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None of CIFORs research can have much impact unless policy makers and opinion leaders receive and use the results. Policies in many countries are slow to respond to changing circumstances and often interfere with the accomplishment of sustainable forest management and human well-being, in part because of weak institutional mechanisms and tools to enable such responsiveness.
In November, CIFOR co-sponsored a week-long workshop for policy analysts, researchers and forestry managers from several countries that explored problems hampering the implementation of community-oriented forestry policies and how they might be overcome. In discussions designed around a multi-country study of the International Institute for Environment and Development published as Policy That Works for Forests and People, the participants concluded that simpler and more consistent policies are needed, and that local institutions play a critical role in effective implementation. Also stressed was the importance of ongoing dialogue among multiple stakeholders so that opportunities for policy reform can be seized when they arise.
Other CIFOR work has found that local governments require substantial external assistance both to bolster their support for sustainable forest management and to strengthen their capacity to promote such management. Among the requirements are clear mechanisms for exercising their legal rights and carrying out their responsibilities, as well as an overall policy context favourable to local initiatives. With this in mind, CIFOR is examining what kinds of information and sources policy makers have used in the past to guide their decisions. Initial studies are looking at the role of policy research in the formulation of new forestry laws in Bolivia, Cameroon, Costa Rica and Indonesia.
In 1998, significant methodological advances were made in Malawi, Tanzania and Zimbabwe using rapid rural appraisal techniques to conduct more participatory research on the effects of different policy changes at the household level. These were complemented by input from secondary sources and key informants as well as economic modelling to get a clearer view of the complex interactions that determine how different policies affect the livelihoods of local communities and their use of forest resources, as well as local institutions.
Economic hardships in Zimbabwe in recent years resulting from a currency devaluation and related policy reforms by the government were seen as the reason for a collapse of community endeavours and a move away from the extended family. The reform measures were also found to have a negative impact on state organisations operating in the rural areas, including those related to agriculture and natural resource management.
Although in many African countries traditional institutions have eroded, they still retain much potential for management of natural resources. In Tanzania, some macroeconomic policies created conditions that have led to a broadening of the cash income base of rural communities, and have put value on some otherwise non-tradable forest products. Nonetheless, these policies also appeared to adversely affect the traditional and government management of natural forest resources.
In Malawi, structural adjustment policies aimed at liberalising tobacco production and the marketing of maize and tobacco, as well as increasing accessibility to foreign currency, were shown to stimulate expansion of land area for these crops at the expense of natural forests. The research identified villagers living around the forest reserves as key agents of deforestation and environmental degradation, through careless cutting of trees, opening up of gardens, grazing livestock and charcoal burning.