interest and should do so in good faith.

The example in the following paragraphs, summarized from Villareal (in Pendzich op. cit.), illustrates the role and importance of community organization in resolving land-use disputes. It also shows how local organizations can develop from very little formal foundation. Chapter 9 describes sources of technical and information support that groups should seek and use to develop their strengths.

Example: Creation of the Awá Indian territory in Ecuador

The Awá people inhabit a forest that straddles the border between Ecuador and Colombia. In Ecuador, the Awás' biologically rich forest is highly coveted by the surrounding communities of poor farmer groups and lumber and mining companies. In 1984 a process known as Plan Awá began to help Awá people secure rights to the area for their management.

Plan Awá faced enormous obstacles, including:

• lack of formal Awá organization for defending their rights from outside threats;

• high illiteracy among Awá (nearly 63 percent, compared to a national rate of 14.8 percent);

• competing claims on Awá lands by poor peasant communities, commercial interests, and conflicting government interests (particularly for road construction and mining);

• lack of recognition for the Awá by the national society, and lack of social or biophysical information;

• a tendency by the Awá to abandon their language and culture in the face of pressures from the dominant national society.

Yet despite these, a strategy of conflict management and gradual organization by the Awá successfully helped them to secure their rights to manage the forest.

A commission formed by the Ecuadorian government to coordinate support activity in the Awá region, financed by a small grant from the US-based group Cultural Survival, began to develop a plan for conserving and developing the Awá region. The first goal was to establish an Awá Indian territory, with the longer-term aim of conserving the natural resource and alleviating the poverty in the area.

The National Board for Coordination of Indian Nations of Ecuador (CONACNIE), later called the Federation of the Indian Nations of Ecuador, became involved. CONACNIE provided a voice of advocacy for the Awá and helped to guide the communities toward forming their own organization. Important elements and lessons from that five-year process are described below.

Prioritize a strategy. Plan Awá identified three priorities: (1) generate public and political support for recognition of the Awá's rights, (2) demarcate and gain legal appropriation of the Indian territory and (3) strengthen Awá capacity for participation in the process.

Build institutional support. Plan Awá launched a campaign among government agencies to include the project in the strategies for stronger national sovereignty in border regions. By identifying the Plan with this government goal, it gained support and a basis for inter-agency cooperation. A census of the Awá confirmed an overwhelming majority had been born in Ecuador (counter to opposing arguments). This led to steps to get their citizenship officially acknowledged.

Demarcate and gain legal appropriation of Awá lands. First, the commission outlined the Awá territory on a map in its office. Correcting flaws in that information required two years of fieldwork in difficult terrain.

During this time, the Awá faced four main conflicts over their land: (1) with an association of outside farmers, (2) with a pre-cooperative of wealthy landowners, (3) with lumber companies and (4) with government in creating a basis for an Indian territory. In managing these conflicts, the Awá learned to:

define the source of conflict. In one case, Awá prevented neighbouring communities from panning for gold in Awá lands because the outsiders did not abide by Awá rules prohibiting sale of timber, animals or fish in outside markets. The two sides sat down with a facilitator and defined the problem from both perspectives. They reached a solution in which the miners were allowed to pan for gold on Awá lands provided they abide by Awá rules of resource use. This simple solution averted an escalation of conflict;

use the power of information in an unfavourable negotiating environment. When timber companies violated agreement conditions of forestry management on Awá lands, the Awá brought forth compelling documented evidence of negative impact caused by companies' activities on the region's ecosystems, exploitation of indigenous people, violations of national policies and blackmail of officials. The evidence convinced authorities to suspend logging in the area and helped to turn public opinion against the guilty companies;

separate conflicts. By dealing with each competing land claim in separate negotiations, the Awá achieved greater success than if they had attempted to settle all at once.

Strengthen Awá participation. At the start, the Awá had no clearly identifiable leaders and no process for involving all of the community in analyzing their problems, except for certain spiritual rites that gathered small groups. The non-Awe commission members promoted large meetings of the Awá Pre-federation to raise awareness, build local capacity, and provide a way for the commission to consult with the Awá The Awá developed capacity for participating in conflict resolution by debating the need for Forming a representative organization. This debate took place at the local level and in large meetings of the Awá Prefederation. In these meetings, a group decision emerged to defend their lands against competing claims, creating a focus and, purpose for their organization. Until their own organizational structure developed, they adopted the guardianship of CONACNIE.

Later, the Awá elected a Director for their Pre-federation and the organization developed a stronger parliamentary practice. Gradually the Awá population recognized the pre-Federation's authority and its leaders no longer relied on the advice of intermediaries.


• Organize local groups to provide the NWFP producers the benefits of greater economic leverage, better means for ensuring wise forest management and more equitable sharing of benefits from commercial enterprise. Organizing is easier in communities where there is a clear group sense of identity, patterns of cooperative behaviour and established rights to a clearly bounded resource.

• Use the tools of regular group meetings and mapping of local land-use patterns. These can form a basis for group planning, action and dealing with outsiders.

• Depending on the situation, producers may first need to organize to obtain harvesting rights. Where local organizations are not well developed, intermediaries such as NGOs may help the community build its own organization. Producer groups should develop good management skills and access to technical information, training and resources.


ATI. 1994. Selected coconut processing options for small-scale producers. Appropriate Technology International and the University of the Philippines at Los Baños (UPLB), Washington, D.C.

ATI. 1995. Non-timber forest products manual. Draft version. Appropriate Technology International, Washington, D.C.

Brown, I.F., Alechandre, A.S., Sassagawa, H.S.Y., and Aquino, M.A. de. 1995. Empowering local communities in land-use management: the Chico Mendes Extractive Reserve, Acre, Brazil. Cultural Survival Quarterly Winter 1995:54-57.

IAITPTF. 1992. Charter of the indigenous-tribal peoples of the tropical forests. International Alliance of the Indigenous-Tribal Peoples of the Tropical Forests, Penang, Malaysia.

Issar, R. 1994. Development of market intelligence and infrastructure for agroforestry in India. In Raintree, J.B., and Francisco, H.A., eds., Marketing of multipurpose tree products in Asia. Winrock International, Bangkok.

Patil, V. 1992. Farm forestry cooperatives in Maharashtra: reasons for success and failure. In Taylor, D. A., ea., NGOs and tree-growing programs: working between farmers and governments. Winrock-IDRCFAO/RAPA, Bangkok.

Pendzich, C., Thomas, G., and Wohlgenant, T. 1994. The role of alternative conflict management in community forestry. Forests, Trees and People Programme II Working Paper No. 1. FAO, Rome. (Contains The creation of the Awá Indian Territory - Ecuador, by Carlos Villarreal, 1993 )

Poole, P.J. 1989. Developing a partnership of indigenous peoples, conservationists, and land-use planners in Latin America. Environment Policy, Planning and Research Working Paper. World Bank, Washington, D.C.

For further reading

Clay, J.W. and Clement, C.R. 1993. Selected species and strategies to enhance income generation from Amazonian forests. Forestry Working Paper FO:Misc/93/6. FAO, Rome.

Davis, R., and Dunn, W. 1994. Report of the international workshop on natural resource management on tribal lands, January 1994. US Forest Service, Washington, D.C.

FAO. 1990. The community's toolbox: the idea, methods and tools for participatory assessment, monitoring and evaluation in community forestry. Community Forestry Manual No. 2. FAO, Rome (English-French-Spanish).

Fisher, R.J. 1994. Indigenous forest management in Nepal: why common property is not a problem. In Allen, M., ea., Anthropology of Nepal: people, problems and processes. Mandala Book Point, Kathmandu.