What governance should be adopted for forestry resources? Regulatory and institutional framework

Atamana Bernard Dabire 1


Governance is a very topical subject in Africa today. Governance involves power, relationships and the rendering of accounts. Successful governance therefore implies the existence of local representatives who are both legitimate and legally responsible, and capable as well of making specific decisions. The democratic processes and decentralization policies that are being more and more frequently applied in Africa today constitute a favourable terrain for successful forestry governance. Nevertheless, the coexistence of a multitude of rules, procedures and authorities that deal with different sources (customs, projects, policies, state control) and that play a more or less important role in the management of resources can help to create confusion and uncertainty with regard to the rights of the persons involved. In any event, it must be realized that this situation will continue during the short term at least, and that we must think in terms of articulating these modes of power and legitimacy rather than in terms of replacing one means of regulation (state-controlled or customary) by another. Clarifying and establishing rules, arbitration procedures and institutional agreements rather than formalizing rights would appear to be of capital importance during this first stage.

The principal challenge to be met with regard to the sustainable management of forestry resources involves leaving behind the gap between legality, legitimacy and practices. The capacity of governments to define, in a participatory manner, those policies and rules that are both legitimate and legal, to implement them, and to arbitrate any conflicts that might ensue constitutes one of the essential conditions for the sustainable management of natural resources.


The sustainable development of forestry resources is of crucial importance for rural populations as well as for governments and the international community.

In Africa in particular, forestry resources play an important role in the lives of the populations concerned, in areas such as production, regulation, cultural activities, etc. These populations acquire the major part of their food, medicinal and commercial needs from their forests and the exploitation of their forestry resources. These resources also constitute the principal source of income and hard currency for governments and economic operators.

Due to the pervading financial crisis and the decline in income from certain natural resources such as oil, coffee and cocoa beans, government authorities in countries that possess timber resources have turned to forestry exploitation in order to balance the state budget. The income derived from timber exploitation has been presently estimated at more than US$190 million 2. This represents approximately 10% of the state budget of a country whose annual budget would be approximately FCFA 1 000 billion (FAO, 2000).

In countries that do not possess timber resources, fuelwood and non-wood forestry products represent important resources for local populations as well as for the economies of these countries. A study carried out by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) showed that in 2000, non-wood forestry products alone (excluding fuelwood) represented nearly 14% of Senegal's forestry economy (Dabire, 2003).

One of the best-known studies among those that have been carried out is entitled "The Other Energy Crisis: Fuelwood". Published in 1975, this work predicts that the crisis in firewood will make front-page headlines during the remainder of this century ... According to this point of view, the alternative would be "suicidal deforestation" and the collapse of the system, resulting in "fatal" consequences. This work is only one example among the many cries of alarm with regard to desertification, "the advance of the Sahara", drought, over-grazing, land degradation and timber "exploitation" that would take us back to the 1920's.

More that twenty-five years later, in spite of the continual challenges relating to development, there has been no ecological collapse, and the crisis in firewood no longer makes front-page headlines. (CILSS/USAID, 2002)

Governments in many countries throughout the world have begun to become aware of the enormous economic and social costs resulting from bad forestry governance, the illegal exploitation of forestry resources, corruption and the irregular commerce in forestry products. During the course of the past ten years, African countries as a result have included the problems relating to the sustainable development of their forestry resources (of which governance is a key element) in their political agenda and their development strategies.

The present paper deals with the questions linked to the regulatory and institutional framework of forestry governance in Africa and is principally based upon the experience of West African countries.

A conceptual clarification of governance

Governance is a term that has emerged with increasing frequency in the area of development since approximately 1990, although there have been some differences of opinion with regard to its meaning, thus giving rise to a number of contrasting definitions3. The majority of authors who have dealt with governance have related it to the making of decisions regarding orientations. Governance is basically a question of power, of relationships and the rendering of accounts: Who has the key information at their disposal? Who makes the decisions? Who has the power to influence? How are decisions taken? Who benefits from them? Who loses as a result? Who renders an account?

The authors in question are equally in agreement regarding a list of five basic principles, based upon the specific principles established by the United Nations that are considered to embody the characteristics of good governance.

The five principles

The United Nations principles upon which they are based

Legitimacy and voice

Search for consensus

Rendering of accounts

Obligation to render an account to the public and to the participating institutions


Institutional and process reactions with regard to participants
Effectiveness and efficiency


Primacy of law


Strategic vision, including human development and historical, cultural and social complexities

Nevertheless, as the Governance Institute emphasizes, "It is difficult to define the principles of good governance, and these principles frequently create controversy. The following premises must be recognized in creating a list of this sort:

Could the ability to govern possibly be a cultural problem? "Would it be sufficient" to "change" our culture and our values for the problem of the inability to govern to disappear? Is the concept of what can be governed and what cannot be totally dependent on the culture of each actor concerned? Could this relativism make it impossible to discuss governance at all? What would be the goal of improving governance? Why are the very same organisations that have contributed so much to weakening the State's capacity to act suddenly so preoccupied with the problem of governance? Why and for whom? (Geert van Vliet, 2003).

Decentralization: An opportunity for forestry governance

Governance is an essentially devolutionary process within the area of natural resource management. It deals with the transfer of government powers, functions and skills in the area of natural resource management to local authorities such as local groups, organizations that are part of civil society and local populations.

The decentralization processes that are taking place in the majority of African countries constitute an opportunity for some persons. For others, they involve change that is wrought with uncertainties and risks. Nevertheless, the democratic processes and decentralization policies that are being carried out with increasing frequency in Africa constitute a favourable terrain for good governance. The decentralization processes and their accompanying legislative framework will undoubtedly have an important impact as well as profound implications with regard to natural resource management. Natural resource management policies are presently undergoing change and are being oriented towards the creation of a legal basis for sustainable and consensual management.

One of the principal lessons to be derived from these processes, and which also constitutes a challenge with regard to the devolution of natural resource management, is that no devolution can take place in the absence of these two principal components, namely, 1) local representation that is both legitimate and legally responsible and 2) specific decision-making areas.

A legislative and regulatory context where general confusion reigns

Nearly all African governments today have forestry regulations that are presumably favourable to the sustainable management of their forests. Nevertheless, the difficulties with regard to the application of these laws, which are linked to the technical and financial inadequacies that exist in the management of forestry areas, may directly compromise the ability of a country to develop sustainable economic growth and guarantee equitable social development.

These regulations, which are often established without the effective participation of the local population, do not sufficiently take into account the customary principles and local practices that they frequently contradict, thereby placing rural populations in a permanent situation of illegality. The prerogatives of the different actors with regard to resources, as foreseen in the official laws, still remain either imprecise or highly restrictive and even occasionally in direct contradiction with the laws dealing with the resources in question.

The 1996 laws dealing with regionalization (the local community code and the law providing for the transfer of jurisdiction to local communities) went into effect on 1 January 1997. As of this date, local communities in Senegal have been managing their forestry resources in accordance with the jurisdiction transferred to them by the Government. Nevertheless, this forestry management by local communities has not prevented the Government from continuing to act in the areas that were transferred through the central and decentralized services. In this manner:

  • The exploitation rights for forests and areas in the national domain destined for use as forests still belong to the Government (Article L 2 of Law No. 98-03 dated 8 January 1998).
  • No forestry product can be put into circulation unless it is accompanied by a circulation permit issued by the Forestry Commission, upon presentation of an exploitation or deposit permit (Article R 22 of Decree No. 98-164 dated 20 February 1998).
  • Commercial forestry exploitation of wood or rubber products is subject to the obtaining of a professional forestry exploitation permit issued by the Forestry Commission (Article R 26 of Decree No. 98-164 dated 20 February 1998).
  • Cultivation contracts in officially classified forests can be stipulated between the Government, represented by the Forestry Commission, and local border communities (Article L 15 of Law No. 98-03) (Ly, 2003).

At the present time, we are thus witnessing the coexistence of a multitude of often contradictory regulations and procedures that arise from different legitimacies (customary, projects, political and governmental) that play a varying role in conflict arbitration. The actors concerned take advantage of this confused state of affairs by basing their demands on those legal norms or proceedings that they believe to be favourable to them. Arbitration proceedings can be challenged at any given moment as a result of a specific event (the death of one's relatives, or the appointment of a competent authority...). This situation has created some confusion, as well as uncertainty with regard to the rights of the different persons involved. It has also produced a certain number of side effects, namely, the growing seizure of land by the elite, the dispossession of rural societies with regard to the control of their lands, the weakening of systems controlling access to resources, an increase in the clearing of land in settlement areas, a decrease in the duration of loans and an increase of insecurity with regard to land ownership.

Nevertheless, within the present context, in which natural resources management conditions have not as yet been stabilized, this plurality of regulations is inevitable and indeed operational, inasmuch as it facilitates more positive developments. In any event, the coexistence of different norms is less of a problem than the absence of legitimate and sustainable arbitration procedures (AFD, 2001).

... the application of sustainable management laws in the Ivory Coast's humid forests is particularly difficult given the imbalance between these regulations and the priorities of local communities. For example, whereas the sale of coal, service woods, vegetable products and bush meat earns considerable income for these communities and helps to contribute to their economic well-being, the government considers this type of exploitation as being fraudulent, and forbids it by applying measures that are sometimes too repressive. The monetary value of the game annually hunted for local consumption in 1996 was estimated at FCFA 76 billion (hunter's price), representing 1.4% of the country's GDP. A considerable amount of this game was illegally sold (N'Guessan, 2003).

In order to provide a solution to the above-mentioned problems, non-governmental organizations, projects and development associations are attempting to elaborate regulations, conventions and local codes and to have them recognized by the Government. In principle, these approaches would appear to meet the specific needs of local governance. A certain amount of caution would however be advisable before they are generalized, inasmuch as they have only been recently developed.

Local authorities having unconfirmed legal and legitimate form

The present institutional scene at the local level is extremely dense and heterogeneous. The vital question to be resolved is knowing the types of proceedings relating to local natural resource governance that refer to the numerous decisions taken by the authorities within the present highly unstable socio-political context. It would therefore be necessary above all to clarify the types of legitimacy that should be favoured, to specify those actors who have legitimate rights, as well as the role to be played by the customary authorities ...

In addition to the customary authorities and the "traditional" natural resource management authorities (land heads, hunters' associations ...) the various projects and programmes have developed ad hoc organizations (village groups, village committees, management committees, producers' groups, etc.) that tend to perpetuate themselves. In certain cases, these authorities are endowed with a legitimacy and/or responsibility that is recognized by local actors and populations but not legally recognized. In other cases, power has been delegated to institutions that are not representative or not responsible. The decentralization policies currently being carried out have generally resulted in the creation of local authorities such as the village land management committees (CVGT) or their equivalent and of rural communities. The latter, as local organizations, are the result of the dismemberment of government bodies, and are generally directed by an elected council that represents the local population. They would therefore be the most appropriate authorities in question, inasmuch as they possess a dual legitimacy, namely, both government and popular. However, a certain number of questions still remain. Does the transfer of responsibilities to locally elected representatives solve the problem of their relationship to the customary authorities? Is there not a risk that the political dimension of the elected representatives might influence the process? Is the territorial size of the community or village pertinent at all?

The Kadomba4 CVGT

The CVGT, officially created in 1998, is the federative body for the existing Kadomba village structures. It was established following an internal coordination process between the different social groupings, with the aid of a project. The training activities in Kadomba have made it possible to develop local capacities (bookkeeping, secretariat) that facilitate the functioning of the CVGT and its relations with the administration. Transparency in its bookkeeping activities has also helped to create an atmosphere that inspires confidence.

The Kadomba CVGT has a dual structure, namely, an executive board composed of ten members that reflects the village's major concerns and a committee composed of the representatives of each of the 25 specific committees that already exist and that have been selected by census in the village. Migrants and women are represented by the persons in charge of their neighbourhood committees. A group of specialized committees has been created in order to effectively manage its activities. Each CVGT committee proposes regulations that are subsequently discussed and adopted by the villagers. These regulations also integrate conflict management modalities. Although the technical services do not normally intervene in the creation of regulations, they verify their conformity to the general laws relating to natural resource management (Environmental Code). The acceptance of these regulations as well as of the local prevention and conflict management measures by the prefecture has made it possible to guarantee landowning security and successful natural resource management for all the actors concerned. (GREFCO, 1998 as cited by GRAF and KIT, 2000).

The definition of the appropriate authorities is based upon continual negotiation and local compromise within a given juridical and institutional framework. The correct institutional approach would involve first dealing with the functions that must be carried out as well as the simplest and most operational manner in which this could be done, before discussing the existence or form of organization that could be created. In any event, the coexistence of different sources of legitimacy and the different powers to be continued during at least the medium or long term must be taken into consideration. "It would be more appropriate to think in terms of articulating modes of regulation rather in terms of substituting a single mode of regulation, whether governmental or customary" (AFD, 2001).


The principal challenge with regard to forestry resources sustainable management is to overcome the gap between legality, legitimacy and practices. The ability of governments to define policies and regulations that are both legitimate and legal in a participative manner, as well as to implement them and arbitrate conflicts, is one of the essential conditions of natural resources sustainable management.

Clarifying and stabilizing regulations, arbitration procedures and institutional arrangements rather than formalizing laws would appear to be of capital importance during a first stage. It is in this sense that the approach to local conventions whose goal is the promotion of negotiations and the formalization of local regulations that involve all the parties concerned and are recognized by the local administration would appear in principle to well meet the needs of local forestry governance.


French Development Agency (AFD). 2001. What governance should be adopted for renewable resources? The management of renewable resources within the context of the decentralisation of West Africa. Philippe Lavigne Delville - GRET. 58 pp.

CILSS/USAID. 2002. Investing in tomorrow's forests. An action programme for the revitalization of forestry in West Africa. August 2002. 35 pp.

Dabire, A.B., 2003. Analytic note on the process for improving governance and the application of laws in the forestry sector in Africa (AFLEG), IUCN, pp. 9-13.

Demers, M., 1999. The governing of governance: Should we put a brake on this fad?, in Governance: Concepts and Applications, Corkery, Joan (ed.), with the IIAS Working Group, International Institute for Administrative Studies (Brussels), pp. 368-371.

FAO Programme, Trees, Forests and Rural Communities, 2000. Participating forestry management: A strategy for the sustainable management of African forests. Documents from the International Workshop on Community Forestry in Africa, 26-30 April 1999, Banjul, Gambia. 423 pp.

Research and Action Group on Land Ownership (GRAF), Netherlands Royal Institute (KIT), 2000. The challenges and viability of rural communities in Burkina Faso. Bulletin 351, p.22.

Governance Institute, in collaboration with Canada Parks, 2002. Governance principles for protected areas in the 21st Century. Working Document, 41 pp.

Ly, I. 2003. Forestry laws in West Africa: Implementation problems. Paper presented at the preparatory workshop on the AFLEG process, Ouagadougou, 6-7 March 2003.

N'Guessan, E. 2003. Illegal forestry exploitation, hunting and the sale of bush meat in the Ivory Coast's dense humid forest area. Paper presented at the preparatory workshop on the AFLEG process, Ouagadougou, 6-7 March 2003.

Van Vliet, G. 2003. What is governance? How important is it for protected areas and natural resource management? Paper presented at the Pan-African workshop on the governance of protected areas in Africa, 24-29 May 2003, La Kompienga, Burkina Faso.

1 Regional Coordinator, Capacity Reinforcement Initiative, 06 BP 9299 Ouagadougou 06, Burkina Faso.
[email protected]

2 US$1 = FCFA 563.

3 See Maurice Demers, "The Governing of Governance: Should we put a brake on this fad?" for a listing of a number of definitions.

4 Kadomba: A village in Burkina Faso, located at 50 km from Bobo Dioulasso