[Table of Contents]

[Managing Forests For Multiple Use]


Expanding Local Participation


Tropical forests are diverse, and so is the range of people who look to forests to meet a variety of subsistence and income needs. These multiple interests entail overlapping management systems – traditional management for local people’s access to cultural sites, forest land, products and jobs; industrial management for timber and plantation crops; and governmental efforts to manage for conservation and other goals.

There is a need for ways of managing forests in a manner that preserves ecological integrity and human well-being while addressing these diverse demands. Historically, however, most forest management approaches have been conventional, "top-down" systems that tend to give greater voice and control to more powerful interests while minimising the concerns and needs of local people. As a result, forest-dwelling people often have declining access to resources that are vital to their families’ welfare and lack fair representation in forest-related decisions that affect their daily lives.

CIFOR’s programme of research on devolution and community management includes the development of ways to identify all the relevant stakeholders of a forest area and to strengthen their participation and collaboration in decision-making processes. Because local people are the ultimate beneficiaries of this research, CIFOR adopts a "participatory" approach that emphasizes their involvement in community-based research. Focus groups, individual interviews, "community mapping" (illustrating institutional and social networks) and other techniques may be employed in fieldwork to make the research more relevant and less intimidating to local people.

In 1998, CIFOR completed a body of research that explored ways of involving local people as active partners in the development of criteria and indicators. The work was done in several villages in Brazil, Indonesia and Cameroon over several periods since March 1997. A report on the research describes a number of methods that could be employed to engage local forest dwellers in collaborative design of C&I, and discusses relative strengths and weaknesses of the various methods. It also suggests ways of explaining underlying theoretical concepts to community inhabitants.

Other research in this area includes field studies in China. In 1998, collaborators from academic and forestry institutions in Yunnan, Hunan and Guizhou provinces attended training sessions organised to discuss what devolution means in China, how to evaluate its impacts and how policies related to devolution might be improved.