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January 2005

Announcement of a new publication

The culture of access to mountain natural resources. Policy, processes and practices

Livelihood Support Programme Working Paper Number 7


This study has been commissioned by FAO to look at sustainable livelihoods approaches to access to natural resources in mountain areas. We concentrate on access by poorer and marginalized groups to policy processes whereby long-term sustainable access to resources is achieved. We have opted to concentrate on one country, Nepal and to focus on access to forest resources. This was done because the main thrust of our analysis concerns the importance of the time and country/specific nature of all understandings of policy and development practice. We hope that the reader will be convinced by our analysis and our conclusions. At its simplest level we are saying that to understand policy processes in any country at a certain time in history, one has to look at the role of the various actors involved and at the culture of the relationships between these actors. By implication, any attempt to draw lessons for planning and policy purposes from one situation to another requires analysing the culture of the policy process in both situations.

There is a considerable literature on the significance of the diversity of mountain agro-climate conditions, and on the diversity of local socio-economic and ethnic dimensions.1 There is comparatively little, however, written on the significance of the diversity of actors that influence policy processes and development practice in different political contexts. One of our suggestions, at the end of the report, is that this type of development actor analysis needs to be done on a country-by-country basis and needs to focus on the relevant policy processes at that time.

We have concentrated on the forestry sector for a number of reasons. First, it is the most important sector as regards access to natural resources in Nepal. Second, there is more written and analysed on this sector than on virtually any other. Third, in many ways and for reasons we shall explain in the report, the forestry sector is the most significant as regards ‘access’ issues in the contemporary democratic political context in Nepal. The community forestry programme has laid the ground for the government’s formal and legal recognition of forest user groups (FUGs). To some extent, it is partly due to this early government endorsement that most government, NGO and donor development interventions are now ‘implemented’ using a group-oriented approach. As FUGs have been legitimised throughout the country, the presence of these groups means that the FUGs in one way or another influence all other groups. An additional reason for choosing the forestry sector is that the growth of FECOFUN, a federation of forest user groups that represents the nearly 11,000 member groups, is a very significant institutional innovation that substantially influences forest policy processes and development practice. A final reason for concentrating on the forestry sector is because it illustrates so well the growing markets for timber and other forest resources and forest products, a situation that is, in turn, revolutionising the underlying assumptions and rationale for changes in policy processes.

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