The Issues

The story of colonial and later state appropriation and control of the natural resources under the banner of “scientific natural resource management” has been a common feature of a centralized technocratic management that was increased along the last century with the rise of the modern nation state, the power of technology and of the global economy, eventually leading to the wholesale trade of the forests for the sake of industrial forestry interests. Scientific natural resource management, as imposed by the North on the South, first through colonialism and then through the development agencies and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, has fatal flaws, it aggregates forest lands and marine resources, the land and traditional fishing grounds of old communities, to the State and then hands out rights to exploit the resources to private interests. The result is an alliance of powerful players who have a vested interest both in excluding communities from forests and marine resources and avoiding serious limits on exploitation that would limit profits in the name of sustainability.

The result has been degradation and destruction of natural resources, displaced people, and the loss of local livelihoods. In the face of that, there has been growing concern to find a new way to preserve what is left of the world’s forests and marine eco systems.
The conservation of the world’s forests and marine eco systems requires the adoption of a series of measures to change the current model of destruction. Now that both the direct and underlying causes of degradation have been clearly identified, the next step is to take the necessary measures to address them.

At the same time, a new forest management model should be adopted that will ensure their conservation. In this respect, it is important to note that in most of the countries of the world, there are many examples of appropriate resource management, in which environmentally sustainable use is assured while benefitting local communities. This type of management is generically known as “community based natural resource management”, although it adopts different modalities in accordance with the socio economic diversity of the places where it is developed.

The name “community natural resource management” already expresses its characteristics quite precisely. However, it is necessary to identify at least some of the minimum characteristics for it to be considered as such.

In the first place, the community management system should guarantee access and control over forest and marine resources to the communities who are dependent on the resources to satisfy their economic, social and cultural needs. Natural resource management should be aimed at offering security not only to the present generation but also to coming generations, and also at increasing the possibility of sustainability. It therefore is based on three principles:

Although securing community tenure is a necessary condition, in general it is not enough. The State should also remove a series of obstacles hindering community management, while providing all the support necessary for it to become generalized. Such measures range from simplifying bureaucratic formalities and to research and support in marketing forest products.

For their part, the communities themselves must adequately solve a series of fundamental issues, such as questions of organization and administration, ensuring democratic, participatory and transparent management of community managed resources. In many cases, they will need to promote fair participation (in particular in decision making) by the community as a whole. In many cases, this involves addressing the gender issue and training at all levels.

The NGO’s accompanying these processes must also clearly define their role and limit themselves to supporting the communities, avoiding taking up a leading role which is not theirs and which, in the end, does little to strengthen the communities. At the same time, they must recognize the transitory nature of their assistance, seeking to transfer their knowledge as soon as possible to the communities themselves and to enable them to become independent from external assistance and to take up all the functions involved in forest and marine resource management.

However, perhaps the main aspect to be highlighted is that community based natural resource management is not a technical issue (without implying that technical aspects should be ignored) but a political issue. For it to become reality, it is therefore necessary to get organized, coordinate efforts, share information and develop campaigns so that the Government adopts policies generating the necessary conditions for natural resource management to be returned to the communities.

Collaborative management - Planet's approach to creating a solution for the resource use problem.

Governments around the world increasingly seek to manage their forests and marine eco systems with the collaboration of the people living nearby. Ministries of forestry and fisheries or their equivalents usually do this by offering local people access to selected products or forest land and marine resources, income from forest and marine resources, or opportunities for communicating with government officials. In return, the agency obliges local people to cooperate in managing the forests and marine eco systems around them by protecting existing forest and marine areas or by planting trees. Governments claim that the programs devolve control over forests and marine areas to local people and provide more secure livelihoods, as well as help maintain and regenerate forests and marine eco systems. By sharing rights among local groups and the state, the programs also help to reconcile the resource claims of local people with those of the national government. Everybody supposedly wins.

Millions of the rural poor now participate in collaborative forest and marine resource management schemes under a variety of tenurial and organizational arrangements. The question we need to ask ourselves is whether local people have indeed gained more access to benefits from and control over forests. Findings suggest that most co-management projects actually maintain and even extend central government control (J. Ribot, Democratic Decentralization of Natural Resources (Washington, DC: World Resources Institute, 2002).

Where communities had already managed forests in Orissa and Uttarakhand in India, the government required that they share their incomes with the state forest department. Governments in many countries typically predetermine which species can be planted in reforestation or agro forestry schemes and what types of organizations can be given rights to manage forests and marine ecosystems. Whereas local people have gained greater legal access to forests and marine resources and some might have increased their incomes, many have also lost out. For example, NTFP rich areas and plantations have been frequently established on land used by poorer members of communities for grazing or cultivation. Local people have also not shown a consistent interest in forest and marine eco system management.

The collaborative management model

Collaborative management or “co-management” natural resource programs have had a huge impact. In India, more than 63,000 groups have enrolled in joint forest management programs to regenerate 14 million hectares. In Nepal, 9,000 forest user groups are trying to regenerate 700,000 hectares of forest. In Brazil, farmers help to manage 2.2 million hectares as extractive reserves. Half the districts in Zimbabwe participate in CAMPFIRE schemes, in which local communities can share revenues gained from tourist use of wildlife areas. These programs have generally helped to protect forests and improve access rights of the rural poor to forest resources but have often fallen short of their potential to significantly improve the livelihoods of the poor.
Collective action has been a key feature of organizational arrangements for co-management. These arrangements have included (1) corporate, legal organizations of rights holders such as rubber tappers’ organizations in Brazil, ejidos in Mexico, or trusts in Botswana; (2) village committees facilitated by government departments such as Forest Protection Committees in India; (3) local government organizations such as Rural District Councils in Zimbabwe; and (4) multi-stakeholder district structures aligned to line departments such as the Wildlife Management Authorities in Zambia. Collective action assists in co-management by reducing the number of people that forest agencies must deal with and by bringing together different groups to play complementary roles in forest and marinescape management. Even when governments contract directly with households or individuals, community organizations usually help with the programs, as in the case of Integrated Social Forestry in the Philippines.

State control

The organizational arrangements for co-management strongly influence how much government agencies can control forest and marine eco system management and outcomes for local people. Forestry and marine agencies exert more control over decisions about species selection, harvesting practices, sales, consumption, and the distribution of benefits where they have devolved management to local governments or larger-scale organizations. In such cases, the agency’s interests in timber production and harvesting of marine resources, revenue generation, and environmental conservation have often overridden villagers’ interests in livelihoods.

Forestry and marine agencies exercise control over individuals and village groups as well by making local organizations accountable to the agencies rather than to local stakeholders. The agencies use standardized contractual agreements and regulations that limit local people’s self-determination. Local people who organize collectively are better able to mobilize resources and negotiate for desired benefits. They are able to exert more influence when they have the direct support of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), donors, federations, and other external actors. Collective action, both within communities and together with outside groups, thus helps local people become more influential stakeholders in co-management arrangements. Where local groups have managed their own forests and marine resources without state intervention, however, they have not necessarily been better off. Without government support, they often have had difficulty implementing or enforcing their decisions.

Addressing poverty

Collaborative management has improved formal access to forests and marine resources for rural people. Harvesting forest and marine resources helps them meet subsistence needs and offers a safety net in times of shortage. Yet local people’s rights to valuable commercial products such as timber, NTFP’s or marine resources remain restricted. Where forests and marine eco systems yield financial benefits, governments often fail to deliver local people’s promised share of incomes or deliver them primarily to local elites. For the poor to benefit substantially from forest and marine access, they need more secure ownership rights over valuable resources. Only rarely have poor communities received substantial financial benefits, such as in Botswana where 45 families shared about US$125,000 annually from the Chobe Trust.

Organizing collective action: challenges for the future

Co-management has revealed the difficulty of dividing roles, rights, and responsibilities, especially where the groups involved have highly divergent interests. Forest agencies have had varying experiences in organizing collective action. Romantic ideals about harmonious communities and the local knowledge and capacities of “traditional peoples” have been counterbalanced by internal conflict and lack of leadership in many communities and the difficulty of organizing collective action where local social capital is weak. Increasing competition, fragmentation of forests and dwindling marine resources use areas have led to more de facto privatization of land, making it difficult for communities and other agencies that have a commercial interest in the forest resources to organize together around a common resource. Many co-management efforts rely on outside agents to facilitate collective action, but sustaining that action has proved difficult. Other stakeholders, such as local governments or NGOs, often create their own sets of incentives or pressures for local people that work against co-management initiatives.

Forest and marine resource co-management has created a useful institutional entry point. It now seems time to build more actively on the lessons learned. State officials and local people have had different expectations about the process and goals of co management. Forest and marine departments have controlled the terms of co-management and been reluctant to share their benefits. People in forest areas and people dependant on harvesting of marine resources now must achieve the rights and power to bring about a fair division of control, responsibility, and benefits between themselves and the government.

Checks and balances need to be in place to ensure that local elites or other groups do not monopolize benefits and decision making. The process should acknowledge the multiple interests among different groups and give special attention to the livelihood needs of the poor. Initiatives need to build better on existing management practices and enhance local livelihood options. The current bureaucratic approaches to co-management do not address the complexity of these different needs. Frameworks for natural resource management that are developed locally by stakeholders and then linked to national objectives are more flexible and responsive to local interests. In the past it has been difficult for large centralized forest agencies to accommodate local interests, and local groups have had little voice in agency decision making. This is changing as governments decentralize and as the role of NGOs increases. Choosing the right facilitators and settings for these negotiations is critical for ensuring that the interests of the poor are met. Experience suggests that local responsiveness will be higher when institutional arrangements facilitate good communication and learning among stakeholders. The learning process should include both local interest groups and national policymakers to reflect different interests. Where forestry and marine incomes are limited and less attractive than incomes from other sustainable land and marine resource uses and other activities, the rural poor should be encouraged to pursue economic options other than forestry and marine resource harvesting to better meet their needs. Triggered by past experiences and by the increasing complexity of demands from different interest groups, the co management paradigm is shifting. Management increasingly involves not just a local group and the government, but a range of stakeholders, and acknowledges overlapping systems of management and diverse interests. The actors involved have recognized that more emphasis is needed on the institutional and political aspects of management design. Thus forest management efforts are focusing on negotiation and on frameworks that emphasize local people’s right to greater power in management structures and allow for effective representation of rural poor people in negotiations and management structures.