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Editorial: Accommodating multiple interests in forestry

Management of forest resources has almost always involved a balancing act between the objectives and needs of a variety of individuals and organizations. Attempts to manage forest resources on a long-term basis without accommodating multiple interests in both decision-making and implementation processes have generally failed. This is true regardless of the group or organization that has tried to monopolize the situation (although exceptions may be found in the case of well-defined, very limited areas) a government, non-governmental organization (NGO), private commercial concern, local community or other.

Governments have come under the heaviest criticism, a result of relatively recent policies in many countries (over the course of the past 50 years) that assigned all responsibilities and rights related to forest resources to government This excluded local communities and all other groups from resource management decisions and. as an approach, has often failed dismally gazetted forests across the developing world that exist in name only are a poignant testimony

The other extreme of the pendulum. turning forest management over exclusively to rural people's organizations or local communities, also has its limitations. Local groups often lack appropriate technologies and the broader perspective to manage forest resources so that they make their maximum potential contribution to sustainable development overall. Private forest holdings and concessions and management attempts by NGOs have also often had limited success in terms of long-term management.

The best chance for success in sustainable forest management would seem to be through processes that recognize and involve the multiplicity of ideologies, interests, objectives and knowledge of the individuals and organizations that have a stake in the matter. The legitimate role of different groups in sustainable management of natural resources was explicitly recognized at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, and in many subsequent national and international gatherings. More over, a range of new approaches to forestry planning and management have emerged, based on collaboration among "traditional " partners and interests and individuals which were historically excluded or tailed to find political support for their concerns.

These new approaches have also met with varied levels of success. At the worst, some have been seen as government attempts simply to coopt local people as sources of cheap labour. Under more fortunate circumstances, collaborative relationships appear to be succeeding.

In December 1997, FAO hosted a workshop, Pluralism and Sustainable Forestry and Rural Development. to exchange information and experiences and to explore mechanisms, methods and fore for optimizing cooperation among the different groups concerned with the management of forest resources. The workshop was attended by 35 participants representing different organizations (and organizational types, geographic regions and disciplines). The articles in this issue of Unasylva are adaptations of papers presented at that workshop.

The first article, by J. Anderson, J. Clement and L.V. Crowder. defines pluralism and states why it is potentially important and how it can be used for a better understanding of the dynamics of sustainable forestry and rural development. As such it represents a synthesis of the overall aim of the workshop. It is evident from this article and others in the issue that developing a vision for pluralism in forestry is a work in progress. As such, the article will not provide the reader with a conclusive definition but rather with a provocative starting point for further thought.

A. Bebbington and A. Kopp examine attempts to build rural development networks founded on relationships of trust (social capital), based on two case studies in Latin America. D. Babin and A. Bertrand consider pluralism from an African perspective. Drawing on examples from Asia, N. Hildyard, P. Hegde, P. Wolvekamp and S. Reddy take a harsh look at "participation" programmes that are not based on full recognition of the distribution and operation of power within local communities and wider society.

B. Vira, O. Dubois, S.E. Daniels and G.B. Walker present an overview of analytical tools to study pluralism in the context of forestry and rural development. The article notes (as do several others) that pluralism is not only about developing collaborative regimes, but about accepting and managing inherent conflict among participants and interest groups.

Communication and learning by all participants seem to be at the centre of any successful attempt at pluralistic management of natural resources. R. Ramírez considers the use of participatory learning and communication tools for a better understanding of natural resource management.

The final article in the theme, by O.J. Lynch, focuses on the need for innovative and equitable laws and policies to ensure that the interests of forest-dependent communities are fairly considered in forest planning and management decisions.

It is clear that pluralism - accommodating multiple interests - in forestry is not easy. In fact, it is difficult and decidedly "messy". Moreover, there is a decided risk that the term pluralism may become just one more piece of jargon to be given lip service in the international arena. However, if used wisely, it can add to the richness of the forestry debate and can provide a set of "checks and balances" to help ensure that essential concerns of interested parties are duly considered in the planning and implementation of sustainable forest management.

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