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Chapter VIII: State of the Art and Tools - Social Sciences

1. Methods and means of observation
2. Multiple uses and multiple agents
3. Consideration of socio-economic factors in forest management
4. Management beyond the forest

The management of tropical forests has for a long time focused on the knowledge and management of the natural area in terms of biological and physical functions. Social sciences were not widely applied. Over the past few years, however, taking into consideration the relationship that local people have with forest lands has become one of the major concerns of forest managers. It is therefore no longer possible to visualize forest management without taking account of the related ‘socio-economic’ context. A series of failures experienced by many projects has brought about this change of approach.

The expression ‘social sciences’ combines a large number of scientific disciplines and hence approaches, and this chapter seeks to show how these diverse topics and their complementary aspects can be used for the management of tropical forests in dry zones. However, no single way exists in this connection, and the complexity of the phenomena involved makes it necessary to proceed with caution. This chapter will not propose any systematic review of everything that has already been tried, and even less theorize about different practices. More simply, it will try to provide an overview of a number of points which are considered to be important.

1. Methods and means of observation

1.1 Describing the ‘socio-economic object’
1.2 Surveys
1.3 The type of information to be collected
1.4 Are GPS and GIS new tools for the social sciences?

Just as the forester analyses biological resources by evaluating woody resources and describing the physical and natural environment, the social sciences specialist uses direct observation methods and means in order to draw up a database on the socio-economic environment he is concerned with.

1.1 Describing the ‘socio-economic object’

One of the first interrogations a social scientist may have would be about the nature of his interlocutors: Who are the individuals that are involved in forest management and where are they? This knowledge about the ‘object’ is not something which is given a priori. It can only be established little by little as the investigator reveals the relations between all the different agents involved. However, this is the first question to be asked because it is necessary to know the answer if work is to be effective.

The first measures must lead to the production of maps which can be associated with a GIS, positioning the direct partners in their geographic, administrative and economic contexts, etc., and the formation of a databank. In order to do this, existing maps, archives and available documents may be used, but obviously all of this information must be confirmed ‘in the field’.

1.2 Surveys

The survey is one of the universal tools used by all socio-economists. Before discussing its methods, capacities and limitations, it is necessary to be aware of the fact that a survey is part of a dialogue between forest managers and local people. Since forest management establishes a compromise between different forest users, this necessity for dialogue must not be neglected even during the exploratory phases.

Surveying is a method by which information is obtained to meet one or more objectives. It comprises three main phases: design, implementation and analysis. It faces traditional constraints, of which, the need to provide maximum high-quality information within a minimum timeframe and the least costly. It may be added that for countries that do not generally possess any reliable local or national statistics, surveys are one of the scarce ways of obtaining information on a particular aspect. Decision-makers, project heads or scientists, are all faced with this situation when dealing with forestry, agriculture or land use planning.

In the period 1970-1980, a particularly important effort was made by the AMIRA group to improve investigation methods for the African rural environment. Unfortunately the outcome of their work was never properly summarized. Furthermore and as far as we know, there is at the present time, no multipurpose manual for carrying out surveys in the field of social sciences for forest management. However, the reader can be referred to a very comprehensive work such as the one by Dubois and Blaizeau (1989) which deals with “the living conditions of households in the developing countries” and is organized in a three-part approach which is similar to the one just mentioned: design, implementation and analysis.

1.2.1 Designing the survey

Designing a survey in relation to a particular target, consists first of all in defining the information sought, the acceptable level of accuracy, the nature and unit of observation, the population or sub-population concerned, the variables and explanatory features associated with the main objective and the context in which it is intended to work. It is very often necessary to carry out pre-surveys, compare various alternative options and test approaches and hypotheses. Only rarely does this phase lead to a questionnaire, but the result is usually a set of specifications.

Box 21: Which observation units are to be used?

With regard to social science surveys, the choice of observation units is not always obvious. It largely depends on the specific objectives of the survey and the information requirements. For example, one can investigate at the level of the village structure, the undertaking, the lineage, the household, the family, the house, the individual, etc. Generally speaking, when very specific and accurate information is required on one particular area, the surveyor tries to ensure that the survey is carried out as close as possible to the decision-making or to the action centre in that particular field. But this type of approach may be too costly or too time-consuming and it may be decided to investigate at a higher aggregation level.

1.2.2 Implementation

Before implementation, a number of prerequisites relevant to the theory of investigations and opinion polls or related to the specific case under study must be considered. In this section, only two aspects of the implementation stage will be dealt with: surveying techniques and the practical organization of data collection.

a) Surveying techniques

There are three major different and yet complementary groups of techniques.

Record cards:

The persons being investigated or surveyed are asked to fill in a questionnaire specially designed for the purpose. This provides data on consumption, movements, use of time, expenditure, etc. The information can be put on record either over time (in the form of a logbook), or may be summarized in one session (like an annual balance sheet or income tax return). The advantage of this kind of technique is to be able to work on a large number of persons, even living at a great distance, and to do so repeatedly. They can give excellent results when the interviewees are properly motivated. These methods, which have been neglected for a long time in countries where there is a high level of illiteracy, can be very useful if they are kept extremely simple and are tailored to the population being surveyed.


Depending upon the purpose of the survey, it may be necessary to carry out direct or indirect measurements. Some information may not be available to the interviewees (the dietary contribution of forest products) or they may often be vague (consumption or transport of fuelwood). Unfortunately this is a very costly approach. Great thought must be placed into using it and the accuracy of the measurements must be carefully considered, because measurement is not necessarily a guarantee that the information will be better.


The last major group of surveying techniques is the interview. This is certainly the most currently used technique and sometimes it is not very satisfactory. It is often organized around a questionnaire during an interview between the enumerator and an individual or a group of persons being surveyed. The questionnaire comprises a number of linked questions relating to the same statistical unit and more often to the same level of observation. Designing a questionnaire is a very delicate matter. The quality of the information collected and the facility of processing it depend largely upon the way the questionnaire is structured. The most common distinction drawn is between open-ended and multiple choice questions: in the first case the interviewee responds freely, in the other, as the name suggests, one answer has to be chosen from between several pre-set answers.

Apart from these two classic cases, the questionnaire can be much more interactive. One can ask the interviewees to give marks according to a scale of values or groups between different proposals, or to comment on images or texts, to draw, or to recount events or experiences, etc.

Interviewing without a questionnaire is often a technique with different objectives than those of a more formalized survey. It is easier to make use of in order to obtain quality information, perhaps to complement the questionnaire-based survey. Above all it demands very sound experience on the part of the investigator in order to be effective. Some particularly complex information may be better sought after, using this type of interview as it is often more suitable than any other.

b) Practical implementation of the survey

The enumeration or data-collection phase is also a very sensitive one because it is based on a two-way exchange, which is sometimes based on confidentiality and trust between the enumerator and the interviewees. It is necessary to explain the relevance of the survey to the interviewees, its purpose, and if necessary guarantee that the information supplied will be treated with confidentiality. A few elementary recommendations, which are often based on common sense, have been proposed (Dubois and Blaizeau, 1989):

- sufficient time must be devoted to explaining the subject-matter;
- the questions must be linked by successive embeddings;
- procedures must be based on an association of ideas;
- long and complex questions must be avoided;
- the questions must be clearly referenced;
- specify who is being targeted for the interview; and
- give some thought to determine the right time and the best place for the implementation of the interview.
The practical implementation of a survey also depends on the skills and training of the investigators, their monitoring, as well as the methods used for their supervision. These are essential points on which the success of a survey depends and they require very careful attention.

1.2.3 Analysing the results

The analysis obviously depends on the type of information.

Before doing anything else, the data must be audited by examining it in order to validate it and remove aberrant data. This phase must therefore be carefully thought out when designing the whole survey, making provision for verification by reference both to complementary sources of information and by cross-checking information taken from the data collected.

From the point of view of the analysis as such, statistical methods can be used, but it should not be forgotten that these methods nevertheless need the skills of a practitioner as far as interpretation is concerned. Lastly, it should be borne in mind that surveying operations often make it necessary to ensure feedback of the results and therefore that it is necessary to proceed pedagogically so that the conclusions can be presented clearly.

1.3 The type of information to be collected

The contribution that social sciences can make to forest management is still being built up, and it is necessary to study the way of identifying the most relevant variables, together with their ranking, configuration, and accuracy level, which are still far from certain at the present time. There is still great unawareness on the way to diagnose a situation properly. The following ideas are proposed in accordance with current information and thinking, as well as the ongoing debate.

Above, the need was stressed to define the socio-economic object under study. This may be less evident than it appears. Indeed, if we are concerned with one particular forest stand, the related populations may be nomadic pastors using the area for grazing purposes, firewood wholesalers and wood consumers, thus a whole set of populations sometimes difficult to locate and reach.

The knowledge that needs to be acquired cannot be limited to one descriptive ‘snapshot’, however accurate it may be, of all agents and types of usage involved. It must also refer to relationships, alliances, real or underlying conflicts which condition the conduct of the various groups. It is therefore necessary to fully understand the functions that characterize this multi-agent system and which condition the control of the forest cover and its potential evolutionary trends.

In order to achieve this objective, the best approach is to be fully familiar with the land tenure system and to have a clear idea of the resources. It can also be added that forest management also takes place in an evolving political, legislative and administrative environment, in respect of which local work has to be evaluated.

Other complementary elements can also be useful to have a better understanding of particular situations:

- the operation of the local society (kinship bonds, local authorities, family ties, the social hierarchy, social alliances, sharing, transmission, etc.);

- the economic activities (the dynamics of production in agriculture as well as in other sectors, flexibility, self-sufficiency, etc.);

- lifestyles (codes, rites, institutions, behaviour, etc.);

- the local population dynamics (the age pyramid, birth-rate indicators, mortality, emigration, seasonal immigration or the lack of it, seeking the trends); and

- ideologies (values, group image, society image, class divide, etc.).

Lastly, it is impossible to overemphasize the need to evaluate the benefits and drawbacks of forest management to the various agents involved, both in terms of the beginning of the project and the longer-term repercussions of it. The recurrent costs to the local population must also be taken into account because very often these are an indicator of the economic sustainability of participatory development schemes.

1.4 Are GPS and GIS new tools for the social sciences?

Recent tools such as GPS and GIS are opening up new prospects in the field of social sciences by offering the possibility of linking information to their spatial referent. This is clearly the case with regard to positioning populations, but also when studying the spatial appropriation of forests. However, this progress still needs to be backed up. It will no doubt be necessary to learn how to manipulate and validate this type of information because one can see very well that in conflict areas it will be difficult to obtain any reliable report. For example when seeking to define the boundaries of a village forest, the indications given by different villages will not necessarily add up to produce the same boundaries. Furthermore, the spatial analysis is poorly developed in theoretical terms, and at the present time it is impossible to exploit all this progress made in the field of metrology and computer science. It is therefore necessary to acquire new know-how.

Lastly, it should be noted that GIS is going to make it possible to link biological, physical and socio-economic data, and this is going to prove essential.

2. Multiple uses and multiple agents

2.1 Multiple uses
2.2 Multi-actors

2.1 Multiple uses

As the epitome of biodiversity, forests contain a particularly abundant potential resource base which men have developed to varying degrees of intensity and thoroughness according to their dependency on the forest cover and their proximity to it. In this respect the uses to which dry tropical forest resources are put vary very widely indeed. In addition to being used for timber extraction, grazing and as cropland reserves, forests meet many other needs, since they supply poles, stakes, honey, medicinal plants, meat, fruit, nuts, leaves, gums, straw, basketwork, matting, etc. This is why some say that “of all the African economies the Sahelian is undoubtedly the one that is most dependent upon primary plant production.” (Bernus et al., 1993)

Since the 1980s, forest managers acknowledge the need to consider this multiplicity of functions when managing forests in dry zones. But it has been necessary to fill up the agronomic and forestry knowledge vacuum regarding the so-called wild resources. “There, where the eye only sees thorny bushes and wilted trees, the ancestral knowledge of the multiple uses of the plant resources in the environment enables its inhabitants to recognize and to find many edible products which succeed one another for months and seasons on end.” (Bergeret and Ribot, 1990)

Today, non-wood forest product inventories are steadily increasing (Box 22) and one finds many lists associating species and products, providing a spectacular illustration of the great variety of potential uses of so many species. For example, all the 114 Sahelian species of trees and shrubs described by Von Maydell (1992) have without exception, several uses. This diversity of uses is found as much in Africa as in Latin America (Parra Hake, 1985) and in India (Singh, 1982).

Box 22: Food resources found in the scrub-land to the south-east of Sine-Saloum in Senegal

Cassia obtusifolia (herbaceous, used for sauces, protection against child diarrhoea)

Cordyla pinnata Lepr. (tree, fruit used for sauces or by everyone, depending on ripeness)

Lannea velutina A. Rich. (tree, fruit eaten mainly by children)

Hexalobus monopetalus A. Rich. (small tree, highly appreciated fruit)

Ziziphus mauritiana Lam. (tree or bush, very sweet berries, keeping for about six months)

Strychnos spinosa Lam. (bush, fruit and leaves used for making sauce)

Gardenia erubescens Stapf. and Hutch. (bush, young leaves used for making sauce)

Icacina senegalensis A. Juss. (bush, fruit pulp eaten by children, tubers formerly eaten)

Leptadenia hastata Decne (grassy, used for the evening sauce)

Diospyros mespiliformis Hochst. (tree, berries eaten uncooked; medicinal use: dysentery)

Spondias monbin L. (tree, yellow plums popular with children above all)

Grewia lasiodiscus K. Schum. (bush, red fruit eaten by children)

Securinega virosa Baill. (tree or bush, black fruit eaten by children, tubers used for medicinal purposes)

Hibiscus asper Hook. (wild bissap, young leaves eaten while waiting for cultivated bissap to ripen)

Annona senegalensis Pers. (tree or shrub, orange/red fruit picked by everyone)

Lannea velutina A. Rich. (small tree, black fruit eaten by children)

Sterculia setigera Del. (tree, mucilaginous exudate)

Grewia flavescens Juss. (tree or bush, brown fruit eaten by children)

Ficus platyphylla Del. (tree, leaves and unripe fruit used for sauce)

Dioscorea praehensilis Benth. (creeper, wild yam, main resource during famines)

Cola cordifolia R. Br. (tree with red fruit)

Raphionacme daronii Berhault (roots eaten raw in the forest)

Raphionacme brownii S. Ell. (roots eaten uncooked in the forest)

Digitaria exilis Stapf. (herbaceous, wild fonio, whose seeds are eaten in times of shortages or famine)

Borassus aethiopum L. (tree, palmyra, edible fruit, terminal bud eaten raw or cooked)

Termitomices sp. (mushroom, eaten raw or cooked by all)

Vitex madiensis Oliv. (bush, sweet fruit eaten by children, leaves used as infusion)

Cissus Waterlotii A. Chev. (bush, sweet black fruit)

Source: Bergeret, 1986

Maghembe (1994) emphasizes the conservation of the genetic pool of the wild fruit trees present in the miombo in southern Malawi. Over 50 species of indigenous trees produce edible fruit, mainly eaten during seasonal shortages or during famines.

However, there is no information about how much these resources are used. In a same environment, food strategies may differ depending on the ethnic group or the state of shortage or abundance at the time. During very dry periods, the scrub-lands can be used as the place of last resort for a survival diet.

For a long time the study of non-wood forest products was neglected or dealt with unsystematically. Today, they are considered to have many useful purposes (Box 23). This change of attitude is due to many reasons as FAO has pointed out. The main factors which prevented the development of non-wood forest products in the past include:

- prejudice against the use of wild resources;

- a lack of appreciation of the value of non-wood forest products to the national economy;

- a lack of understanding of non-wood forest products in the life of rural communities;

- a preference on the part of field technicians and scientists for products requiring a high level of technology instead of natural products which require simpler procedures;

- the substitution of natural products in industry by synthetic products to cut costs; and

- the lack of information, difficulty of accessing literature and the lack of proper training.

The factors which encourage the development of non-wood forest products today are:
- the deterioration in the internal and external economic factors which is limiting imports and encouraging people to use local natural resources;

- increased publicity about non-wood forest products, the national or community economy and environmental conservation;

- the new markets created by the green movements in the western countries and by migration world-wide; and

- the search for new biochemical products for pharmaceuticals and industry (FAO, 1991).

Primary and secondary forest products can have a considerable importance even in commercial terms. Exports from Somalia, for example, based on hides, meat, livestock, depend almost exclusively on trees and forests. Gum arabic brings in considerable revenues for many Sahelian countries, particularly the Sudan. These non-wood forest products are a vital source of foreign currency and make it possible to economize on costly imports (Sharma et al., 1994).

Forest wildlife can also be used directly as a commodity source (Box 24). It also plays a part in forest dynamics, as seed disseminator. Tourism based on watching or hunting large wild species is another way of adding value to the forest. However, wildlife is rarely included in vegetation management plans. Forest management does not traditionally take any account of wildlife, because this is likely to complicate its design and establishment. Peltier (1994-b) shows that if it were envisaged to manage wildlife for benefit of the villagers, who are often hunters themselves, this would prove to be an efficient way of combating poaching and increasing the economic value of the forest in the eyes of the rural people.

Box 23: Products from vegetation

Food products: wild, domestic and semi-domestic plants (inclusive grasses and mushrooms) and their roots, tubers, bulbs, twigs, leaves, shoots, flowers, fruit, edible seeds, fats and oils, spices and flavouring, salt substitutes, sweetening, meat softening substances, beverages, alcoholic drinks and infusions, thirst-quenchers, etc.

Fodder: livestock and wildlife feed, inclusive birds, fish and insects such as bees, silkworm, etc.

Pharmaceutical: medicines, anaesthetics, balsams, lotions, purgative for human and veterinary use, etc.

Toxic products: for hunting, hallucinants, poisons, pesticides, fungicides, etc. Some may have a pharmaceutical role when applied as anaesthetics.

Aromatic products: essential oils used in cosmetics and in perfume industry (international market highly specialized and vulnerable), ointments, incense, etc.

Biochemical products: non-edible fats and oils, maritime coatings, wax, gums and latex, dye and varnish, etc.

Fibrous products: for clothing, ropes, basket-making, brooms, kapok, cork, etc.

Ligneous: wood handicrafts.

Ornamental: ornamental and horticultural planting, trade in dry and cut flowers, etc.

Source: FAO, 1991

Box 24: Animal products

Mammals: meat, leather, hides, fibres, horns, pharmaceutical products, etc.

Birds: meat, eggs, feathers, edible nests, guano, etc.

Fish: flesh, oils, protein for fodder, etc.

Reptiles: flesh, leather (skin), carapace (shell), toxins, pharmaceutical products, etc.

Invertebrates: edible invertebrates, plant exudate, honey, wax, silk, laq, etc.

Source: FAO 1991

In addition to these direct contributions of extractable animal and plant products, the forest also offers many indirect benefits (Box 25).

Box 25: Environmental and ecological functions of the forest

Pasture: grazing, browsing, shade and habitat for livestock and wildlife, etc.

Soil protection and improvement: green manure, humus, nitrogen fixation, stabilization, shade, habitat, hedges, etc.

Parks and reserves: for the conservation of flora and fauna, for tourism, leisure, photo-hunting, observing birds, collection of invertebrates, etc.

Aesthetics: spectacular or historical sites, etc.

Source: FAO 1991

Today, in some regions where the vegetation tends to become degraded, it is more difficult to hand down knowledge. For example, in the miombo forests of southern and East Africa, the younger generations are losing some of the traditional knowledge of fruit trees. Both local know-how and knowledge regarding use have for a long time been undervalued, while the local resource management systems have either been ignored or destroyed.

2.2 Multi-actors

In the pre-colonial period in sub-Saharan Africa, traditional control over renewable natural resources, open spaces and land was in the hands of the Peuhls. This illustrated the pre-eminent position of animal husbandry and pastoralism over all other economic activities and conditioned the ‘representation’ which each inhabitant had of the forest. “For every Senegalese Sahelian, whether he is a Peuhl, a Toucouleur or Ouolof, the notion of ‘forest’ has by no means the same meaning as it does for people living today in the temperate countries. Here, the forest is much less the live complex producer of wood. Almost exclusively, the forest is here, first and foremost, the place where the livestock is sent to graze.” (Grosmaire, 1957)

At the end of the nineteenth century, European representations of grazing as a source of vegetation resource destruction were introduced, and the notion of spatial separation, which was alien to the stock-breeders’ practices, was imported through written colonial forestry law based upon the French Forestry Code.

The development of agricultural activities proposes a more ‘peasant image’ of the forest, where the management unit is the species rather than the plant formation, and this is obviously quite different from the image of the herdsman.

Moreover, the peasants’ appreciation of the use value of plants is not recognized by outsiders to the rural environment (Box 26). Unlike the purely wood-oriented view of the forest by foresters, peasants consider the bush as a place with “multiple and diverse resources, appropriately distributed throughout their territory according to the requirements of the environment, but also according to the frequency of their need for each of these resources. The success of reforestation can therefore only be if the objectives are complementary to the silvicultural knowledge of both the foresters and the peasants” (Bergeret and Ribot, 1990).

Box 26: An example of the participation of the sociological approach to the acceptability of a gazetted (reserved) forest

The Malinkés peasants (near Bamako in Mali) consider the forest (or the bush) in general to be useless or even dangerous and frightening, as long as it is not transformed by man and made useful to him. Their perception of it can be seen from the traditional classification of woodlands: “The organization of the bush is the image of the complex organization of the world. Peasant knowledge is preferentially and modestly oriented towards claiming and developing humanized areas, which are gradually redeemed from the domain of the bush (...). The anthropomorphic principle which runs through the various procedures of knowledge, and the pragmatic, utilitarian character of man’s relationship to his environment, radically structure the peasant’s approach to natural resource management”.

These sociological considerations have practical repercussions, for example on the negotiated acceptability of a classified forest:

- “As long as it remains a ‘closed space’ as a consequence of an administrative decision, the reserved forest precludes the natural social process of progressive colonization of the forest (or bush) to meet the farmers’ needs for agricultural land. It sets itself in a competitive position towards the agricultural territory. As a consequence of this, any entrance by peasants inside its limits is seen as an attitude aiming at compensating the lack of balance it has led to.

- “As long as it is managed by the (forest) administration, (...), the reserved forest is perceived (...) as an artificial place having lost its sacred character. Therefore, it inspires less the search for reconcilement with the supra-natural forces which inhabit it, than the fear of being imposed administrative sanctions.

- “Forest reservation seems to consecrate its implicit categorization as a ‘useless space’. There is therefore an incompatibility with the peasant’s ‘feeling’ which perceives any virgin space as potentially fit for colonization.

“So, in a perspective of development and utilization of the gazetted forest, the peasants’ participation will not aim to abide by their perception of reality - which would be vain - but to set forth a new dynamic process which would:

- “Integrate the forest to the local production systems so that they gain in coherence and performance.

- “Promote positive, cognitive appropriation of the reserved woodland through activities which humanize and socialize it. To achieve this, activities and ‘sociability patterns’ compatible with its conservation will be induced (...).”

Source: Anderson et al., 1992

The reference positions associated with the different groups, loggers, pastoral people, stock-breeders, crop farmers, administrators, etc., translate the activities that each one performs as well as what each one expects of the forest, hence, they indirectly interpret possible decisions regarding forest management.

3. Consideration of socio-economic factors in forest management

3.1 From the land tenure issue to resource management
3.2 Land and forest management

For the social sciences, forest management means understanding and regulating relations between man and the forest and its resources. The land tenure issue constitutes one of the main ‘entrance gates’ for the study of those relations and eventually for establishing new ones. Another approach that is complementary to the land tenure approach, is a more spatial study of development phenomena.

3.1 From the land tenure issue to resource management

A clear distinction must first be drawn between tree tenure and forest tenure, as was done by Bertrand (1991): “There is a fundamental difference in nature between a tree and a forest (...). Tree tenure is about plant tenure, whereas forest tenure is about both, space tenure and plant tenure. It reminds of the social significance of the forest. Tenure over a natural forest is a pre-agricultural right of tenure, a right relating to hunting and fruit-picking which applies to a poorly defined and variable area and which is superimposed upon other similar rights vested in other human groups. With agriculture (initially on burnt land) the forest ceased to be a range land and became a reserve of arable fertile reserve land.”

Colonialism in the nineteenth century introduced written law in Africa, which was superimposed upon customary practices. Wrongly considered as vacant and without owners, the lands have been dealt with in the 1930s by passing a legislation dividing the space without taking much notice of existing practices. The forest estate became state-owned land. Development legislation in the 1960s was aimed simply at adopting modern law based on the western model, to which the local societies were expected to adjust. Custom would have to disappear if it contradicted the rule of state law.

The tribal and mountain indigenous communities in the Indian subcontinent (Sarin, 1995) and the rural communities in Africa (particularly French-speaking) were deprived of their privileges over the collective management of their forest resources initially for the benefit of the colonial power, and subsequently of their independent State.

This alienation led to conflict, which still persists today in some regions and is very often accompanied by the destruction of the forests in view of the inability of administration to enforce the new rights. This stalemate means that land tenure is the source of the problem and it is hoped that it will also be the source of the solution to it.

Legal thinking has been radically overhauled. Regulation by the State alone has been shown inadequate. Today the term ‘multi-judicial systems’ is mentioned in order “to illustrate the fact that each individual is a party, in family, professional or public life, to many different groups whose rules, regulations, habits or customs are imposed upon him more or less in competition with one another.” (Le Roy, 1993)

Customary practices and rules are the local expression of the forms of resource appropriation. They develop by stages and vary in time and in space. “Observation associated with the repeated appropriation of plant resources of the same land leads to the property being owned by the society, which therefore takes on the character of a ‘territory’ whose rights of use become legitimate and deserve to be respected.” (Godelier, 1984, cited by Bergeret, 1986)

When there are no rules and access is not controlled, in other words when access is unrestricted, the resources are overused, leading to degradation, and even to their disappearance altogether. This dynamic of free access has become known in the literature as ‘communal lands tragedy’ (Hardin, 1968).

Today it has been shown that commonly owned resources in no way signify that they are freely accessible, and indeed many commonly owned resources today are being managed in a sustainable long-term manner (Berkes et al., 1989).

However, there are many experts that feel that promoting a private sector in developing countries based on Hardin’s theory will make it possible to internalize externalities and back up the dominant free market economy. Privatizing natural resources, and land in particular, is increasingly becoming considered by fund donors, led on by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as a pre-condition for an efficient allocation of resources, and to give development a chance of success.

These considerations may appear simplistic and irritating. For it has been shown that while private ownership is efficient in trade terms, it can very easily lead to a looting of resources when the capital is mobile or in the case of over-investment.

Furthermore, control over renewable resources cannot be put down solely to ‘exclusive and absolute private ownership’ and ‘undifferentiated public ownership’. The theory of land tenure control provides 25 different possibilities by cross-linking five different ways of appropriation with five different ways of co-management (Table 21).

In the absence of any written contract or legal rights, control over resources and over land is governed by negotiation. For some authors, the largest obstacle to investment and growth in Africa is leaving everything to negotiation (Lancaster, 1990, cited by Berry, 1994).

Table 21: Controlling renewable resources




Public A

Rights of access

Common to all


External B

Rights of access and extraction

Common to n groups


Internal-External C

Rights of access, extraction and management

Common to two groups


Internal D

Rights of access, extraction, management and exclusion

Common to one group


Private E

Rights of use, disposal and alienation

Owned by one person

Source: Le Roy, 1993
Others, rather than combating this state of the permanent negotiability of rules and relationships, feel that it is rather an opportunity and not a deadlock. For Berry, Africa’s cultures and institutions are fluid, ambiguous and negotiable. He wonders what this involves as far as our understanding of the socio-economic processes and practices are concerned. On this basis, he reviews development strategies. One possible response, in the case of forests, to studying the dynamics of African societies and economies could be through resource control.

The appropriation and the decision-making processes in relation to renewable resources raises the problem of equity and equality. A great deal has been said over the past few years about the role of women in forestry and some development actions are attempting not only to avoid forgetting them or harming them, but actually to favour them. This notice of the role of women is even considered to be a factor of the sustainability of many projects, and of their success.

In the forestry field, the prerogatives are usually sharply drawn-up on the basis of sex and social rank (Box 27). The concern for equity should often be broadened to involve all the agents concerned without deliberately or involuntarily leaving out any of them.

Box 27: Women and forests in Kenya

Women at Kakamenga (Kenya) used to complain about the drudgery of collecting firewood, even though trees existing in small one-hectare farms displayed a crown cover of 20-25 percent and three-quarters of them had been planted there. A socio-cultural survey showed that the shortage that was observed there was not due to a biomass deficit at farm level, but had been caused by social and cultural factors affecting every household, which determined access to and control over the wood produced.

Men being the sole owners, planted and sold trees (mostly exotic species) while women were bound to continue collecting wood in the bush. Women had no freedom to look after or use the trees that had been planted on the farms.

The tenure of forest land in South America is quite different from that in Africa and in the Indian sub-continent. In North-east Brazil, for example, 15 percent of the large estates (over 100 ha) account for 75 percent of the total area. Over one-half the estates of less than 20 ha only account for 6 percent of the total area (Leprun et al., 1995). The organization of agricultural production makes the small-holders very sensitive to the drought climatic conditions (Box 28).

Box 28: Drought and land tenure in Brazil

“The great mass of rural producers manage to produce but they cannot capitalize or accumulate resources in order to cope with the following dry year because of the particular type of social and economic organization in the semi-arid regions. Land and water are resources owned by a few. In periods of drought, the large landowners buy back at bargain prices, livestock and land from the small-holders with financial constraints.

More often, food aid is also passed through them for distribution, and they are likewise responsible for setting up the ‘labour fronts’. They therefore have almost unpaid labour at their disposal and they get them to undertake large-scale terracing works on their own lands, and particularly the construction of azudes[1] whose water they will use. This is the famous ‘drought industry’ which has often been denounced, but which is still effective. Drought brings out the structural problems of poverty and boosts migration.

A large number of people living in the semi-arid zone do so at the present time thanks to the pensions paid to the rural people. In this part of Brazil it is the old people that keep the young. It is obvious that the vulnerability of the social groups affected by drought depends on the economic activity of these population groups and on the working relations that have been established by the production system and the land tenure system.

The idea that the drought problem is not merely a natural or technical question relating to the lack of water or the loss of a harvest or livestock, but forms part of a much broader social dimension which encompasses the economic aspects (...) it is fully supported by observers, but very little by the decision-makers.” (Leprun et al., 1995)

Concern regarding land tenure and resource control therefore offers prospects for analysis and action which are particularly relevant. They must be taken in perspective with more geographical approaches, even though the latter have been comparatively little concerned with forestry in the strict sense of the term.

3.2 Land and forest management

While geographers have often been concerned about trees in the tropics (Pélissier, 1980), until now they have tended to keep forests and forest management outside their investigations. The history of the involvement of geographers in tropical zones makes it easier to understand the methodological proposals that have been made in the past few years, particularly by French-speaking geographers.

In Africa, the pioneers of modern geography have based their work on those two main schools of geography, the physical geography school (bio-climatic potential) and the human geography school (the potential of the peasant societies) in order to create a geography which is deliberately involved in rural regional management and development policies. For years, geographers specialized in Africa have turned their backs on the urban world in order to focus on the rural world.

This has brought geography into the agricultural field: “The choice of peasant rationale and the potential of the rural societies to be used as primary input for changing the rural environment and the consequent necessity for finely tuned, rigorous and if possible quantified knowledge about the way in which agrarian systems function and their agricultural results have logically led to the major undertaking of carrying out intensive surveys of the village land.”1 (Raison, 1993)

Conversely, geographical research on Latin America has shown the extent to which work on the part of government, companies and the towns influences the ways in which the land is organized and used: “As a consequence of this type of approach, French researchers emphasize the new lands, the pioneering fronts where new rural and social landscapes are being created. Furthermore they work above all on different scales: not studying particular village lands, but working at the regional and even the national level. Analysing land use techniques gives way to land tenure studies. Stress is not placed on what is permanent, but on sudden changes.” (Raison, 1993)

For about ten years, rural geographers, in conjunction with agronomists, have tended to analyse cropping systems, studying the evolution of landscapes and above all village land management. This view of village land management developed in the tropics during the 1980s.

This forms part of a social and institutional experiment, relating to research and development methods. The approach adopted (Teyssier, 1995) is characterized mainly by the following:

- resource management in a limited and well-defined area, dealing only with the agricultural, silvicultural and pastoral uses of the land;

- a local scale of intervention, in order to be manageable by a local community; and

- one rule: the land users must be in charge of all the measures undertaken.

The first village land management experiences focused on Sahelian and Sudanian agro-pastoral systems. Even though village land management is used above all in the agronomic field, it can also be applied a priori to forestry. But for the moment very few experiments have been carried out in forests or in areas with a forestry component.

In the dry zones, the natural forest is still too often viewed through this approach as being a reserve of comparatively fertile areas which can be subjected to village land management provided that it is replaced by cropping. The danger of this approach, which is based on the effective recognition of the local people and their responsibilities, is that some of them are excluded for one reason or another. This applies in particular in multiple use or multi-user areas which are frequently found in the dry tropical zones. The way in which this concept is applied induces it to be used as a means of exclusion or negotiation (Marty, 1993).

But village land management is a concept that is undergoing all-out development at the present time, and similarities and complementary aspects exist because the land tenure approach may lead to the local negotiated management of renewable resources.

Obviously no one recipe exists which is capable of boosting local development. However some conditions can facilitate it or at least not hamper it (Mercoiret et al., 1994):

- a legislative, regulatory, social and cultural environment that makes initiatives possible;
- objectives that really mobilize people;
- the existence of local leaders; and
- the strengthening of endogenous strategies by external stimulation.
Some authors explain the fact that the rural people play some part in forestry projects when these improve food security or increase incomes, and also as a result of investment in good political relations with the foresters (or other parties implementing projects). “Neither environmental and natural resource conservation nor the sustainable exploitation of land are among the main motivations. But it would be surprising if they were considering the economic situation which the rural people face.” (Breemer et al., 1993)

Whether it is by the land tenure approach or village land management, forest management in dry tropical zones cannot properly ignore the social and political context in which it takes place. For it is these which establish the margin for manoeuvre of activities in the forests.

4. Management beyond the forest

4.1 Urban development or resetting of links between towns and countryside?
4.2 The management of the ecosystem and the landscape
4.3 Policies and forests

The forest is not an area that is isolated from the rest of society. It is a component of it. The development of many countries in the tropical zones as they move towards increasing urbanization is substantially changing relations between people and the forest. The urban demand for domestic fuelwood is often given as a major cause to forest degradation.

This analysis ought to be taken further in order to better understand all the economic issues involved. One perceives that the traditional concept of management and forest management should be broadened in order to take in more institutional issues too. Lastly, political decisions in the broad sense of the term may have an impact on forest resources and on the forests themselves (De Montalembert, 1995).

As far as their management is concerned, forests are governed by land use planning policies which often take in much more than local or sector level forestry concerns. Political issues, in the best sense of that term, sometimes have major repercussions on forestry policy. This was evident in the past with the historical development of political regimes (colonialism/independence) and one can see it in the present with the move towards greater democracy or decentralization in certain countries.

4.1 Urban development or resetting of links between towns and countryside?

The deep-seated causes of the degradation of forests, particularly in the dry regions, are often confused with their manifestations, particularly with regard to the production of fuelwood fuel (firewood and charcoal): strong demographic growth and hence increased demand for fuelwood, domestic households and ineffective carbonization methods, the exploitation of wood resources without concern for management but also the expansion of extensive cropping and of the pressure of domestic livestock, etc.

As far as the Sahelian region is concerned, “from what was reported over the period 1930-1980, one can say that when the population doubles the cultivated area triples, and the increase in the number of permanent fields is four times faster than that of temporary fields. In less than a century, the increase in the number of people, accompanied by increasingly extensive use of available space has led to a reduction in fallow periods, the emergence of land tenure disputes, the depletion of the soils, increased erosion and in the end, in a decline in agricultural production.” (Bernus et al., 1993)

As far as population pressure on the forests in the dry tropical zone is concerned, demographic data does not explain the whole story (Agrawal, 1995) and for a long time it has been put down to the carelessness of the rural people. The solutions adopted in the 1970s and 1980s were to raise the awareness of the local people to the dangers of their plundering the environment and to disseminate more efficient techniques.

The methods adopted were extension, group promotion, participation and vocational training. According to the anthropologists local people did not consider renewable resource degradation in the same way as outsiders. And at a time of economic or political crisis this concern is not always perceived as being of the highest importance.

Most of the time, people’s participation is not at the level expected by project leaders, most of all, because local people are often not involved in the decision-making process. A more careful examination of the interaction between demography, urban demand and the rural environment, and the rationales and practices of different production channels showed that the situation was considerably more complex than this, making it necessary to embark upon a broader and better constructed approach (Madon, 1987).

While clearing of forests does exist, it must be acknowledged that opening up commercial channels to supply urban centres with firewood extracted from State-owned forest land (protected or gazetted woodlands and forests) without control and with no concern for sustainability, is a major factor of forest cover degradation. The fuelwood crisis is indicative of a flagrant breakdown in proper relations between the town and the countryside.

In the area of social sciences, there has long been a rift within the disciplines between the specialists of the rural world and those of the urban one. Little work has therefore been done on the interaction between the town and the countryside. In the 1980s urban and rural geography were brought more closely together, with the contribution of anthropology, history and sociology which have considerably modified the image of relations between rural and urban development. Most authors have no doubt that it is urgently necessary to bring the towns out of underdevelopment. But how can this be done? The channels of development, based on the legacy of the economic and social analysis of the conditions of the western industrial revolution, often consider the agricultural sector as the priority and the basis of development, drawing support for this view on Asia’s Green Revolution (Friboulet, 1993).

From an historical viewpoint, there seem to be three conditions necessary for urbanization (Coquery-Vidrovitch, 1993):

- possibility of an agricultural production surplus which will feed non-producers;
- trade and merchant classes specialized in collecting and redistributing foodstuffs; and
- a political power to control the use of the surplus by non-producers.
The link between the town and trade is therefore very strong. “In Africa, one may find markets without a town, but there is no town without markets.” (Coquery-Vidrovitch, 1993.) This has demanded a certain supervision over the surrounding countryside by political powers established in towns. For the urban-oriented, the town is in a stockholder position, and draws on a primary economy for its own development. Other writers tend rather to emphasize the diversity between the different situations (Hugon and Pourtier, 1993).

Recent forecasts have emphasized the restructuring of the rural populations and of agricultural production by the urban markets, in the form of market tension (Cour, 1994). However, regardless of the ideological and sometimes sentimental debate between the pro-urban and the pro-rural schools of thought, it is certainly more in collusion than opposition between the town and the countryside that it is necessary to try to understand and act, including forest management.

4.2 The management of the ecosystem and the landscape

The growing urbanization, often experienced in the developing countries especially following great droughts, has brought about a new structuring of the countryside and of the landscapes. The landscape heritage, which reflects production systems and is the expression of local and regional identities, is increasingly effected by urban spread.

The rural landscape used to be the result of agricultural systems that had been adopted by united social groups. This convergence of views, sometimes qualified by a certain diversity in local practices, is now often being challenged in dry tropical countries, especially close to the large human centres and particularly the megalopolizes. The appropriation of an area by a social group is being upset by two major causes - firstly the intrusion of outsiders, bringing with them culturally different practices, and secondly following market tensions, the individualistic approach adopted by certain farmers or livestock breeders attracted by some new speculative opportunity. These two currents impose a form of ‘modernization’ of the countryside, which results in felling isolated trees, cutting of hedgerows, establishing of irrigated perimeters, etc.

For the farmers, who deal with the rural countryside on a day-by-day basis, this concept of ‘landscape’ is something of which they are virtually unaware. Conversely, the idea of ‘village land’ is very much in their minds, dominated by an agrarian system and a certain degree of humanization, uses or customs.

In the previous chapters, it was recalled that the management of ecosystems cannot be the responsibility of foresters alone, but requires multidisciplinary teams taking part in land use planning. For the managers, the essential problem is to study the best compromise to be made, between the social, ecological and aesthetic organization of a landscape. It is obvious that such a compromise can only be validated following concerted action and with the participation by all the parties involved in agreeing upon long-term objectives.

Unfortunately this is something which can only evolve slowly, particularly in the dry tropical countries. Indeed, managing of the forest ecosystem and the landscape is a notion which depends on so many different policies: land tenure; energy; physical planning and road planning; water policy; and tourism policy, etc.

4.3 Policies and forests

In dry tropical Africa, forestry policies have evolved enormously since the end of the colonial period. The period in which codes were written (forest, rural, pastoral codes, etc.) established the paramount role of the state and forest administration, sometimes overdoing it, but without managing to stop the degradation of the wooded regions.

Very often “the law does not seek to direct the woodland use by adopting more suitable approaches, because it simply denies that the peasants need to use the woodlands. It does not want to encourage them, but is happy to ban them (...). By taking responsibility away from the peasants, deforestation is hastened (...). The forest is defended for its own sake, without considering the role that it plays in reproducing local agrarian systems (...). African forestry policies do not generally take any account of the operation of the societies whose practices they seek to supervise.” (Buttoud, 1991)

Furthermore, the systems of issuing felling permits and negotiating violations of the law are such that the forest administration benefits from a multiplication of (forest products) extractions and offences (against forest laws).

When West Africa became independent, the national forestry services were considered to be a colonial tool to exert repression over the rural world. Their duties implemented with limited resources focused on reserved forests. Their presence over the protected woodlands (village forests) is reduced. Paradoxically, reference is constantly being made to France. Indeed, the technical advisory role exerted during the colonial period has often been taken up since independence. Most of the tropical forestry programmes in the area therefore relate to the selection of high-performing and fast-growing exotic species (Eucalyptus in particular) and the design of techniques suitable to plant them in a public framework (in a reserved forest). With the benefit of hindsight, it becomes clear that plantations do not succeed where rainfall is less than 800 mm per year, without over-investment in irrigated systems.

Faced with total or partial failures, mentalities and approaches have changed very slowly. Little by little, one becomes aware of the need to involve the local people in all reforestation activities. This approach is done through ‘mini-nursery’ operations. Village nurserymen have been trained to produce forest species. Locally, rural people are therefore given the technical facilities they need to carry out programmed activities. By making them more autonomous, they become less dependent on the forestry services which substantially cuts costs. The trend is therefore towards village plantations.

In emergencies, another channel benefits from contributions by international donors (Montagne et al., 1994). Natural forest management then becomes an alternative to plantations, which is not only attractive from the technical and social points of view but in economic terms. An evaluation by Wormald (1984) has shown that for the production of fuelwood, natural forest management is more economical than a plantation except if the latter is able to produce over 6 m3/ha/year, which is more often than not incompatible with sustainable production in dry tropical zones.

Since the end of the 1970s and particularly following the Eighth World Forestry Congress, a slow process of change has occurred in the international forestry community, particularly in the community interested in dry tropical zones. Their main concerns are no longer limited to protecting certain forests and maximizing the income from other forests, but increasingly the importance of the links between the rural people and the forests are being emphasized.

There are three major reasons for this reversal (Shepherd, 1992):

- the oil crisis emphasized the fact that for a long time to come fuelwood will still be the main source of energy of people from poor countries;

- the awareness that world-wide deforestation is occurring which reforestation projects cannot offset; and

- a reconsideration of development problems, which are increasingly less oriented towards large-scale industry but taking greater account of small producers.

According to the rationale of this process and in line with democratization and decentralization trends, other political solutions are currently being advanced. Based on a “principle that societies are capable of self-organization on the basis of solidarity of interests or territorial co-operation” (Auriac and Brunet, 1986), these implicitly refer to the idea of making local populations responsible.

“In many cases, one particularly effective way of making rural people responsible for their own forest resource is to give them responsibility for managing them and benefiting from them with the technical assistance of the forestry service. The task of the latter is now quite different from what it used to be traditionally: instead of direct action on forest stands, the tendency now is to support the activities being implemented by the local people themselves depending upon their own perceived needs.” (De Montalembert and Clément, 1983)

The World Bank has made another very similar overall observation: “Setting up a form of land use that is economically viable, socially equitable and ecologically stable, does not come about automatically (...). In the past, governments have often relied upon central planning of land use to achieve this. Technicians from different ministries concerned used soil suitability maps together with forest inventory results to draft complex land use plans that distinguish between conservation sites, production forests and agricultural development zones, mining areas and infrastructure development (...). The obvious lack of success of this authoritarian approach is mainly due to the fact that planning was conceived as a technical as well as administrative exercise, which paid no attention to the latent political conflicts due to competitive demands on forest resources and to economic motivation that dictates their utilization. Conflicts between various users, among others, for collective and public lands, must be solved through negotiation, and the agreement sealed by relatively simple rules to be respected by all parties concerned, if one wants the land use plan to have a practical signification.” (World Bank, 1994)

The following boxes (29 and 30) show the form that this new type of approach can take.

Box 29: Co-management of state forests in India

The Indian programme of joint forest management enables local community institutions to manage public forest land, in return for joint benefit sharing. The priorities of the national policy are no longer meeting industrial and commercial requirements for forest products and maximizing revenues.

The new policy adopted in 1988 firstly places “environmental protection and conservation meeting the fuelwood, fodder, secondary forest products and small timber requirements of the rural and tribal populations (...). According to one estimate, by mid-1992 more than 1.5 million ha of forest land (about 2 percent of India’s forest area) were already under protection (to a large extent through joint management programmes) by more than 10 000 community institutions (both formal and informal) in ten States. (...)

“Because of its primary focus on forest protection for timber production rather than need-based forest management, the programme is empowering those with the least forest dependence to compel the more dependent community members to forsake immediate extraction without providing them any alternatives. Such inequity of impact is most differentiated by gender to the near exclusion of women (who constitute the majority of forest users) from programme-related decisions (...). Where women are forced to go to distant unprotected forests for collecting firewood, there is an invisible transfer of unsustainable pressure to more distant areas in order to permit regeneration of those forests that are nearer.”[2] (Sarin, 1995)

Box 30: The example of forestry policy in Niger

In Niger, since 1989 the Energy II (Domestic Energy) project has been implementing the principle of long-term sustainability of forest resources for fuelwood. It bases its approach on the reappropriation of the forest stands by the neighbouring village populations. The reform of forest regulations has transferred responsibility for the management (but not the ownership) of renewable natural resources from the State to the local rural population.

The underlying idea of rural market development is that the rural people must be necessarily empowered to manage wood resources in order to encourage their ecological, economic and social sustainability. The incomes they derive makes them feel responsible for managing the resource. If they feel the positive effects at the level of the community or individually, they will be able to press for the sustainable development of this heritage.

In short, the aim is to give the tree a standing value which will enable rural people to protect it, raise it and use it to their benefit.

(See details in Part Four, Case Study 4: Niger.)

[1] Azudes is the Spanish word for the wheel shaped mechanical device used to draw up irrigation water from rivers (note from the editor).
[2] The apparent contradiction between the first and second parts of the box is due to the fact that a section of the quoted article describing what is to some extent the unsatisfactory way in which some aspects of the ‘joint forest management programme’ have been implemented, has not been inserted.

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