Forest Management: Changing Paradigms

Gopa Pandey 1


The global debate on instruments of sustainable forest management during the last two decades has generated concern about evolving sustainable development models, and eliciting people's participation has become a mantra for sustainability. The paper highlights an example of sustainable efforts to promote people's participation in forest management in India, and provides a road map for the mechanisms of empowering local institutions constitutionally, economically and technically. The importance of a continuum from global initiatives to regional consensus, through dialogue and planning in participatory forest management at national, subnational, forest management unit and grassroots level, is stressed for smooth implementation. This sustainable management model highlights the linkages necessary in the process of designing and implementing forest management interventions. It focuses on institutional mechanisms that have evolved over a period of time through decentralization of governance, enabling local communities to make plans, implement them and develop resources. The empowerment of local communities, through providing institutional flexibility, enabling legal space and building human and social capital, reflects strong partnerships in evolving sustainability. The communities' ability to plan and implement their own development interventions and address conflicts, has been made possible by a consistent evolution in the practice of joint forest management during the last two decades. The procedural changes in governance were introduced at a slow pace, allowing institutional resilience to respond to change and its systemic acceptance. The understanding of process in a democratic framework accommodated the new paradigm for development interventions. The approach involves addressing site-specific sociopolitical, geographical and cultural requirements. The international fora may facilitate regional and global partnerships to provide a synthesis of similar models to promote sustainable forest management.

1. Introduction

Over the last two decades, growing concerns about forest management have been pushing nations into global dialogue focusing on management initiatives to promote sustainable practices. The linkage between management and sustainable development evolved during the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 (the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development - UNCED) and was reiterated at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002. The instruments of change facilitating sustainable development at international, national and local levels needed to be identified. Multistakeholder agreements arising from UNCED, such as the UN Millennium Declaration, the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF), the Intergovernmental Forum on Forests, the World Bank's revised forest policy and strategy and the United Nations Forum on Forests, demonstrate the consensus that has been reached. The National Forest Programmes developed by 190 countries and Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) implemented by 150 countries are examples of implementation of the Rio Declaration at national level. The global partnership on SFM implementation is deliberated by around 40 international organizations in the ambit of about 20 agreements. A package of facilitating institutional provisions is being provided to forest managers to enable them to select the appropriate model for SFM.

The paper focuses on management interventions providing an enabling environment for SFM at regional, national, subnational and local levels. The institutional mechanisms developed in the State of Madhya Pradesh, India are highlighted to provide an insight into the processes that lead to the strengthening of the foundations of joint forest management (JFM). The gradual changes over two decades in evolving local institutions, motivating them to collaborate in forest management and rewarding them with appropriate incentives to develop their socio-economic milieu, are successfully reflected in increased participation on the part of the people. A constant nurturing facilitation of development is accommodated in the institutional framework, which reflects a win-win situation for stakeholders. The model is still evolving, with the prioritization of democratic processes of responsive administration, transparency and mutual accountability of stakeholders.

2. Planning mechanisms

The implementation of principles outlined in India's forest policy is traced from the National Forest Programme (NFP) to local microplans, through State Forestry Action Programmes (SFAP) to planning at forest management unit (FMU) level. These linkages reflect the translation of global concepts into practice at grassroots level.

2.1 The National Forest Programme

The implementation of the NFP was assessed in 1998 and the national focal point for the implementation of IPF proposals for action linked India's programmes to international initiatives. The NFPs were seen as significant vehicles for implementation of the proposals at national level. Although most countries internalized these initiatives in their long-term plans, weak institutional capacities slowed the implementation process (Mersmann, 2001). The survey of NFP implementation for Asia and the Pacific profiles summaries of programmes for 32 countries, outlining the focus of individual countries on strategic forestry planning in the region (FAO, 2000). The NFP in India was finalized in 1999, after bringing together SFAPs formulated by 29 States (Anon, 1999). The NFP focuses on five major themes:

National planning for management objectives evolved from SFAPs assists in developing institutional mechanisms nourishing the spirit of forest policy.

India's forest area of 76.52 Mha accounts for 1% of the world's forest area and caters to the needs of 15% of the world's human and 18% of the livestock population. India is one of the world's 12 mega-biodiversity countries, with a mosaic of 110 distinct forest types. The revised National Forest Policy (1988) envisages the participation of communities living in and around forest areas in the management of forests. This concept was named JFM and was based on the philosophy of care and share in planning, decision-making and usufructory benefits from assigned forest areas. The local communities are formal institutions under constitutional provisions and derive fuelwood, fodder, non-wood forest produce and small timber for their consumption. The sharing of roles and responsibilities between government and communities introduced a process of paradigm change in approach that led to innovations and the institutionalization of JFM. Today, there are 63 000 forest committees managing around 15 Mha of forests in India.

2.2 The State Forestry Action Programmes

The SFAPs constitute subnational plans and were compiled from forest management unit (FMU) plans formulated in 35 constituent States and Union Territories in India. The five basic foci of the NFP were retained in the SFAP for Madhya Pradesh, the second largest and most forested state in India. It has 12% of the country's forest area with 31% (9.52 Mha) of the State's geographical area under forests. The SFAP for Madhya Pradesh was derived from plans of 94 FMUs, including 34 protected areas (PAs). The forest area supports 66 million human beings and 28 million cattle in the State.

2.3 Forest Management Unit plans

The FMU plans are formulated through analysing the impact of past forest management practices on the carrying capacity of forests, and deriving prescriptions for future management based on the best possible options at present. FMU plans in Madhya Pradesh date back to 1875. The plans evolved from extensive fieldwork involving meteorological data analysis, growing stock assessment, surveys of forest resources and evaluation of the socio-economic needs of communities living in and around forest areas. There are two types of FMU plans - Management Plans for PAs and Working Plans for areas outside PAs. The Management Plans prioritize biodiversity conservation and habitat improvement, while the Working Plans focus on enhancing the productivity of both wood and non-wood products and services.

The Working Plans prescribe treatment of forest crops, in well-stocked and degraded areas, on the principles of assisted natural regeneration and rehabilitation of degraded forests, respectively. Two different types of committee manage regeneration and rehabilitation of forest under different institutional arrangements and forestry prescriptions (Table 1). Improvement in the ecological conditions of forests is achieved by designing appropriate soil and moisture conservation methods. Specific interventions, including artificial means, are designed to augment regeneration of forests. The thinning and harvesting regimes for forest crops are scheduled according to stand productivity.

Table 1 Categories of local institutions of JFM in Madhya Pradesh

Local organization*

Legal status

Forest status

Forest cover (%)

No. of com-mittees

Area under JFM (%)

Area assigned (Mha)

Usufructory share in net profit (%)












> 40








< 40









100 Units




* EDC - Ecodevelopment Committee
FPC - Forest Protection Committee
VFC - Village Forest Committee
PF - Private Forest

Other essential ingredients of the Working Plans are: demarcation, biodiversity conservation, provisions for improving fuelwood and fodder supply for the communities, and protection from fire, grazing and illicit removals. Areas ranging from 300 to 500 ha are assigned to a specific forest committee for JFM and microplans are formulated in consultation with forest communities through participatory rural appraisal exercises. The forestry component in a microplan is developed within the broad framework of Working Plan prescriptions, while the non-forestry component consists of listing and prioritizing the basic livelihood needs of the community. Thus holistic development at local level is envisaged in the plan.

The Management Plans for PAs emphasize habitat improvement for in situ conservation of flora and fauna, suggesting special measures for the management of flagship and keystone species and ways to curb poaching and illicit trade in wildlife. The implementation of ecodevelopment and ecotourism plans creates assets in rural development and offers opportunities of employment to the communities.

Private forests are managed with plans formulated by Chartered Foresters. Silvicultural interventions of thinning and harvesting regimes aim to enhance the productivity and creation of biomass outside forest areas to meet commercial demand. The main objectives of managing private forests are the economic and environmental benefits of supplementing green cover on areas unsuitable for profitable agriculture.

3. Discussion

The process of decentralization in forest management is widely debated, especially in the Southeast Asia region in the context of Community Forestry in China, Nepal and Thailand, Community-based National Resource Management in the Philippines, Social Forestry in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, and JFM in India. While outsourcing forest management to local communities has enhanced productivity in China (Kun, 2000), the gaps in legislation and in the planning process need to be plugged in Nepal (Singh and Kafle, 2000). The issues arising from participation and empowerment - subsidiarity, empowerment, pluralism and social capital - are being debated among foresters (Anderson, 2000). However, the slow pace of evolving empowerment in local communities has caused resilience to change. The three instruments promoting the participation of local communities in forest management, namely, institutionalization, capacity building and empowerment, are discussed below.

3.1 Institutionalization

An enabling policy and legal environment is essential to sustain participatory management by providing security, flexibility and legal reforms (Lindsay, 2000). The provisions in the National Forest Policy of 1988 are applied through a series of institutional tools in JFM to facilitate the appropriate enabling environment. Although political partnerships in decentralized programmes are always popular (Haley, 2001) a holistic approach to implement policies by good governance and capacity-building initiatives is necessary (Lai, 2000; Mercado, 2000; Pandey, 2000). This was achieved by the Madhya Pradesh Government passing Resolutions in 1991, 1995, 2000 and 2001 that define the means of implementation to institutionalize JFM in order to ensure its sustainability in the future. The lessons learned during the years between two resolutions were addressed in the next order so that the shortfalls were rectified.

The tools used to ensure asset building for these communities sustain the interest of the communities in forest management. The upscaling of social and human capital (DFID, 2000), through investment of 12% in asset creation and 3% in capacity building from all development schemes for the committees, ensures sustainability in the model. Institutional support from the forest budget earmarks 81% of investments for plan implementation, 10% for creation of assets and 9% for capacity building (Figure 1). In addition to this, job creation through plan implementation contributes to the alleviation of poverty.

3.2 Capacity building

The roles and responsibilities of forestry, voluntary and community institutions are evolving rapidly in the changing paradigm of forest management. The emerging institutional linkages in planning, administration and implementation are enforced in the process of decentralization (Singh and Kafle, 2000) to achieve desired objectives. A change in attitude on the part of all stakeholders is necessary in the policy and practice of JFM. Making alternative sources of income available to local communities by developing human capital is seen as a step towards reducing biotic pressure on forests. The skills necessary for the technical aspects of forestry, microplanning, accounting and processing of forest produce for value addition, are imparted to local communities with the funds earmarked for training out of forestry schemes.

Short-term modular and competency-based training programmes for forestry personnel, voluntary agencies and communities are designed and delivered frequently. Workshops at FMU level and exposure visits to successful implementation sites of JFM are proving to be very effective. There are 11 forestry training institutions and 45 ecocentres to accommodate training sessions. Around 1 000 courses are organized annually, giving training to about 30 000 committee members. The transformation in the attitude of foresters, accepting the new mantle as agents of change, and building greater mutual confidence, accountability and transparency in governance, is evident in their work.

3.3 Empowerment

Participation of local communities in forest management is a tool to achieve the goal of empowerment (Skutsch, 1994). The social and economic empowerment derived from participation in forest management is already institutionalized. Every eligible voter of a village is a member of the General Body of the forest committee. Around 1.6 million families are involved in the process of JFM, 61% of whom belong to socially disadvantaged and landless groups. Election of a woman as either Chairperson or Vice-Chairperson, and 33% woman members in the Executive Body, ensures gender equity in planning, implementation and monitoring of microplans. Women's Self-Help Groups are evolving to create credit and saving schemes that promote self-reliance. The older committees are able to resolve inter and intra-community conflicts through dialogue and discussions. The 73rd Constitutional Amendment devolving governance to Panchayats (village-level institutions), provides empowerment to committees. The Citizen's Charter and Right to Information laws have provided a voice to the common people in the changing paradigm. Legal protection for the committees, as is available to civil servants in forest protection, has greatly enhanced their confidence.

The sociological variables for successful forest management vis-à-vis rural development were identified by Noronha and Spears (1985); unless the people derive tangible benefits from the implementation of a forest policy, it is difficult to sustain their interest. Social empowerment, followed by economic benefits to the people from community asset-building, and supplemented by net profits from sale of forest produce, royalty-free wood for personal consumption, realization of grazing fees and half the compensation recovered from forest offences, have all increased their stakes. The committees have Rs750 million in their bank accounts and Rs50 million has been distributed to them as net profit from sold forest produce (US$1 = Rs47. April, 2003). The poor and disadvantaged groups in the community have been extended loans worth Rs45 million at nominal interest rates during last two years for their essential domestic and farm requirements. Food security is ensured by about 3 085 grain banks established by the committees. The ability to decide and plan their own development interventions, through microplans executed by the cash from revolving funds of their own, is their biggest empowerment.

4. Conclusion

The necessary tools required to re-enforce linkages between planning and implementation need to be flagged and institutions need to be modified to accept the new roles (Hobley, 1997). These needs were addressed in JFM by reorienting the forestry organization to manage change by facilitating, accommodating and collaborating with communities. This local initiative to strengthen SFM through institutional flexibility and the legal environment provided confidence and mutual respect among stakeholders. The approach is systemic and has evolved through subtle trial and error. The packages designed to elicit participation gradually increased the percentile share of local communities in net profits earned through the sale of produce. The people's approach to strategic protection of forests has achieved wonders with limited funds and small initiatives. Surface fires have almost disappeared from forests due to the vigilant communities' alertness. The attractive part of the model is administrative flexibility devolved to local institutions to accommodate their initiatives, without disrupting the basic governing framework. This model for SFM reflects the possibility of translating global thinking into local practices.

The enthusiastic participation, reflected in rallies and awareness-raising campaigns organized by the forest committees, shows massive support on the part of the grassroots institutions for the concept. The fairly rapid empowerment of the marginalized sections of the population, who were denied their due role in forest management in the past, strengthens bonds among stakeholders. Conflict management by stakeholders in the sharing of common property resources such as grazing-land through communication and compromise, is providing an amicable environment for JFM. The experiences gained by forest committees are enabling them to decide their own welfare and evolve consultation processes to sort out conflicts. Facilitation of livelihoods for marginalized sections of the population has reduced intra-community conflict. Awareness of the lasting benefits of sustainable management of forests for present and future generations is growing among committees and strengthening their commitment to forest development and protection. The socio-economic and legal empowerment of village communities, the development of their skills, and the facilitation of the means for improved livelihoods are the driving forces in this model. My vision is that this approach will lead to the development of symbiosis between forest resources and neighbouring communities, thus helping to eliminate poverty and enhancing forest cover.

The issue of site specificity will have to be addressed carefully in replicating this process elsewhere. The United Nations Forum on Forests may facilitate regional and global partnerships to provide a synthesis of similar models to promote SFM, subject to local sociopolitical and economic conditions. It is envisioned that the future sustainability of the approach will depend upon open dialogue and collaboration among stakeholders in conflict, transparency in governance and devolution of decision-making.


Anderson, J. 2000. Four considerations for decentralized forest management: Subsidiarity, empowerment, pluralism and social capital. In Decentralization and devolution of forest management in Asia and the Pacific. Bangkok, RECOFTC.

Anonymous. 1999. National Forestry Action Programme. New Delhi, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India.

Department for International Development. 2000. Achieving sustainability: "Poverty elimination and the environment." London, DFID Target Strategy Paper.

FAO. 2000. Asia and the Pacific National Forest Programme Update, 34. Bangkok, FAORAP.

Geollegue, R.T. 2000. A tale of two provinces: An assessment of the implementation of decentralized forestry functions by two provinces in the Philippines. In Decentralization and devolution of forest management in Asia and the Pacific. Bangkok, RECOFTC.

Haley, D. 2001. Community forests: From dream to reality in British Columbia. In Forests in a changing landscape, 16th Commonwealth Forestry Conference, April 2001. pp. 217-220. Fremantle, Australia.

Hobley, M. 1997. New institution. In Participatory forestry: The process of change in India and Nepal. pp. 211-242. London, ODI.

Kun, Z. 2000. Issues relating to the reform of forest management in China. In Decentralization and devolution of forest management in Asia and the Pacific. Bangkok, RECOFTC.

Lai, C.K. Catacutan, D. & Mercado, A.U. 2000. Decentralizing natural resources management: Emerging lessons from the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF) collaboration in Southeast Asia. In Decentralization and devolution of forest management in Asia and the Pacific. Bangkok, RECOFTC.

Lindsay, J. 2000. Creating legal space for community-based management: Principles and dilemmas. In Decentralization and devolution of forest management in Asia and the Pacific. Bangkok, RECOFTC.

Mercado, E.S. 2000. Decentralization and devolution of forest management in the Philippines: Uneasy steps to institutional maturity. In Decentralization and devolution of forest management in Asia and the Pacific. Bangkok, RECOFTC.

Mersmann, C. 2001. The Croydon Workshop on financing of sustainable forest management. In Mia Sodurlund & Alan. Pottinger, eds. Rio+8, pp. 163-179. Oxford, CFA.

Noronha, R. & Spears, J.S. 1985. Sociological variables in forestry project design. In M. Cernea, ed. Putting people first: Sociological variables in rural development. Oxford, World Bank/OUP.

Pandey, G. 2000. Institutional mechanisms to ensure sustainable forest management. In India's forest beyond 2000, pp. 88-102. Bangalore, Write-Arm, CFA and ICFRE.

Parisak, P.P. 2000. A national advocacy for a holistic and decentralized approach to forest management in Lao PDR. In Decentralization and devolution of forest management in Asia and the Pacific. Bangkok, RECOFTC.

Singh, H.B. & Kafle, G. 2000. Community forestry implementation: Emerging institutional linkages. In Decentralization and devolution of forest management in Asia and the Pacific. Bangkok, RECOFTC.

Skutsch, M.M. 1994. Social forestry as sustainable development: Comparative strategies in Sri Lanka. Thesis Enschede - ISBN 90-9007229-2.

1 Conservator of Forest Development, Satpura Bhawan, Bhopal. 462004, M.P. India. [email protected]