Decentralization and forest-related conflicts in Latin America

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Forestry decentralization and devolution reforms involve the transfer of rights, resources and responsibilities related to the governance of forest resources. One of the consequences of these reforms is a reconfiguration of the patterns of interactions between multiple governance actors, which may create friction as actors with different interests shift positions within the governance structure. These shifts may imply important differences with regards to access to power, information, and flows of benefits from forest resources. In this paper, we explore how forestry decentralization affects the propensity for forest-related conflict among forest governance actors. We draw on qualitative field research from the North Atlantic Autonomous Region of Nicaragua to develop a set of hypotheses about the effect of decentralization on conflict. We argue that decentralization generates conflict and that lack of transparency and accountability in reform processes further contributes to more conflict. We hypothesize that over time, under effective decentralization reforms, increases in both transparency and accountability will lead to a decline in conflict. We then test these hypotheses with empirical data from interviews with local governance actors in Bolivia and Peru, two countries with contrasting degrees of forestry sector decentralization. The quantitative analysis finds that there is no clear relationship between decentralization, transparency or accountability and the prevalence of conflict. These findings lead us to conclude that the prevalence of conflict alone is not a particularly instructive indicator of forest governance performance and suggest that future research should pursue a better understanding of how decentralization may alter the nature of conflicts.

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