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The new initiative that CIFOR will pursue in 1999, Local People, Devolution and Adaptive Co-Management of Forests, or ACM, has emerged from growing recognition that "on-the-ground" change in community management of forests is not possible until multiple stakeholders agree on what resources need to be sustained and how that may be achieved. Reaching such agreement is invariably complex, and can occur only through iterative processes of collaboration and decision making.
Through the prolonged course of collaborative planning, circumstances may occur that can have a bearing on the outcome. Participants attitudes about a situation may change, for example, or there may be a dramatic shift in environmental conditions. As such, there is a need for periodic monitoring and adaptation to ensure progress toward objectives.
The ultimate aim of research under this new programme is to guide the improvement of forest-related community action, local institutions and policy effectiveness. Areas of focus include mechanisms for local empowerment in stakeholder negotiations, including ways communities can influence policy (for instance, through alliances between local and national-level actors); methods for enabling adaptive forest management at the local level, including monitoring and information exchange involving the use of criteria and indicators; and how policies mediate the effectiveness of ACM, in both formal and informal communication links. An immediate focus of the research will be to establish the nature and influence of policy constraints.
Criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management are a key component of adaptive co-management strategies that CIFOR researchers will work to develop under this programme. Basically, C&I will serve as monitoring tools to guide changes along the road to adoption of sustainable use of forests and their resources signalling the need for corrections in response to unplanned developments or side effects.
A framework for preparing adaptive management plans for natural resources using participatory mapping and other innovative research tools has been developed based on work in Madagascar by CIFOR and its partners. The project entails efforts to establish structures capable of carrying out devolved governance as provided for under government actions such as a 1996 Law on Community-Based Management of Renewable Natural Resources.
Another project with major implications for CIFORs future work on adaptive co-management was tests conducted by CIFOR and its collaborators in 1998 to identify and evaluate a variety of social science methods capable of assessing human well-being quickly and reliably. The methods had already been tested fully or in part at sites in Indonesia, Cameroon, the United States, Trinidad and Gabon. The findings will be reported in a CIFOR book now under preparation, called Local People in Logged Forests: Human Well-Being Under Scrutiny.
CIFOR fieldwork in several countries being done as part of a broad project to analyse devolution of forest management and related policies is an important foundation for future research on adaptive co-management. Very early findings from devolution studies in China, for example, suggest that contradictions among tenure policies, taxes and harvesting regulations have limited the potential of collaboration among local forest managers and the state. In addition, frequent changes in policies related to tree tenure seem to have created a high degree of uncertainty among local people about their rights, thereby limiting their engagement in collaboration and their ability to test new management practices.