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Food and
Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Backgrounder on FAO's Electronic Conference on Conflict Resolution in Community Forestry

Other News & Highlights:

It is doubtful that Laurie Amekufa could have made it from East Africa to participate in a "real time, real place"conference at FAO headquarters in Rome. But she did get to take part in a recent Electronic mail "Virtual Conference" convened in cyberspace by FAO's Community Forestry Unit so that people around the world could share information about conflict resolution in community forestry.

From Hameenlinna to Honolulu, more than 450 subscribers from 46 countries contributed over two megabytes of discussion, case studies and literature. The conference was titled "Addressing Natural Resource Conflicts Through Community Forestry"and ran from 15 January - 28 April 1996. It was part of FAO's Forest, Trees and People Programme which used the Electronic conferencing facilities provided by SARD-FORUM.

Laurie made a contribution as her own type of "virtual": one afternoon when the debate slowed down, Laurie was invented by the FAO conference facilitators to provoke discussion. Otherwise real, live participants read the nine discussion papers prepared for the E-conference secretariat as starting points for electronic discussions on gender relations, power imbalances, the viability of traditional methods of dispute resolution and laws relating to forest access and joint forest management.

The most common subscriber address, not surprisingly, ended in @fao.org, the conference providing an opportunity for approximately 50 FAO staff members, many of whom had never worked together before, to electronically discuss issues of common concern. The vast majority of the subscribers and most of the conference discussion came from a variety of participants from countries around the world.

What kinds of conflict require resolution in community forestry? Disputes are based in power relationships and the use to which a given segment of society would put the forest. It may be that the village men want to cut trees to sell the timber while the women want to preserve the forest for the foods, medicine and animal fodder found therein. It may be that the local chief or party official has a contract with a national or international logging company and is using his power to exploit the forest. It may be that the national government and its forestry staff are too remote from impoverished, unempowered villagers to understand how the forest serves local income and food security needs.

Conference participants read about and debated questions such as:

The official language of the E-conference was English, but regional focal points and national working groups located in Quito (Ecuador), Cochabamba (Bolivia), Dakar (Senegal) and Nairobi (Kenya) also worked in Spanish, French, Bambara and Swahili (which, by the way, are among the languages spoken in the six-member E-Conference secretariat in Rome.) Summaries of the regional and national discussions in those other languages were collected and sent out in English to all participants.

Evaluations of the E-conference are still coming in to the secretariat, but the response thus far has been overwhelmingly positive. People spoke of making "new friends" (as well as "enjoying a few tussles"), and indeed networking is one of the obvious strengths of E-mail as a conference medium. It is quite conceivable that the "virtual relationships" which linked Boston and Baltimore in the USA with Nakuru in Kenya and Enschede in the Netherlands, not to mention members of the secretariat with specific subscribers, will be long term. It is clear as well that there are drawbacks to using E-mail for a conference. As one participant wrote in her evaluation, "It is difficult to lead a conference of this sort into consensus or agreement. You cannot even get people to answer specific questions or comment on particular things! It works, in fact, as an inverse funnel, generating more ideas, not agreeing on them. It seems to me the real benefit is in the serendipity: every individual gets something out of it for him/herself, through inspiration from other individuals, even if there is no final statement as such. I can imagine this is frustrating for the moderators and facilitators, but it is fine for the participants."

The expenditure of energy, not to mention resources, was considerable and the limitations and frustrations were real. But there is no question that, in comparison with a "live" conference which requires participants' physical presence in one place at one time, E-conferencing can bring together far more people from more diverse places. The medium is more accessible to more parts of the world than most people would imagine, and is a proven means of gathering and sharing information - even if "consensus building" is difficult. To this extent, E-conferencing does appear to be cost effective. Finally, it is felt that a great deal was learned and that this particular E-conference has pushed ahead considerably the field of conflict management in relation to natural resource conflicts.


SARD-FORUM is an electronic venue for the global exchange of information among people and institutions involved with Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development. SARD-FORUM is a co-operative initiative of:

Electronic Library Instructions

FTPP Mail Conference: Addressing Natural Resource Conflicts through Community Forestry

The nine discussion papers circulated in the FTPP E-mail conference, and all the comments contributed by participants, are posted in the SARD-Library for you to retrieve via mail.


You will need to subscribe your mail account to the SARD-Library in order to retrieve its files. To subscribe to the library:

1) Address an E-mail message to [email protected]

2) Leave the subject heading blank

3) Type only this line of text at the beginning of the message space -

subscribe sard-library YourEmailAddress


The table of contents file is called CONFLICTDOCS (in capital letters). It lists all the E-conference files that have been posted in the library, and it updates whenever we add new files to the library. To retrieve a copy of CONFLICTDOCS:

1) Address an E-mail message to [email protected]

2) Leave the subject heading blank

3) Type only this line of text at the beginning of the message space: get sard-library CONFLICTDOCS

4) This file will then be sent to your mail account.


All the files listed in the table of contents files, CONFLICTDOCS, begin with a filename. Note that the filename is "CONFLICT" or in some cases "CONFLICTADD" (in capital letters) followed by the file number, with no space between the letters and number. For the purpose of retrieving files, only the filename should be used, not the rest of the title. Example: To retrieve "CONFLICT7.1: 6p; Participant Self-Introductions, Part 1"

1) Address a message to [email protected]

2) Leave the subject heading blank

3) Type only this line of text at the beginning of the message space: get sard-library CONFLICT7.1

4) This file will then be sent to your mail account.

Please note that it is only possible to retrieve one file at a time.

If you have any problems in accessing material on the library please contact someone who is proficient in the E-mail software you are using.

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Participating Countries

FTPP Mail Conference: "Addressing Natural Resource Conflicts through Community Forestry"

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There was a four-month preparatory period for the E-mail conference which involved a co-ordinator (part-time), and a logistical assistant and student intern (full-time). During the E-conference (January to April) the secretariat included a co-ordinator, a facilitator, an assistant facilitator and two logistical assistants to finalise inputs for the discussions (including nine discussion papers). With five computers, the secretariat managed seven electronic conference "rooms" which generated a daily average of 100 logistical mail messages and 25 participant enquiries, not to mention actual E-mail comments made during the four-month discussion period. The secretariat is currently compiling the E-conference proceedings and a logistical report (both available in July), as well as setting up a longer term global conflict management network.

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Community Forestry Unit

For more information about the E-conference or other FTPP activities in conflict management please contact:

Michelle Gauthier
E-Conference Co-ordinator
Community Forestry Unit
Forestry Policy and Planning Division
Forestry Department
Viale delle Terme di Caracalla
Rome 00100, Italy
Phone: (+39-6) 5225-4341
Fax: (+39-6) 5225-5514
E-Mail: [email protected]

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Forests, Trees and People Programme

For more information about the Forests, Trees and People Programme, contact your regional focal point:

FTPP Regional Facilitator
RECOFTC c/o Faculty of Forestry
Kasetsart University
Bangkok 10903, Thailand
Phone: (+66-2) 579-0198/ 561-4881
Fax: (+66-2) 561-4880
E-Mail: [email protected]
Central America
FTPP Regional Facilitator
c/o FAO Representative Office in Costa Rica
A.P. 8198
1000 San José, Costa Rica
Phone: (+506) 220-0551/ 220-0512
Fax: (+506) 323-6137
E-Mail: [email protected]
East Africa
FTPP Network c/o
Forest Action Network
PO Box 21428
Nairobi, Kenya
Phone: (+254-2-718398
Fax: (+254-2-718398
Mail: [email protected]
The Editor, FTPP English Newsletter
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
Box 7005
S-75007 Uppsala, Sweden
Phone: (+46-18) 672319
Fax: (+46-18) 671209
Mail: [email protected]
Latin America
The Editor, FTPP Spanish Newsletter
Av. Santa Cruz 550, Jesus María
Apartado 11-0152
Lima 11, Peru
Phone: (+ 51-1) 432-6705
Fax: (+51-1) 424-0847
Mail: [email protected]
North America
5400 Gosvenor Lane
Bethesda, Maryland 20814
Phone: (+1-301) 897-8720
Fax: (+1-301) 897-3690
Mail: [email protected]
West Africa
FTPP Regional Facilitator
B.P. 2078
Douala, Cameroon
Phone: (+237) 403770/ 403068
Fax: (+237) 424335
Mail: [email protected]
The Senior Community Forestry Officer
Forestry Policy and Planning Division
Forestry Department
Viale delle Terme di Caracalla
Rome 00100, Italy
Phone: (+39-6) 5225-3256
Fax: (+39-6) 5225-5514
Mail: c\o [email protected]

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