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Evolving institutional framework

Changes in national economic policies and societal demands on forests are having direct and substantial impacts on government forest institutions and administrative arrangements for forest management. These include modifications in the role of forest administrations, a move towards decentralization and changes in forest research and education orientations and structures.


In many countries, central forest administrations have moved away from their traditional role as supreme forest guardians. In some places, the normative functions of policy formulation have been separated from operational responsibilities, which increasingly have been passed to the private sector, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and local groups.

This deliberate shift of responsibilities away from centralized public management has taken four main forms:

Many industrialized countries have moved substantially towards privatization and decentralization. The shift in public forestry administrations' role has been more gradual in developing countries, where necessary policy and legislative reform and implementation have frequently been subject to delays, and where the historical context is different.

Moves towards decentralization have coincided with increased efforts by public administrations to involve a range of interest groups in public debate about forests and in decision-making processes. The forestry sector today is characterized by a pluralistic or multistakeholder environment in which an increasing number of independent groups (NGOs, different levels and branches of government, rural people's organizations, private-sector concerns, political parties, unions, etc.) are demanding, and often obtaining, a greater role in decision-making about forests, forestry and rural development.

These groups often have widely differing opinions, objectives and knowledge about forestry. Traditional decision-making mechanisms are being strained by the conflicting interests. Some mechanisms even seem on the verge of paralysis, as witnessed by the large number of forest management plans stalled in the courts in the United States and resistance to decisions and actions by forestry departments in many countries.

The existence of multiple and competing interests undoubtedly adds to the richness of the forestry debate. It provides an institutional system of checks and balances, assuring that decisions are closely monitored and questioned. The question is not whether to accommodate multiple interests but how. Without coordination and collaborative mechanisms, potential fragmentation of organizational responsibility poses a clear risk to sustainable forestry and rural development. Many efforts in eliciting public participation and using participatory approaches have not been very successful, partly because they have sometimes been processes of co-option and "rubber-stamping" instead of negotiation and dialogue. Methods and tools developed for participatory approaches and conflict management can be useful in developing collaborative mechanisms (see Box 21). Communication and learning seem to be at the centre of any attempt at coordination in pluralistic environments.


BOX 21
Tools and fora for accommodating multiple interests in forestry

Tools and methods have been developed to deal with multistakeholder situations. They include:

· collaborative learning: techniques for building agreement using tools from conflict management and multi-disciplinary systems methodologies, which have been used to plan and implement forest fire recovery programmes in the United States;
· patrimonial mediation and management subsidiarity: mechanisms for reaching agreement on historical processes and future scenarios and for promoting decentralization of decision-making to the lowest competent level, which are being used in forestry programmes in Madagascar;
· co-management of protected areas: collaborative management which combines participatory methods with distribution of responsibility and formal vesting of authority in local groups and communities, as in programmes supported by the World Conservation Union (IUCN);
· adaptive management of renewable resources: management that consciously promotes continuous learning and adaptation, as has been used in Queensland, Australia and the Columbia Basin of the United States and Canada, among other places.

These methods, although still evolving and imperfect, reflect a growing recognition of the necessity of incorporating and influencing social processes in forestry. They are all multistage and iterative processes, with an emphasis on learning and dialogue. They also accept some degree of power sharing among interest groups.

Various fora at all levels are providing increased opportunities for groups to interact and negotiate. These include a whole range of local processes as well as national forest programmes, the Intergovernmental Forum on Forests, model forest programmes and the World Commission on Forests and Sustainable Development (see Part III).

Despite the growing set of means for assessing multiple interests, strengthening cooperation and developing collaborative mechanisms, further research and development are still needed. Accommodating multiple interests may be complicated and will not always be successful, but it appears to be unavoidable.


The role of forest institutions as facilitators among a range of stakeholders has become increasingly important. This is evident, for instance, in North America and Scandinavia, where forest institutions are becoming brokers among competing positions on best approaches to forest resource utilization. Conflict management techniques are increasingly being used in the forest sector, at both the local and national levels and in developed and developing countries alike (see Box 22).


BOX 22
Natural resource conflict management

Many countries and institutions recognize the need to understand the causes and consequences of conflicts over the ownership, management and use of natural resources, including forests and trees, and to incorporate conflict management mechanisms into natural resource planning and management. Conflict management is based on a dialogue leading to a mutually acceptable solution. Institutions around the world are focusing on capacity building, community empowerment and policy and legislative reform in support of this approach.

In Asia, for example, the Regional Community Forestry Training Centre (RECOFTC) in Bangkok, Thailand is developing a conflict resolution training manual series, which covers basic resolution techniques as well as intervention skills for dealing with environmental, economic, gender and cultural conflicts. Other institutions working on capacity building for conflict management are Environment and Development in the Third World Sahel and West Africa's Forum de groupes de recherche action formative (ENDA GRAF Sahel), working with national networks in West Africa, and the Universidad de la Paz in Costa Rica and the Universidad Politécnica Salesiana in Ecuador which have developed training programmes.

It is necessary to reduce power disparities before parties can engage in effective dialogue. Women and marginalized groups in particular are often disadvantaged in this respect. In Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru, a working group involving the Instituto Latinoamericano de Investigaciones Sociales (ILDIS), IUCN, FAO's Forests, Trees and People Programme (FTPP) and other institutions has helped indigenous communities strengthen their positions and negotiating skills in conflicts with oil companies over petroleum exploitation in forest areas. In Ecuador, the process has resulted in the creation of an Environmental Technical Committee with representatives of the indigenous peoples, the oil company and the government.

National laws that recognize and support community-based forest management and property rights, such as the newly enacted Indigenous Peoples' Rights Act of 1997 in the Philippines, provide a means for more equitable processing of conflicts. Moreover, conflict management techniques can be used to formulate policy in a participatory manner. For example, the Fundación Futuro Latinoamericano (FFLA), a private organization based in Ecuador and specialized in conflict resolution and participatory policy review processes, facilitated negotiation of the revision of Bolivia's forestry legislation.



Countries' efforts to decentralize certain functions of central government administrations have included changes in the forestry sector. In West Africa the process has taken off over the past few years, particularly in French-speaking countries such as Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal. Bolivia and the Philippines are also often cited as countries actively promoting greater involvement of local government in natural resource management.

A number of factors are likely to support continued decentralization efforts. These include some factors specific to the forest sector:

Other factors are related to political processes (empowerment and participation):

Others are related to national or international priorities:

The impact of decentralization on natural resource management is difficult to assess, partly because it has been initiated only relatively recently. In addition, the decentralization process differs from country to country and from sector to sector, which makes comparison and evaluation between countries, or even between sectors in the same country, difficult. Analysis is also hindered by the variability in capacity and resources of the lower levels of government, communities and newly created governance entities to whom the power and responsibility are given.

Although it may still be too early to conduct a thorough assessment of the impact of decentralization on forest management, certain lessons are emerging. Often, when authority and responsibility have been shifted to the local level, additional human and financial resources commensurate with the new responsibilities have not been provided. This was the case with the Integrated Social Forestry (ISF) programme in the Philippines. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources, prior to the Local Governance Code of 1991, recommended that the ISF programme be decentralized so as to be more responsive to diverse local needs and conditions. When decentralization was officially implemented, however, not all the provinces received their share of personnel, materials and equipment. Without adequate human, financial and technical resources, local governments had difficulties coping with the volume and demands of ISF activities. In addition, local governments assigned low priority to ISF, as with other non-revenue generating projects. Several years after the Local Governance Code had been enacted, it was found that the performance of ISF projects had declined.

This example and experiences elsewhere, such as in Bolivia (see Box 23), illustrate that certain conditions need to be met for decentralization to have a positive impact on forest management. These include:


BOX 23
Decentralization: the example of Bolivia

With the expectation that decentralization could lead to more efficient natural resource management, several Latin American countries have recently transferred rights and responsibilities for forest management and conservation to municipal and lower-level local governments. Nowhere has this process gone as far as in Bolivia. The country's 1994 Popular Participation Law devolved a broad range of responsibilities to municipal governments, including education, health and urban infrastructure, and guaranteed them a certain percentage of the national budget. The 1996 Forestry Law allocated 20 percent of public forests to municipal administrations for use by community groups and gave local governments direct control over 25 percent of the royalties from these forest concessions.

The impacts of these changes so far have been mixed. Previously marginalized groups, such as indigenous people, small farmers and small-scale timber producers, have benefited from increased access to forest resources and from greater opportunity to influence municipal governments on decisions related to local forest management. Several municipalities have established municipal forestry units, and local governments have become more involved in a wide variety of activities related to forest management, agroforestry, protected areas and land use planning.

Not all local groups, however, have been equally well positioned to take advantage of the opportunities, and improvements in forest management have not always been achieved. Important problems remain, such as weak technical and managerial skills within both local governments and communities, and the lack of necessary external support, particularly from national and departmental governments, to strengthen local capacities. The overall policy context is insufficient to allow local groups to exercise their legal rights and responsibilities fully, and as a result has tended to stymie local forest management initiatives.

Decentralization has sometimes given local communities the means needed to protect their resources well, while on other occasions it has enabled the misuse of power by local groups and individuals which has sometimes led to forest degradation.


With growing momentum for decentralization it is anticipated that local communities will have better opportunities for negotiating a greater role in managing and benefiting from local forest resources. The process is expected to allow local governments to be more responsive and accountable to the needs of local stakeholders. The underlying assumption is that local institutions will have a greater sense of responsibility for stewardship of forest resources, in part because this will be linked to a greater share of the benefits. Many cases today, such as the forest user groups in Nepal, illustrate this point. Decentralization of management responsibilities to local groups has resulted in rehabilitation of degraded lands, planting of new forests and improved forest management efforts.

While decentralization is showing many positive signs of leading to more efficient and sustainable forest management, particularly by providing more opportunities for local involvement in decision-making, it carries potential risks. When rights and responsibilities for forest management are transferred to the district or municipal level, central government control and support are often reduced. The potential exists for the local élite or special interest groups to gain control of the management of forest resources. One way to guard against this result is to ensure that where representative, equitable and accountable traditional systems of local governance exist, they are included in decision-making on management of forest resources. It is also important that adequate local capacity, information and trained personnel be in place to ensure that new responsibilities are effectively met at the local level.

Moreover, clear enabling policies are needed, and legislative systems and institutions must be coordinated, to provide a supportive and well-understood framework to achieve sustainable forest management and to create incentives at the local level to harmonize development and conservation efforts. As already indicated, mechanisms must be put in place to ensure that adequate financial resources are made available to responsible decentralized institutions and that financial returns from forestry activities are equitably distributed. An adequate central regulatory structure must also be in place to ensure that laws and regulations are followed.

Although it is still early for full assessment of the impact of decentralization on management of forests and other natural resources, experience has shown that when greater decision-making power and more secure rights are transferred to the local level, with clear definition of roles and responsibilities, natural resource management tends to be more sustainable and effective.


Forestry research is being called upon to address the needs of a larger array of users in more technical fields than ever before. Various institutional changes, however, are affecting the ability of forestry research in both developing and developed countries to meet these needs.

In many developing countries, research capability is inadequately developed, existing research institutions are weak, access to information is poor and research tends to be fragmented and narrowly focused on traditional topics. Strengthening national forest research systems is more than ever an important priority. Various economic and policy reforms, including structural adjustment, decentralization and privatization, however, risk having the opposite effect.

Ongoing structural adjustment efforts in many sub-Saharan African countries, as elsewhere, have led to the downsizing of public institutions. National agricultural research systems (NARS), of which forestry research is a component, have also been restructured. The prevailing trend has been to decentralize agricultural research by transferring national research staff to regional multidisciplinary research programmes within the country. While justified in principle, this decentralization may in fact weaken national capacity in forestry research, at least over the short term, by diluting a body of expertise already below the critical mass.

One way in which development projects have tried to compensate for weak national research capabilities is to include a research component in their activities. Although this has an invigorating effect on the particular field of research during the project's life, the benefits are unsustainable if permanent national forest research institutions are unable to participate in the activities and to capitalize on the results, as is often the case.

New institutional arrangements in forestry research are emerging in some developing countries to help compensate for reduced government support (FAO, 1997k; FAO/FORSPA, 1998). Universities, which have been found to be important but underutilized reservoirs of expertise (Kowero and Spilsbury, 1997), NGOs and the private sector are becoming more active in forestry research. While these developments are positive in principle, whether they will result in greater research efficiency and effectiveness will depend on good coordination among these groups and the ability to capitalize on their relative strengths and expertise. Another significant change is that research programmes are being forced to be more accountable to end users as users are becoming better organized and as governments increasingly insist on cost recovery or cost-sharing approaches.

Research is being privatized and decentralized in some industrialized countries as well. The results have been mixed. Decentralization often leads to decreased support for research because regional and provincial governments tend to assign low priority to long-term activities. Privatization of research in some countries, and the private sector's involvement in an increasing proportion of research in others, is resulting in a shift towards adaptive research to meet immediate and commercially oriented needs. Partnerships between private companies and universities are also changing the nature of university research programmes from basic to more applied research. While a more needs-oriented targeting of research effort is a positive development, the risk is that insufficient support will be given to basic and long-term scientific research (needed as a foundation for applied research) and to research addressing social and environmental needs.

At the international level, the forestry and agroforestry research programmes of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF) and the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI) continue to develop steadily, while programmes of some other international agricultural research centres (IARCs) of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) system have experienced major cuts. CIFOR, ICRAF and IPGRI, by mandate, focus on strategic and applied research at the global level, which they carry out in collaboration with regional and national research institutions. The results need to be adapted to local conditions by the national research systems. Weak research capacity at the national level, however, is recognized by the IARCs as an important constraint to widespread application of their research results.

An important effort to mobilize the world scientific community around agricultural research and in turn to help strengthen national research capacity in developing countries resulted in the establishment of the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR) in 1996. GFAR provides a framework for partnership between IARCs, research institutes (both public and private) in industrialized countries and NARS in developing countries. NARS are represented in GFAR by regional or subregional fora on agricultural research. Although in principle these fora cover forestry research, they are still concerned almost exclusively with agricultural research in the narrow sense. GFAR could help strengthen forestry research at all levels, but only if adequate attention is given to the forest and environment sector.

Although national, regional and international fora continue to discuss what research needs to do (i.e. priorities for research), questions on how to do it (i.e. institutional arrangements) have become more important in recent years. Increasingly, research institutions are involving research users in phases from programming through implementation of research and are developing improved methodologies to ensure effective and accelerated transfer of research results.

A major evolution in thought about technology transfer has occurred over the past decade. It is more commonly recognized that the solutions for problems are not always technical. Not every constraint to sustainable forest management can be alleviated by the transfer of technology. Policy environments favourable to sustainable forest management and to the implementation of technologies are as important as the technologies themselves.

Transfer of technology is no longer seen as unidirectional, e.g. from developed to developing countries or from technical institutions to user communities. Means of encouraging lateral and even upward transfer of technology and opportunities for more South-South exchange of information are increasingly being sought. In some cases, participatory technology development (based on the active participation of recipients in development and adaptation of technology) may be more effective and sustainable than the transfer of technology developed elsewhere. The value of traditional forest-related knowledge is also becoming more widely recognized. Significant opportunities exist for transfer of this traditional knowledge and environmentally sound local technologies. However, the lack of adequate protection of intellectual property rights and thus of the means to reward the supplier of knowledge is an important concern.

Participatory and problem-solving extension systems which accommodate the skills and knowledge of many partners are seen as essential to technology and human resource development for responsible forest management. In many countries, however, such systems for forestry are just emerging.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Forests developed proposals for action to improve research and transfer of technology at the global and regional levels. Further discussion is being undertaken by the Intergovernmental Forum on Forests. The second session of IFF (Geneva, Switzerland, August to September 1998) addressed questions of transfer of environmentally sound technologies. Issues that were stressed included partnerships among the public and private sectors, South-South collaboration, enabling policy environments, financing opportunities and both indigenous and modern technologies. Discussion of research issues is scheduled for IFF's third session (Geneva, May 1999). The points for consideration will be based on the results of the International Consultation on Research and Information Systems, an intersessional meeting held in Ort-Gmunden, Austria in September 1998. Issues addressed at this meeting included prioritization of research topics, capacity building, financing, global and regional research networks and global research systems.

The years to come will be crucial for forestry research and for the effectiveness with which the results are used in development. The two major current international initiatives - the establishment of GFAR and the international dialogue on forests led by IFF - can significantly influence the direction of forestry research and development. The great challenges will be to ensure that mechanisms are put in place for strengthening research capacities at all levels; that technology transfer issues are addressed; that research and technology transfer are driven by need and not by supply; and that international support is focused not on areas of research perceived as "politically correct" but on research required to facilitate long-term capacity development.


Traditional forestry education has continued to be under pressure to evolve in response to new emphases in forest management and to changes in the job market. Educational institutions are expected to produce forestry graduates with a wider array of knowledge and skills than ever before. The complex and dynamic nature of sustainable forest management requires forest managers who have an expanded set of skills, are adaptable and are responsive to changing situations. The private sector and NGOs, which are increasingly important employers in the forestry sector, are looking for graduates with specific skills that were less needed in the past. Curriculum reform, expanded continuing education opportunities and a reconceptualization of the learning environment are some of the responses to the new demands.

Curriculum reform is probably the most obvious change in forestry education. A 1996 survey showed that more than 200 of the 750 forestry education and training institutions surveyed revised their curricula during the period 1989 to 1995 (FAO, 1996d). Revised forestry curricula tend to place increased emphasis on such subjects as ecology, environmental sciences, natural resource management, community forestry, agroforestry, marketing, management and administration. Some of the curriculum reform incorporates new techniques, learning models and styles, such as interdisciplinary problem-solving approaches, in addition to new content. In Malaysia, curricula were revised as part of a redesigning effort for forestry education which included the development of a strategic plan and the restructuring of faculty and departments. In the Czech Republic, as in other countries in transition, forestry curricula are being modified in response to dramatic shifts in forest ownership patterns and other changes brought about by economic and political restructuring. The Czech Republic's education system, which was formerly nationally uniform, has been diversified and adjusted to individual regions so as to be more applicable to their respective circumstances.

Meaningful curriculum revision remains difficult, however. Traditional but still important subjects, such as harvesting and transport systems, must still be taught while new subjects are added. Difficult trade-offs are necessary. In a survey of its graduates conducted by the Tropical Agriculture Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE), 96 percent thought that the profession's future lay in the private sector, while 91 percent stated that little training was received in management and administration - skills in demand by the private sector.

Adult learning and continuing education programmes have become increasingly important as a mechanism to fulfil demands for new skills. Employers of new graduates may need to provide preservice training programmes on specific subjects not covered by their formal training. There is also a growing reliance on continuing education or in-service training to give mid-career personnel new knowledge and skills.

Opportunities for learning outside the classroom are also increasing. Distance learning provides academic structure but flexibility as to place and time of learning. New information and communication technologies, such as the Internet, provide immediate access to unprecedented quantities of information and education resources. They are contributing to a reassessment of time and space in education, through concepts such as institutions without walls and learning as a lifelong endeavour. These technologies and their rapid pace of evolution, as well as other changes, are contributing to an inversion of the traditional learning pyramid, older professionals having to look to younger ones for information, training and advice.

Significant changes are coming about as a result of both decreased public support for forestry education and training and increased involvement of the private sector and NGOs in these activities. New strategic alliances between public and private institutions are emerging in some places. ForKom, a forestry forum in Indonesia involving private forest companies, government agencies, the Forestry Training College and international donors, is an example of informal coordination for human resource development in the forestry sector. In some places, private companies are co-sponsoring courses with universities in subjects of interest to them.

Despite the positive developments indicated above, overall education has been slow to adapt to new demands and far more change is still needed. Traditional institutions will be forced to explore ways of being more flexible such as allowing course work from a broader range of disciplines and giving credit for work experience and training at different institutions. Continuing education and in-service training programmes will have to be more frequent and will have to be designed and implemented better. Adult education and training approaches that will help foresters continue to learn and to update their skills will be increasingly important. Dynamic partnerships and alliances among a range of organizations - private sector, public sector and non-governmental - in development of training and education programmes, while becoming increasingly common, will require encouragement.

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