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Analysis of E-Conference Discussions

Conflicts are characterized by power disparity, seemingly incompatible interests in a particular natural resource and lack of appropriate institutional structures or social systems through which conflicts (potential or ongoing) can be addressed. Conflict management must, therefore, assess the conditions or settings within which conflicts are occurring to determine the appropriate approach and set achievable objectives. This section presents a preliminary analysis25 of four considerations, raised during the global e-conference discussions, of relevance to conflict management. They include: (i) how the principal conditions, social, economic, environmental, legal, political and historical, affect the stake, actor and resource dimensions of conflict; (ii) the power disparities in conflicts; (iii) the stages of conflict; and (iv) tools for managing conflicts.

Conflict management should have either a short-term, medium-term or long-term objective. Short-term objectives often entail preventing situations of potential or ongoing conflict from becoming exacerbated. In meeting the short-term objective, consideration should be given to the medium- and long-term impact of the selected conflict management process. The medium-term vision can involve giving consideration to different interests and integrating them in the best possible manner. Long-term objectives, such as institutionalizing a participatory decision-making process, often require as assessment of the institutional setting and social system and working within these to set up the necessary channels through which situations of conflict can be addressed equitably and effectively. For each of these objectives, the information regarding the context of the conflict, the power disparities, the stage of conflict and the viable tools and approaches for addressing the conflict are critical. The difference between these objectives is the amount of information that can be collected and used based on the time constraint.

25. The upcoming Community Forestry Concept Note on Addressing Natural-Resource Conflicts through Community Forestry' will present a more extensive analysis of the e-conference discussions and the additional information received off-line regarding conflict management, community forestry and natural resource conflicts.

Context of conflicts

Conflicts occur within a context composed of economic, environmental, legal, political and social factors. This is the case at both the macro (national and international) and micro (case-specific) level. These principal factors affect resources and actors and concomitantly influence the stake. In the framework of community forestry, the principal conditions, at both macro and micro level, structure the strategy for promoting community-based natural resource management. These same conditions influence conflict formation, manifestation and the viability and sustainability of conflict management. This is because the principal conditions identify the constraints and opportunities within which conflict management and community forestry must operate.

The various elements of principal conditions are interrelated in several ways. However, to facilitate the analysis of the context of a conflict, this section looks at each of the conditions separately. The information is used to explain the impact of these conditions on the actors, stakes and resources.

Knowledge of the environmental condition requires information on resource availability, quality, ownership, potential use and possible alternatives for silvicultural and institutional management. The environmental context also includes information regarding different management, monitoring and implementation capacity. Information on the resource quality, quantity and possible uses helps to identify the potential users and dynamic between the parties in conflict. A theory postulated by Chettrapati Singh (Chandrasekharan, 1996) suggests that the quality of the resource can be an indicator of the power disparity between parties in conflict. That is, when the resource quality is high (e.g., a natural, tropical forest) there will be a pronounced power disparity between parties in conflict. For example, the conflict might be between a community, using the resource for subsistence and small-scale marketing, and a private logging company. In this case, if the resource is degraded, the power disparity between the parties in conflict is not as severe.

The theory linking quality of the resource to power disparity is interesting considering the dynamic nature of resource regeneration. Community forestry programmes, such as JFM in India, are operating in areas where the resources are often degraded. Communities, in turn, are asked to protect or manage the resource area. Often this involves regenerating the forest area. As the quality of the resource improves, the possible actors in conflict can change and the power disparity risk become more pronounced. Conflict management should, therefore, consider the long-term, dynamic nature of natural resource growth and regeneration when addressing conflicts. Also, conflict management must consider the capacity of the resource when determining how to effectively meet the needs of different interest groups. Above all, conflict management must assure that, independent of the quality of the resource, those who manage the resource are able to benefit from their activities.

Although the definition of communities came into question during the e-conference, it seems fair to assume that communities are usually heterogeneous. Communities can be divided into women, men, young and old members, marginalised groups, landless, landowners, lower and upper castes. The social setting captures the recognition and relationship between different individuals, groups, communities or institutions, as well as the values different groups associate with resource management and use. The social setting helps understand the actors and their perspectives.

There are several interesting social dynamics in community forestry. Within communities, it is common to find marginalised groups. Within the social context of a community, these groups are given limited, if any, recognition, and their interests and constraints are seldom considered when decisions at the community level are made. Another interesting dynamic is between external parties and communities. Sometimes external parties overlook a community's expertise in resource management and prefer to use technical experts to decide on the appropriate natural resource management scheme. Weak or non-existent relationships, lack of understanding and recognition between parties with competing interests can fuel conflict. In such cases, building relationships could require changing social perspectives and values.

Motivating change in social perspectives and values anchored in social practices requires time. This is seen in the conflict situation over a protected forest area described by Sarin (1996). In this case, the men did not include women in the decision-making process since they had socially stereotyped a woman's role. It was necessary to build awareness amongst the men that women could contribute to the process of resource management and protection and that women's interests should be met. Similarly, the women had to be given incentives to take the opportunity to change their role in the decision-making process. Women had to learn that they could change the situation, and that they did not have to be silent victims of a latent conflict.

Social recognition stems from awareness, information and understanding. Hence, information from trusted individuals, groups or institutions, the media, laws and economics can influence the social perspectives of different individuals. Often the same set of information and influences can generate very distinct social perspectives. This shows how subjective and volatile social values and perspectives can be. Nevertheless, the social setting is of critical importance in

conflict management since the approach is based on building relationships and promoting dialogue and information exchange between parties in conflict. The social setting is even more important when considering natural resource conflicts in community forestry since the communities and groups involved in resource management activities are often given limited social recognition. For conflict management, the social setting can reveal the existing and conceivable alliances, power distribution, potential social repercussions and the impact of the selected process on existing social equilibria.

Economic conditions of natural resource conflicts include the economic status of the parties in conflicts; the value associated with use or access to the natural resource; policies such as devaluation, trade sanction, and subsidies; and the monetary value associated with products and services from the forest resource. As markets expand into rural and remote areas, the impact of economic policies is being felt by forest-dependent communities. For example, communities interested in economic development are choosing to market non-wood forest products they previously used for subsistence purposes in order to generate income. Market value for forest products and services often generates new interest in the resource base. These changes are, however, not always beneficial and can cause previously harmonious resource management and use practices to become incompatible and conflicting. An e-conference example from West Africa showed how the relationship between devaluation and resource use changed the dynamic within a pastoralist community. The devaluation of the CFA franc improved export opportunities to the C6te d'Ivoire for livestock owners in Burkina Faso and created potential conflict. This opportunity allowed the livestock owners to market herds they were unable to sell in previous years because of trade subsidies. The waged herding and increase in absentee herd ownership was changing the traditional structure and relationships within pastoral communities and between pastoralists and farmers, increasing the potential for conflict (Hoffman, 15 February 1996).

There are greater efforts being made to estimate economic values of the services provided by forest resources. These are the economic stakes associated with the natural resource. For example, the use of a forest area for eco-tourism (or nature tourism) is promoted on the basis of the kind of revenue and employment it can generate. Recognizing the value of a forest area for its services can help protect the area for biodiversity and help guarantee appropriate use of the forest. This sort of information can also pose a threat to communities, because the information is skewed and does not capture the value of the communities' use and management of the resources. Information regarding the services and products provided by forest areas has been the basis for protecting areas of forest land and relocating the communities that previously used the forest area. Skewed information sets also underlie certain decisions made within communities. Conflict management has to understand the economic value associated with community-based natural resource management and how economic forces impact community decisions regarding resource use and access.

The political context includes the political structure of government institutions, as well as the political decision-making process, information on political boundaries and the dynamic between (and within) committees, ministries and/or departments. At the local level, political structures include both formally and informally recognized institutions, such as the Panchayat commonly found in India and Nepal. Decisions made within the political context influence rules and regulations through which natural resource management processes are institutionalized. Therefore, the political stake usually relates to decision-making power.

Political consideration of and commitment to different interests in natural resources determine the priority given to certain activities. For example, if forest management is undervalued in comparison to agriculture, the political priority will lean more towards farmers than herders or forest dwelling communities. The elements considered in political decision-making vary. However, independent of whether the factors that influence the decision-making are research findings, reelection concerns, external pressures or economic factors, there is a gap between forest-dependent communities or groups within them and international, national and local policy and decision-makers.

The gap between communities and policy and decision-makers is often correlated with the political structure. In centralized systems, such as those found in developing countries, communities are seldom considered in the decision-making process because they are difficult to reach or, by the time they receive the relevant information, it is past the deadline for their input. In a decentralized system, there is the opportunity to be in closer proximity to the people and problem, and hence recognize and meet the needs and interests more accurately. With proximity to the community, the system can better evolve with the changing conditions and be flexible.

There is growing international political consideration being given to environmental issues and forestry as is seen in UNCED's (United Nations Conference on Environment and Development) Agenda 21. Political commitment is an initial step in bridging the gap between communities and policy and decisionmakers. Political endorsement for community-based natural resource management should provide; amongst other things, formal institutional support for conflict management processes used and recognized by local communities. With the evolving roles of local institutions, NGOs and national institutions, due to decentralization, political commitment and effective implementation is vital. Information and understanding of the political context is critical if conflict management is to have a long-term impact.

The legal context includes local, national and international policies, laws, rules and regulations. Communities involved in natural resource management often use customary practices or rules to determine access and use rights. These, however, are seldom complementary with the formal legal system. Customary practices tend to evolve on a need basis although there is no guarantee that they are equitable. While the formal legal system standardizes processes, it in principle guarantees fair and equitable treatment. Since there seldom is recognition of customary practices in the formal legal system, there are often contradictions between formally recognized and customary laws.

Incongruencies in law are also found between formally recognized laws of different sectors. For example, contradictions are often found between laws that promote the agricultural sector and those that endorse forestry. In addition to these incongruencies, it is possible that certain laws are not adequately implemented within programmes or projects. Since communities are often unaware of all the legal aspects of a particular law and its implications, they often bear the cost of conflicts resulting from incongruencies or ineffective implementation. In addition to legal incongruencies, the legal context presents interesting efforts to address situations of conflict outside of the legal system. Conflict management should use these 'extralegal' practices to institutionalize processes that are flexible and provide options for adequate representation of the different interests.

Effective conflict management must work with the interplay between the environmental, social, economic, political and legal factors. These factors influence the actors and resource, and in turn the stakes, and therefore, they help determine the appropriate approach or tools for conflict management.

Power disparities

One of the four basic premises to alternative conflict management states that every weaker party should know that it is never against a more powerful monolithic or universally adversarial party (Pendzich, Thomas and Wohlgenant, 1995). The basis for this premise is that there are different sources of power, such as economic, social, political or legal factors. But power is always relative since these factors are interrelated. It should always be possible to reduce the power disparity between actors in conflict. This is where conflict management, through alliance building or information dissemination, can be of value.

Natural resource conflicts in community forestry are characterized by power disparities. The power disparity influences, amongst other things, decisionmaking, resource distribution, manifestation of the conflict and conflict management, as seen in the case regarding timber concessions in Cameroon (Thomas et al., 1996). In this context, the e-conference discussions raised an important question regarding the feasibility of certain conflict management practices, such as mediation, to bridge significant disparities of power. In such cases, there is need to determine whether it is necessary to reduce the disparity of power through different steps prior to employing mediation to manage a situation of conflict.

Reduction of power differences cannot be confined to the negotiation process or until the situation of conflict is addressed. Changes in the distribution of power should be a long-term benefit from the process of conflict management. Conflict management has also to create opportunities to recognize, use and benefit from the new power distributions.

Stages of conflict

The e-conference discussions highlighted that the manifestation of conflicts do not necessarily reveal all the elements or causes that influence the occurrence of the conflict. This is confirmed by latent conflicts and reinforced by the complex interplay between the different elements that influence conflicts. This raises the question of whether all conflicts develop through certain stages. Various studies regarding the stages or cycles of conflict propose different phases.26 Nevertheless, the duration of each phase of a conflict is case-specific. If it is possible to distinguish the different stages, then it is essential to complement the conflict management approach with the stage of conflict.

The manifestation and management of a conflict also goes through stages. From the management perspective, initially the conflict might be addressed through an informal meeting or a written communication. Results from this initial effort will determine how the conflict evolves and whether additional management is required. These actions may be sufficient to address and manage the problem. If no settlement is reached, the conflict may evolve to another level of negotiations, or develop into violence and other negative repercussions. Reorienting a conflict from a negative occurrence to one that could result in positive change requires recognizing the stage of the conflict, and selecting the appropriate mechanism for its management.

26. Rupesinghe (1995) distinguishes the five different stages of conflict, or 'cycle of conflict' as:

Conflict formation - at this stage the conflict is still a dispute. If addressed at this stage the conflict may not escalate and manifest itself.

Conflict manifestation - at this stage the dispute evolves into a conflict that is manifested. Intervention at this stage is usually oriented towards preventing the conflict from escalating even further and possibly mitigating any destructive aspects of the conflict.

Conflict endurance - at this stage the conflict is ongoing, as is the development of the process, to address the conflict. Depending on the conflict, this stage may allow for community empowerment and/or mediation.

Conflict management - at this stage the process for better addressing the conflict is started. This can include negotiation/problem solving, training, and workshops.

Conflict transformation - this can be considered the implementation stage of the conflict resolution. This stage includes new institutional development. In the case of natural resource conflicts, it is possible at this stage to implement projects or programmes that assist in better addressing the natural resource conflict.

Tools for managing conflicts

Reviewing the analysis of conflict context, power disparities and conflict stages reinforces the notion that conflicts are a social phenomenon. Conflicts can manifest themselves through gradual or immediate change. Conflicts, independent of the cause, affect the social equilibrium in a community, institution or society. The impact of the conflict depends to a great extent on the flexibility of the setting within which it is taking place. The rigidity of policies, the homogeneity of a community, the historical evolution to the existing circumstances all indicate the flexibility of the context surrounding a conflict.

The most suitable tools for a practical and analytical understanding of a conflict should link the actors with the conflict. From an analytical perspective, it is possible to do this through both the stake-, resource- or actor-oriented approach. As mentioned earlier in this document, the suitable analytical framework should complement the objective of conflict management. From a practical standpoint, approaches such as PRA, RRA or tools like video and other modes of communication, are suitable. Participatory principles can be applied in conflict management independent of whether the situation requires a proactive or reactive approach. The most important thing is to complement the approach with the constraints posed by the conflict and the context within which it is occurring. Also, it is vital to recognize the limitations of conflict management and know when to use other ways of managing conflicts, such as litigation.

Social impacts from conflicts and conflict management justify concerns over the use of professional facilitators or mediators. Mediation is a process that is found in both traditional and modern conflict management practices. Nevertheless, in the e-conference there was limited support for professional mediation or facilitation. Instead, traditional mechanisms that might involve mediation or facilitation were preferred. The possible distinction is the more professional, disciplinary orientation of western mediation. Although the latter may include traditional principles, there is the possibility that an external mediator, for a community-level conflict, may disrupt the social harmony and force change which the external mediator considers ideal.

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