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In some instances the forest is a no-man's land where use is on a "first come first served" basis. There may exist observable patterns of forest use but not rights of use (Moench 1988). Garrett Hardin (1968) propounds a "tragedy of the commons" thesis, contending that resources held in common are inevitably overexploited and degraded. In the true open access situation, this danger is clear, but Hardin's use of the term "commons"--with its associations of community ownership and potential for control--for an uncontrolled open access situation is unfortunate and misleading.

Over against the open access situation is the true commons, property held and used in common by an identifiable community. A communal forest is a commons, as is a village woodlot, or a common pasture with trees. The concept of the commons presumes the existence of a community, the proprietor of the commons, whose members are the persons entitled to use of the commons. The very nature of "property" implies a right held over against others, the non-members of the community. The authority to exclude non-members from common property may be difficult and/or costly to exercise, but the right to exclude is central to the concept of common property. Community property provides the basis for management of use by members, and the possibility of control and restraint of use in the common interest.

Our understanding of common property management has been deepened considerably by the research of the last decade and these insights need to be applied to the management of trees as common property. The difficulty of such management will differ from case to case. Scale is a factor--contrast the management challenge of a large communal forest with those of a village woodlot--but in no case is such management a simple matter. The dismal history of a generation of village woodlot projects has driven development planners back to common property theory to understand why their efforts miscarried so badly (Bruce and Noronha 1987: 136-139).

The agendas and preconceived notions of outside observers have often kept community forestry invisible. For example, the Chinese have been concerned with forests and the effects of deforestation for centuries. But both Chinese and European observers provided only the most fragmentary information on forest practices of local communities, requiring a heroic effort to piece together even a minimal view of community control. Menzies reports from such an effort in China, in the excerpt which follows. For-their part, state and national governments have no particular reason to acknowledge the rights or competence of community foresters since historically central governments have competed with local communities and local people for control of forest land. All over the world, for centuries, peasants and the state have been slugging it out in the forest (Fortmann and Bruce 1988: 273).

Traditional Community Management of Common Forest Lands in China

Most of the examples of "common lands" might better be described as cases of village or communal ownership. In a study of forest management in Shanxi Province, Ren Chengtong (1925) outlined three categories of ownership: ownership by one village, ownership by several villages managing the land collectively, and clan ownership. He felt that the key to the successful management of village forests was that they had clear and unambiguous rules. In one case in particular, the villagers had devised an intricate management system in which silvicultural and organizational management were linked to ensure a sustainable harvest from the forest. The eighteen villages which jointly managed the area of Mian Shan each selected one officer to their management body. The members were then divided into three groups with six officers in each group. One group was responsible for supervising forest management for one year, on a rotating basis. Within each group, one officer was responsible for business for the year, also on a rotating basis. This gave two cycles: a short cycle of three years (with a different committee each year), and a long cycle of eighteen years (with a different business officer each year). At the end of each short cycle, the three committees jointly agreed to a selective harvest of larger trees, while thinning and maintenance were carried out every year under the supervision of that year's committee (Ren, 1925: 5). Two other villages had written charters which the villagers had had inscribed in stone about a century earlier. According to these charters, revenue from the forest was to be used specifically to run and maintain a school for the village children, and there was a clear system of delegation of responsibilities for management to a committee of village members. Decisions were taken by this committee before the whole village at specially convened temple meetings (it is not clear how the committee members were selected).

Nicholas Menzies, "A Survey of Customary Law and Control Over Trees and Wíldlands in China," in Whose Trees?: Proprietary Dimensions of Forestry, eds. L. Fortmann and J.W. Bruce (Boulder: Westview Press, 1988), at p. 57.

Why do we care about trees on the commons? Wouldn't it be possible to focus exclusively on the holding to meet forestry needs? In fact there are a variety of situations when communal forestry continues to meet important needs: (1) in situations where intended beneficiaries are landless or for other reasons cannot plant on their holdings, forestry on the commons may be the only option for reaching them; (2) where the trees are of species that require frequent and complex care, perhaps involving special equipment, they may be more easily planted and managed on the common woodlot by a few trained individuals representing the community; or (3) where it is specifically desired to generate through tree-growing the income to fund needed community activities. Even where trees are grown on individual holdings, the nursery may well be on a commons area.

How do we set about examining tenure in trees on the commons? Commons management has a community dimension which cannot be captured through household interviewing alone. It must be approached initially through the small group and key informant interviews suggested earlier. As a household may have a multi-tenure holding consisting of several parcels, so a community may have more than one commons. It may have two pieces of commons with the same tenure regime, or it may have several commons under different uses and subject to different tenure rules. It may, for instance, have a communal forest; a common pasture on which trees grow; as well as uncultivated interstices between parcels and holdings. These commons areas must be identified and their various uses assessed. The managing group must be identified, its membership clearly understood, its institutional nature and potentials gauged, and its various mechanisms for control of member behavior evaluated. The insert from Bruce and Fortmann which follows sketches out some of these information needs in greater detail.

Tenure in trees or the commons must however also be examined from the viewpoint of the household. Households' tenure extends to the commons: households which are members of the group have rights to use the commons and may even have specific rights in certain trees on the commons under a system of tree tenure. One must evaluate the extent to which those rights provide effective incentives for households and individuals to support and observe the rules which control the use of the commons.

Three of the sections which follow deal with assessment of the current realities and potential for the management of common property in trees and the land on which they grow. They suggest the importance of identifying the "community" clearly, assessing the various institutions, and understanding their mechanisms of control. The fourth deals with the diversity of interests which households may have in a commons, and how this can affect their commitment to effective management of the commons.


We cannot begin to think about common property management unless we have a clear sense of what precisely is the community which controls the resource; unfortunately, consultants' reports and project documents are often hopelessly vague on the point. This is usually not a very difficult matter to clear up, but assessors often work from dubious assumptions based on their experience elsewhere and never rigorously pursue the question. In some cases the matter will be complex. Community control of resources is primarily associated with geographically-bounded communities where ties of kinship buttress territorial ties. In these times of high population mobility and extensive economic interdependence, community and community membership have become harder to define and enforce effectively.

The Commons

Conventional wisdom influenced by the writings of Garrett Hardin tends to assume that the commons is a place of tenurial chaos. Again research on pastoral systems has shown this to be untrue. However, the use of trees on the commons and use of the commons for tree. planting has been less rigorously researched. . . .

Researching tenure on the commons will require a documentation phase. Who has what rights when? Who enforces restrictions? What is done about would-be free riders? What is done about outside marauders? Does this differ according to their political or economic connections? Such research requires considerable care because in some systems this is the arena in which class or caste distinctions are played out to their fullest. Supposedly common land may have in fact been hijacked by powerful families. Or the poor may make their living there in ways which are not perceived or authorized by the state or by local authorities. Or the state may not recognize the community's right to the commons at all, and press a claim of its own.

Once the existing system of use, rights, and regulations has been identified, additional issues must be considered. Does the commons serve as a safety valve for the poor, allowing the state to avoid redistribution of highly skewed land resources? Are there conflicting uses? For example, how do activities such as grazing and tree production coexist? One possibility is to include coppicing fodder trees in the species mix. Means of strengthening and legalizing use rights must be found. Most important, means of regulating use by members of the community and by outsiders must be identified. Should use rights be assigned to individuals, groups or communities? Should those rights attach to particular trees, to the entire resource area, or to particular products or activities?

John Bruce and Louise Fortmann, "Tenurial Aspects of Agroforestry: Research Priorities," in Land, Trees and Tenure, ed. John B. Raintree (Madison and Nairobi: Land Tenure Center and International Council for Research in Agroforestry, 1987), at pp. 392-393.

Even if we take community to mean a geographically specific place, community membership could be defined by present or previous residence, by property ownership, by kinship ties, or by some combination of these factors, a broad range of community-level institutional forms which engage in tree planting. Tree planting may be organized in certain societies by communities, small groups, associations, age groups, religious communities and women's groups (Cernea 1985). A single individual will belong to a number of communities, often greater or lesser importance. The definition of community membership determines who may lay what claims against community resources. The limits placed by definition of membership, if they can be enforced, regulate pressure on the resources. Yoruba communities have distinguished "strangers" as a separate category of residents who have a restricted set of rights to community resources (Lloyd 1962; Berry 1975). Similarly, Swiss communities have restricted access to communal summer pastures and forests to their citizens, a category that appeared in written documents as early as 1473 (Netting 1981: 60). Thus, residence and even private property ownership in the village did not necessarily result in access to communal property. A clear identification of the community which can use and control use of a resource is the essential first step toward understanding commons management.

How does one gather information which defines the community in relation to the commons? In the group and key informant interviews one could begin with a set of questions such as:

Needless to say, although the commons areas tend to be some distance from villages, it is essential to visit the commons. A tour of the commons is often informative about the level and effectiveness of community control of the commons. For instance, does everyone seem reasonably sure of the location of the boundaries of the commons, or does it take quite a lot of discussion to establish them?


By institution here is meant organization. Groups can be organized in very different ways and many different types of groups face the task of managing the commons. The manner in which the local community organizes itself as an institution to manage the commons will create important limits and opportunities for community forestry. The institution may be a traditional model or an organizational innovation for the community, such as a cooperative. Traditional authorities have not been indifferent to the destruction of the resources upon whose continued productivity the livelihood of their people depend. While their efforts at conservation have sometimes been overwhelmed by the weight of economic forces, it is important to note that they have sometimes used their powers as traditional land managers in attempts to conserve trees (Schapera 1943: 416, Duncan 1960: 95). Prevailing thought would suggest that common property arrangements arise when the user population lives close to the resource and is relatively small; in this situation supply is only moderately scarce compared to demand, and is subject to multiple uses requiring management and coordination. Groups seem to survive if they have clear-cut rules that are enforced by both users and officials, internally adaptive institutional arrangements, the ability to nest into external organizations for dealing with the external environment, and different decision rules for different purposes. And their chances are better if they are subject to slow exogenous change (Ostrum 1986).

Where such systems fail, it is often because government actions or new economic forces have undermined the authority of traditional managers. Commons management often must rely to some extent on state forestry personnel as well as the local community and local institutions to ensure the survival of seedlings. State forestry personnel often have only sporadic local presence and limited effective authority. Control by a professional forester on behalf of the Swiss community described by Hosmer (1922) requires that the value of the off-take from the forest be sufficient to pay a salary. Often local authorities and foresters exist in uneasy relationships. Only a small fraction of the trees planted in the Lesotho woodlot program examined by Turner (see insert) have survived. This is not to suggest that there is no role for national forestry programs. The excerpt from Openshaw and Moris provides examples of successful "decentralized" forestry management under centralized direction from China and South Korea.

How can we set about inquiring into the institutions which manage the several commons which may exist in a community? In practice, this is difficult to separate from our next. question: what are the mechanisms utilized to control use of the commons. A set of questions which covers both areas is presented at the end of the next section.


Over recent years, a great deal of largely unsatisfactory experience has been acquired with "village forestry." In some cases the trees were to be planted for erosion control purposes; in other cases, in "community woodlots" as a source of fuelwood. Trees for community woodlots are generally planted on common land near the village, but if erosion control is the objective, planting may be on mountain slopes used primarily as common pasture. Thomson, writing of the Sahel in the excerpt which follows, examines what he refers to as the "village woodlot fallacy," focusing on villagers' skepticism about the feasibility of local collective action. Organizing the protection and eventual disposition of trees planted on community land has been difficult, though often the matter has been approached naively (Brain 1980;'Noronha 1980; Noronha 1981; Blair 1982; Hoskins 1982). The difficulty of what was being attempted was clearly underestimated. There is little evidence that there were any community tree planting schemes before the advent of modern community forestry programs.

A critical question is how community control is to be enforced. Community ownership of a resource does not automatically lead to effective community control over it. Such control requires the ability to both exclude outsiders and control the behavior of community members themselves.

Community Woodlots in Lesotho

In contemporary conservation planning units, as with all conservation efforts in the past, the management of the land upon which trees are planted and the protection of these trees are entrusted to the chief and people . . . (Controls) remain dependent upon the authority, commitment and vigour of the chief and, to an increasing extent, the statutory and ad hoc committees which advise him on land and conservation matters respectively.

The quality of land allocated for woodlots in Lesotho has always been marginal. Trees are the peripheral land use considered only when superior uses--crops, grazing and residential sites--are inappropriate . . . Philips (1973, 23) warned that ". . . it must be borne in mind that the establishment of woodlots enjoys little or no priority; that cultivated and cultivable land holds priority for its retention for field crops and that, according to the local setting and pressures of live-stock, communal pasturage possesses a particular significance in the tradition of the people."

Although almost all the land put forward to the Lesotho Woodlot Program by villages has fallen into Bawden and Carroll's (1968) "unsuitable for agriculture" category and is viewed by the project as unsuitable for grazing (P.W.T. Henry, pers. comm., 1984), there is little doubt that despite its marginality it is often viewed as a grazing resource by part, if not ail, the community. When dissension arises (see below) over the expropriation of land for woodlots, this is the principal cause.

. . . Damage to woodlots has been a continuous, but not overwhelming, problem in the operation of the LWP. It has mainly taken the form of grazing, to date. Woodlots are mostly fenced, and the fences are sometimes cut. There has been some debate within LWP as to whether fencing is necessary, given that in Lesotho animals are always herded, fences are easily cut and grazing damage is almost always intentional rather than accidental (Baines, 1981, 36), but the current policy is that it is. At a later stage in tree growth grazing is beneficial, as in keeping the grass within the woodlot down it reduces the fire risk. The problem of unauthorized cutting of wood will presumably increase as more woodlots reach maturity. Most of the current damage is by individual stock owners and herdboys seeking grazing for their animals and unimpressed by the need to protect the woodlot. This is exacerbated in drought years like 1983. There has also been some more premeditated damage. In some communities woodlots are established in the face of considerable opposition, usually from stock owners who resent the reduction in grazing land caused by the establishment of a woodlot. This opposition is usually contained, but occasionally leads to the destruction of fencing and of young trees.

S.D. Turner, "Land and Trees in Lesotho," (draft) (Roma: Institute of Southern African Studies, National University of Lesotho, 1984), at pp. 14-19.

Successful "Decentralized" Tree Planting
Under Centralized Direction: China and South Korea

. . . In both countries, visits by qualified observers at

earlier periods painted a dismal picture of culturally entrenched land misuse and declining forest productivity. . . . But in each of these instances a concerted national effort linked with community responsibility did succeed: the Chinese claim to have increased their land in forest use from 5 percent in 1949 to nearly 13 percent in 1978, while large areas of South Korea have been transformed . . . By the end of 1977, Eckholm (1979) says 643,000 hectares of village woodlots had been established.

Of course, both of these consist of governmentally-inspired programmes undertaken in nations with a demonstrated capability to ensure mass compliance. Both, too, have chosen what is in effect "decentralized forestry" as their option--a nationally safeguarded system of communally utilized woodlots. Here the South Koreans have incorporated innovations that are of general interest, since the lands being planted remain under private ownership:

    1. One village as a whole calculates its fuel requirements and determines which lands will be put under the VFA [Village Forestry Association] allocation. However, owners have the choice of reforesting the lands themselves or of putting them under VFA management in return for one-tenth of the future proceeds. Those doing the work get the major benefits (Eckholm 1979).

    2. A linkage of enforcement measures against traditional use of the forested plots for firewood litter with a strong extension campaign.

    3. Improved design of cooking stoves and other measures to conserve fuel at the farm.

    4. New sources of energy in the system:

      a. methane generation and kerosene heaters,

      b. the mixture of fast-maturing species such as Lespedeza into the forest woodlots to permit early offtake of fuelwood (a practice termed the "suchon method") (Arnold 1978). . . .

Eckholm stresses that while these two cases are not typical of most agroforestry efforts, at the least they do establish that the combination of strong political commitment by leaders with communal participation and shared benefits by villagers can be made to succeed despite the negative impact of entrenched cultural practices favouring land misuse.

K. Openshaw and J. Moris, "The Socio-Economics of Agroforestry," in Proceedings of a Conference on International Cooperation in Agroforestry (Nairobi: International Council for Research in Agroforestry, 1979), at pp. 338-340.

Local Collective Action Conditions in the Sahel

. . . In many contemporary Sahelien communities, local political conditions render long-term collective activities impossible. . . .

. . . Implications for participatory renewable natural resource management on a collective basis are devastating. In such milieux, local political conditions dictate that villagers cannot, for lack of effective local political frameworks, jointly protect and culture village woodlots, live fencing or windbreaks during critical initial years until they become established. They cannot as a group police woodstock or pasture use on village lands. They cannot develop and systematically maintain watershed management by collective action over the lands of all holders in a single watershed. Joint soil conservation operations and the like are impossible where these depend on the capacity to enforce collective decisions, because that capacity does not exist. . . .

Private Rights in Trees. . . . The current system of national ownership and subsidiary usufructuary rights could be replaced by village, quarter or individual ownership of specific parts of the woodstock (woodlots, trees located on fields, common bushlands, state forests, etc.). Such a tree tenure system assumes the more direct property rights would give user-owners a strong incentive to control exploitation and provide for adequate future supplies.

Is this assumption justified? The evidence suggests it is in some places, but not in others. . . .

Localizing Tree Tenure Legal Process. Privatizing tree tenure rights implies as a practical corollary localizing legal recourse and enforcement. This would markedly reduce costs to tree owners of defending their woodstock rights. A villager can generally find his quarter head, village chief, earth priest, or local Muslim cleric much more easily than he can track down a roving forestry agent. Thus authorizing local notables to handle tree tenure disputes would encourage litigation in defense of tree property rights. Such proceedings would slowly clarify those rights in local moots open to all. Decisions would be publicly debated rather than being handled in administrative proceedings between forester and violator. The latter often exclude non-interested parties. Moot proceedings would help inform locals of the new system of tree tenure rights, as well as defining content of rights.

James T. Thomson, "Participation, Local Organization, Land and Tree Tenure: Future Directions for Sahelian Forestry," in Whose Trees?: Proprietary Dimensions of Forestry, eds. L. Fortmann and

J.W. Bruce (Boulder: Westview Press, 1988), at pp. 206, 210-212.


How are controls on use formulated? There are two broad categories of strategies for community control: exclusion of non-members of the group and control over use by members. The former must rely to some extent on policing, but it is reciprocity which ultimately determines the effectiveness of such arrangements. The latter may be through impositions of quotas on individual or household use. One way of implementing such quotas is by assigning tree tenure--that is, assigning rights to use particular trees or types of trees on the commons to particular households or individuals. A second approach is to monitor off-take, which is difficult except in the case of a very small, closely managed commons. Alternatively the community will arrange for the trees or wood products to be harvested and distribute them among the members. Third, reserves may be created which are removed from community use until tree cover has renewed itself, or matured after planting, as in the case of the village woodlot. This diversity can be seen in several examples. In 1639 in Hampton, New Hamphire, three men were appointed wood's wards to control forest use and to assign a cutting quota to each household (Pennsylvania Department of Forests and Waters 1932). Community councils in Swiss villages marked trees to be cut for fuelwood and allotted timber shares by the drawing of lots (Netting 1981: 189). Leaves for fodder are auctioned and the proceeds used for community projects in India (Brara 1987).

Generally, the more extensive the commons the more difficult is control over its use. Trees on rangeland, such as those on the seasonal trek routes of nomads, pose particularly challenging problems. These are highlighted in an excerpt which follows, from the report of a working group on tree and tenure in Africa.

How can we structure inquiries concerning organization form and mechanisms of control? In small group and key informant interviews a series of initial inquiries along the lines set out below are suggested, in the case of each type (by use) of commons area.

Pastoralists' Special Problems Require Innovative Solutions

Very little systematic knowledge exists concerning tree use and tree planting behavior among pastoralists. Among the critical questions and concerns to be addressed by research are: What are the rules regarding tree rights? What are the rights of individuals versus groups? For example, in parts of Sudan, the family has the exclusive right to shake fodder pods from certain trees, although others may allow their animals to eat the pods which have fallen naturally to the ground. In Maasailand, it is common for group ranches to allow herders from neighboring group ranches to graze on the outer fringes of one ranch's territory. However, during the recent drought, the membership of at least one group ranch with an abundance of Acacia tortilis trees on one of their outer borders activated exclusive tree shaking rights, restricting non-members to the use of naturally fallen pods. This kind of measured response to the drought suggests more sophisticated management of tree resources than is commonly ascribed to pastoral groups.

How can trees used periodically by nomadic pastoralists be protected when the pastoralists are not present? Newly arrived immigrants into pastoral land may be ignorant of, or simply ignore, the unspoken rules that govern relationships between existing groups, and they may tend to be more opportunistic and aggressive in the appropriation of common resources. What are the attitudes of government? Often there is strong pressure to encourage sedentarization of nomadic or semi-nomadic pastoralists, which may not be the best solution from an ecological point of view. Also, increasing population in well-watered pastoral areas is putting further pressure on trees and grazing resources. Does this mean that pastoralists will become more interested in planting and caring for trees?

"Report of the Regional Working Group on Africa," in Land, Trees and Tenure, ed. J.B. Raintree (Madison and Nairobi: Land Tenure Center and International Council for Research in Agroforestry, 1987), at pp. 337-338.


A commons is community-administered, but its existence ultimately depends upon whether the members of the community consider that its benefits to them outweigh its costs. A common property tenure arrangement provides for effective management of a forest to the extent that it mobilizes those incentives. The ability to enforce rules is often so modest that a substantial degree of concensus, and hence self-enforcement, is necessary. This is not easily obtained because communities are diverse. Their members have different degrees of interest in both trees in general and in the various uses of trees. The fact that trees are multi-purpose plants creates the possibility of a heterogeneity in the community concerning the relative priority to be given to the different uses of trees. For instance, a household with livestock will have a more substantial interest in trees as fodder-producers than a household which has no livestock.

It is necessary to understand this diversity of interests. Afforestation or conservation efforts have often proceeded as if a village or a community were homogenous, as if all members had an equally strong interest in the use and husbandry óf tree resources. Far from being homogeneous, communities are usually divided by factors such as class, caste, religion, ethnicity, gender, geographical origin, length of settlement or even household cycle considerations. This diversity combined with the multiple and sometimes mutually exclusive uses that can be made of trees complicates the equitable distribution of rights to access to tree resources. Trees cut for timber cannot be used for fodder, and lopping a tree for fodder may reduce its value for timber.

Different strata of the community, households in different stages of their household life cycle, and even different members of a household have different needs for trees and tree products. The poor in dry regions of India are more likely to use common resources including the village forest for fuel and fodder while the rich use them as a supply of timber (Jodha 1986). Community level attempts to control resources are likely to reflect community struggles and cleavages.

The myth of the homogeneous community may lead the unwary into simplistic plans that fail to take community diversity into account. It is of course possible to set aside particular parts of a forest common resource for use by sub-sets of the community with relatively uniform interests, though this rapidly becomes complicated. But careless exclusion has serious results. Molnar (1985b: 8) describes a Nepalese village in which the men decided to protect their village forest from degradation by closing the forest "to all grazing and cutting, only allowing villagers a few, days per year to enter the forest and cut small wood and leaf fodder." The result was that the women, who had not been consulted in the decision, were forced to steal wood from the forest of the adjacent panchayat. The women of that panchayat, whose forest had been placed under similar system, did the same in the forest of yet another panchayat. This domino-effect was a direct result of village level decision-making without consulting the full range of the villages' tree users.

Women by virtue of their role in gathering firewood and other forest products in community forests require particularly careful consideration. Among the tenure niches, women particularly, depend upon the commons (Rocheleau 1987). Similarly, the poor and landless have a special dependence upon the commons and regulation of its use must be considered not only in terms of the impact on the community as a whole but also in terms of the impact among its most economically marginal members.

There are some issues particular to the community woodlot situation or any community forest situation in which use is deferred and, as is often the case, harvesting is done not by individual members but by agents of the group, as where wood is cut and sold on the market. In these circumstances the assessor must examine whether there are (1) institutional arrangements for protection of the trees, (2) provisions specifying benefit distribution in the long term, and (3) short-term incentives for good husbandry.

Arrangements for eventual use and distribution of benefits from the trees are sometimes painfully vague, and the uncertainty of returns have led the community, with a sense of skepticism born of experience, to regard the whole exercise as unrealistic. In other cases, the benefits of a successful project have been appropriated by the wealthy or by community leaders.

How can the community members be assured that they will ultimately benefit from the trees planted in the woodlot? One way is through a written, clear and legally-enforceable contract among members of the community and with the government concerning distribution of revenues. Models are available for such arrangements; the excerpt from Hosmer which follows details one such model. On the other hand, one should not naively expect that such a compact will be honored where there are major disparites in power in the community, unless the responsible government agency backs the weaker parties. As indicated in the excerpt from Bruce and Noronha which follows, project planners often approach the issue of "who benefits" with an innocence not shared by rural people. The creation of short-term incentives for particular people to protect the seedlings seeks to counteract the effects of community doubts about who will benefit from the project in the long run. These short-term incentives should be incentives for individuals selected by the community to care for the trees, and can involve mechanisms such as a cash premium for a high rate of seedling survival.

The participation of the government in a community woodlot project is itself a problematic factor from a tenure standpoint. Where government plants trees, the community may see government as attempting to take the community's land. The community sees government as the owner of the trees--after all, the local people are not allowed to cut them--and therefore are concerned that government is asserting a claim to land by planting its trees on the land. Even where seedlings are provided by the government for planting on the holding, there may be a lack of incentive for protecting seedlings based on people's perception that the trees somehow belong to government (Murray 1988: 219).

Our objective here should be to first understand what rights households and individuals have and how these are defined and assured, and also how different uses of trees on the commons by different households and individuals create somewhat different interests in the survival and husbandry of those trees. For small group and key informant interviews about a community forest or trees on grazing commons, an initial line of questioning might go something like this:

This set of issues can and should be also pursued in household interviewing. Two sample question schedule sections which get at use of trees on the commons are provided on the following pages.

Distribution of Wood From a Swiss Communal Forest

. . . There is one other Swiss example that deserves mention, the mountain forests of the commune of Grindelwald, in the forest district of Interlaken, in the canton of Berne. . . . The commune is made up of seven mountain villages, each of which has its forest. Three-fourths of the forest land in the valley belongs to the commune. From their location these forests all fall into the protection forest class. . . .

The interesting point is, however, the way in which the timber so cut is distributed among the people, for there is not enough to permit any to be shipped out of the valley. Applications for timber and wood may be made only by bona fide residents of the commune, landowners. They are divided into six classes. First served are those who want lumber for repairing the little cabins that shelter the cattle in the high pasture lands, or for the construction of new cabins. In local usage these mountain pastures are "the alps," not the mountain peaks as we normally use the term. Second, comes wood for building and repairing fences on the mountain sides. Third, repairs to cattle stables in the valley. Fourth, repairs to houses in the valley. Fifth, lumber for new houses--which are usually put up by all the neighbors joining in a house raising "bee," just as used to be the custom in America, when the Ohio valley was still on the frontier. (Likewise the owner of the house sets up drinks for the crowd, the only payment, just as did our own worthy forbears.)

When all these needs are served, if there is any wood left, the sixth-class applicant comes to be considered, the man who wants fuel. Often he does not get any, for the allowed cut has been exhausted; but he seldom goes cold, for almost every landowner has a little patch of private woodland and also the right to gather dry wood and branches in the communal forest.

Ralph S. Hosmer, "City, Town and Communal Forests," in Whose Trees?: Proprietary Dimensions of Forestry, eds. L. Fortmann and J.W. Bruce (Boulder: Westview Press, 1988), at p. 121.

Who Benefits?

A final decision which must also be made very early, even before a community project is started, is the distribution of benefits. Many who are outsider-advisors try to prescribe their own notions of equity in such distributions. The advisor comes in, talks to officials who immediately accept the advisor's notions, and goes away convinced that a change has been accepted. Is this realistic? Does the advisor really know what happens after he leaves? Do mere conversations change the power structure in the community? The officials merely chuckle. They talk among themselves, "By the time the period for distribution of benefits comes, the project will be over. No one will come and find out what has really happened." That is why it is so important for the forest extension worker to talk to different sections of the population, to find out from each what happens, to get all sections involved in arriving at a principle of benefit distribution. If produce cannot be distributed, then on what will the income be spent? Will the object of expenditure benefit all sections of the community, or only a few sections? The general rule in community projects is that those participating must be convinced that they will get something from the project. If there is no conviction, there cannot be a community project. To ask, "what is in this for me?" is not uncommon. The question must be answered.

John W. Bruce and Raymond Noronha, "Land Tenure Issues in the Forestry and Agroforestry Project Contexts," in Land, Trees and Tenure, ed. J.B. Raintree (Madison and Nairobi: Land Tenure Center and International Council for Research in Agroforestry, 1987), at p. 139.

Rights to Use Trees on s Commons, by Species

Household no.______

Commons name: _______________________

Distance from residence:_______________________________

Commons Is used for:_____

Communal forest:__________





seasonal, localized


_________firewood collection


seasonal, transhumant


_______________tree cutting







Trees on Commons, by Species


Land Prep.


Provide Seeds/ Seedlings




Waters/ Tends


Lops Leaves/ Branches


Sells Fodder


Spends Fodder Income


Harvests Fruit


Sells Fruit


Spends Fruit Income


Cuts Down Tree


Sells Wood


Spends Wood Revenue


Who Owns Tree?


Other Users


Other Uses



A - N






Managing institution/community


Community members


Browsing by animals




Other local


Gather fallen wood




Itinerant users


Lop leaves/branches


Shared by (combined numbers: 2/3)




Pick fruit


Other household member




Cut down


Not applicable







Relative Labor Requirements and Benefits for Species on a Commons

Species on

the Commons

Labor and Other Costs




Non-HH Labor



Non-HH Labor


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