Table Of ContentsNext Page


The Community Forestry Unit (CFU) of the Forestry Department of FAO and the Forests, Trees and People Programme (FTPP) have been working in the area of natural resource conflict management since 1992. CFU/FTPP has coordinated regional workshops, collections of case studies, training, a preliminary institutional survey and a bibliography on natural resource conflicts and their management. These exchanges and activities highlighted the importance of assessing the global standing of natural resource conflict management. Thus, CFU/FTPP, with assistance from FAO/UNDP's SARD-Forum', coordinated an electronic conference (e-conference) on "Addressing Natural Resource Conflicts through Community Forestry, " January - May 1996. There were 463 conferees from 55 countries directly subscribed to the e-conference. The broad range of conferees included academics, policy-makers, lawyers, lobbyists, field workers, foresters, anthropologists, project designers, extension agents, and trainers representing multilateral and bilateral organizations, government offices, international and national NGOs, and community-based institutions. The e-conference helped in collecting and disseminating information on practical and theoretical issues related to conflict management and community forestry and presenting diverging perspectives on this subject. The material contributed to better understanding the nexus between community forestry and conflict management.

This document, "Volume 1: Compilation of Discussion Papers from the E-Conference on Addressing Natural Resource Conflicts through Community Forestry", presents the nine discussion papers circulated during the e-conference. The material appears in its original version, as circulated in the e-conference, and has not been revised or edited for publication in this volume.

Additional material available on the e-conference includes:

For additional information on FTPP/CFU activities and publications on conflict management, visit the CFU/FTPP homepage. The Internet address for this information is:

1SARD-FORUM is an electronic venue for the global exchange of information among people involved in Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development (SARD). It is a cooperative initiative of. (1) the Sustainable Development Department (SDD) of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), (2) the Sustainable Energy and Environment Division (SEED) of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and (3) INFORUM, an international non-governmental organization.

Community Forestry and Conflict Management - Background

There are several approaches to conflict management that are being used in the context of community forestry. Traditional practices, including respected community members negotiating agreements between parties in conflict, and .formal mechanisms, including the court system, are ways of managing conflicts. Each different approach has advantages and constraints. The adequacy of these approaches depends on the social, political, economic, legal and environmental aspects of the situation of conflict. In the context of community forestry, there are several conflicts over access, rights and use of resources. Similarly, community forestry can be a source of conflict. Thus, the management of conflicts with the appropriate approach is very relevant to community forestry.

The Forests, Trees and People Programme (FTPP), in collaboration with the Community Forestry Unit (CFU) of FAO's Forestry Department, has been active in the arena of alternative conflict management since 1992. Conflict management has become one of the principal topics of the programme. Since 1992, FTPP partner institutions have been involved in various training programmes, workshops and other activities related to conflict management, including the development of case studies on natural resource conflicts and literature searches.

In September 1993, an interregional workshop on "Dispute Management and Community Forestry" was held in Costa Rica. The FTPP colleagues in Latin America developed case studies and shared their-findings in this workshop, which contributed to the Working Paper, "The Role of Alternative Conflict Management in Community Forestry." Discussions revolved around the characteristics of natural resource conflicts in Latin America including power imbalances, deceit, misinformation and distrust. According to the discussions, several of these constraints could be overcome with different ways of managing them. In Latin America, for alternative conflict management to be useful, it must take into consideration the large power disparity between contending parties and different stakeholders as well as the inequities, structural factors, cultural specificities and diversity in the conflict situation. Issues regarding time, legal information and rights were highlighted as important for effective conflict management. The interregional meeting showed the pertinence of conflict management to community forestry and motivated the coordination of additional activities.

The first regional workshop was held in Kathmandu, Nepal (10-13 October 1995). The workshop presented cases of natural resource conflicts occurring within the context of community forestry. The main findings of this workshop included the need for increased training in conflict management for those closely involved with community forestry. There was also discussion, about the need to better analyse situations of conflict, develop a methodology regarding the collection of data on case studies and how to address them based on the information collected.

The second regional workshop was held in Quito, Ecuador (13-16 November 1995). This meeting built on the interregional meeting in Costa Rica. The regional workshop initiated the process of. theoretical analysis of conflicts and their management, and identifying terms and concepts associated with conflict management; developing an understanding of common aspects of conflict management in the region; and learning from others' experiences with alternative conflict management to identify how different institutions dealt with situations of conflict (from both a practical and methodological standpoint). The regional workshop looked at the necessary conditions for managing natural resource conflicts and developing a theoretical framework to understand and manage them.

A third regional workshop, held in Niamey, Niger (4-8 December 1995), further accentuated the need to address natural resource conflicts. Some of the main issues raised were: recognizing the capacity and right of formal and informal local institutions; strengthening local institutions' capacities to manage natural resources and lands; and the ability to prevent and manage conflicts. The regional workshop stressed the need to guarantee land tenure rights to farmers/herders, migrants and communities. Participants at this regional workshop did not feel that the changes they were proposing required new legislation reform, but that forums were needed for managing a conflict before it becomes open. This highlighted the need to strengthen the capacities of technical and administrative actors to help them to analyse and anticipate conflictual stakes.

E-Conference Structure and Background

The products and findings of the regional activities and workshops fed into the global electronic conference (e-conference) held by CFU/FTPP on "Addressing Natural Resource Conflicts through Community Forestry." The e-conference was coordinated with the assistance of FAO/UNDP's SARD-FORUM, and ran for four months, January-May 1996. The e-conference was structured as a forum for dialogue and information exchange on natural resource conflicts, community forestry and conflict management, involving individuals and institutions of various disciplinary and regional backgrounds.

The principal e-conference objectives included:

The e-conference had a main electronic plenary room with facilitation2 and five electronic rooms for working groups (e-working groups). The agenda for the plenary was divided into five sessions. Each session addressed conflicts and conflict management issues in the context of a region or theme closely related to community forestry. Each session was opened with a discussion paper on the topics to be addressed. The discussion papers provided a point of departure for the discussions.

The e-conference was launched with the presentation of an introductory issues paper. There were four regional papers on Asia, East Africa, West Africa and Latin America, which presented information on the regional context within which natural resource conflicts are taking place and potential, upcoming and ongoing developments in natural resource conflicts and their management. The regional papers drew out characteristic features of the region and provided a basis for comparison between the regions. Four thematic papers identified how gender, legal issues, indigenous knowledge and power and equity related to conflict management. The themes selected were those that a steering committee composed of members of different disciplinary and geographical backgrounds felt were the most pertinent to community forestry and natural resource conflicts. The thematic papers presented a global perspective of the topical issue while still being rooted in practical and empirical information.

The discussion papers were followed by a statement from the author(s) of the paper and opening statements from a few selected conferees. The opening statements highlighted strengths and weaknesses of the paper and provided additional information from personal experience or research. Conferees were welcome to make their contributions regarding a specific region or topic at all times of the e-conference. The messages received from conferees were circulated in the plenary. Wherever possible, the moderator added an introduction or follow-up questions to each contribution. The moderator also linked the different topics under discussion.

Conferees were invited to contribute to the discussions with information regarding their experience and interpretation of the situation in the different regions. The agenda for the e-conference was very flexible, allowing for conferees who joined the event several weeks after its opening (or those who had been unable to follow certain discussions due to other obligations) to make a contribution regarding a previously discussed issue independent of the topic of the ongoing discussions. Discussions, therefore, could extend over any length of time during the course of the entire electronic conference.

In addition to the regional and thematic areas of discussion, a part of the e-conference presented "virtual" (hypothetical) cases on natural resource conflicts. These hypothetical cases allowed people to discuss various mechanisms for addressing natural resource conflicts in a fictitious context.

In addition, five different e-working groups addressed issues related to: analytical tools and methods; Asia; East Africa; West Africa; and Latin America. Conferees were invited to join any (or all) of the e-working groups. The e-working groups were provided with recommendations regarding what their discussions should cover. These recommendations included:

The e-working groups had a lot of flexibility. Discussions usually focused on relevant issues that members of the e-working group identified. Conferees who subscribed to one, or several, of the e-working groups had access to both the plenary and e-working group discussions. Conferees who were not subscribed to certain, or all, of the e-working groups learned about the discussions in the e-working groups through summaries provided by the moderators of the respective groups. To facilitate discussions, the e-working groups on West Africa and Latin America were held in French and Spanish respectively.

In addition to the electronic arrangement, the regional FTPP facilitators and conflict management focal points coordinated regional, national and institutional non-electronic working groups (NE-working groups). The NE-working groups increased the level of participation of individuals and institutions from the regions in which FTPP is active. The NE-working groups had access to the e-conference through the focal points' electronic mail account. Each focal point distributed copies of material circulated in both the e-conference plenary and e-working groups. All of the NE-working groups were provided with the nine discussion papers prior to their discussions. The papers were also translated into French and Spanish for NE-working groups in West Africa and Latin America respectively. The NE-working groups then discussed this material and provided a synthesis of their discussions to the e-conference plenary via the focal point. Any additional relevant material collected by the NE-working group was sent to the e-conference secretariat in FAO. With this arrangement, the e-conference reached institutions and individuals who did not have direct access to electronic mail or preferred to participate through a working group.

The electronic medium enabled a large audience with diverse backgrounds to engage in open discussions regarding concepts, various approaches, practices and tools, the strengths and weaknesses of the latter in different conditions, analytical frameworks and specific case examples. There were 463 conferees subscribed from 55 different countries3. The participants in the e-conference included: academics, project managers, field researchers, field workers, foresters, trainers, NGO representative lawyers and programme coordinators. The participants were from diverse disciplinary backgrounds including sociology, anthropology, economics, forestry, law, alternative dispute resolution, education, communications, public policy, agronomy, etc., representing grassroots institutions, NGOs, GOs, research institutions, bilateral and multilateral institutions, universities and donors. Many of the conferees were familiar with at least one of the two fields of conflict management and community forestry and interested in understanding and developing the interface between these two fields. The e-conference was valuable for the FTPP regional programmes, which were able to learn about which institutions and individuals were involved in the subject area and how.

2There was a moderator/facilitator and an assistant moderator/facilitator.

3 The number of countries here represents the countries from which the conferees had access to e-mail, not the total diversity in nationalities. For example, conferees from different nationalities were subscribed from USA, but this is only recorded as one country in this country count.

Top Of PageNext Page