The discussion on the following case studies of four Nigerien forestry and woodstock projects is speculative for several reasons. Field research on participation in these forestry projects was carried out at the rate of one project a week. Field work was intended to produce data showing how the attributes of goods inherent in different types of woodstock, together with rules governing access to management and exploitation of those woodstocks, create motivations favouring or discouraging participation. Definitive evaluations of the success of each project in promoting popular participation in woodstock management were not envisaged. Limited purpose and limited time precluded a more thorough investigation of changes either in participation rates and improvements, or in breakdowns in woodstock management.
Almost all field team visits to project sites included either project personnel or local representatives of the Forestry and Wildlife Service. The presence of individuals and the interest expressed by team members in project activities presumably influenced interviewees' replies to some extent, such as dampening or intensifying criticism, exaggerating or minimizing positive effects depending on whether respondents wanted to be left alone, hoped for more support or had other strategic goals. During the time available the extent and impact of this "observer influence" could not be verified.
In some projects baseline data did not exist. In others, for instance the two A. albida projects, it was impossible in the field to verify some assertions made in project documents and evaluations about project impact in increasing farmers' interest in managing this species.
Finally, in both the PUSF Model Sites Natural Forest Management Component and in the Majjia Valley Windbreaks Project, popular participation at the decision-making level in these activities is only just beginning. In consequence, evaluation of the success of project strategies in promoting participation can only be speculative at this stage.
In Niger, forestry projects must be seen in the broader institutional context which constitutes the background against which project activities unfold.
The structure of rural politico-administrative organization continues to be shaped by the two overriding concerns of public administrators:
Civil servants place a high premium on information about what people are doing. They keep a careful eye on people organizing activities outside of GON-approved structures (the units at village, canton, arrondissement, department and national levels of the strictly hierarchical Société de Développement). Such activities are presumptive indicators of potential threats to regime security.
Administrators also need detailed information about local jurisdictions to prevent people from concealing their tax liabilities. The most straightforward way to collect information on tax liability is to question those eligible for taxation. Another way is to rely on traditional administrators, such as canton chiefs and those who work for them as administrative subordinates. These individuals spend much time in the villages under their jurisdiction. In the villages they visit regularly, they often know who is doing what, to whom, when, why and how. These individuals often cultivate informants in local communities who keep the canton chief's subordinates abreast of developments at the local level in return for various kinds of insurance, support and assistance.
Still another way is to use litigation to get information. What people, or a local informant, might conceal from a canton counsellor or traditional policemen may be divulged during a court case to prove a point or reject an allegation. Astute canton chiefs recognize that litigation often produces information as a valuable by-product. They have an incentive to encourage rural people in their jurisdictions to appeal the decisions of local moots. In their turn, canton chiefs and members of their outfits work very hard to dissuade peasants from appealing to the arrondissement level.
The consequence is a subtle rig of the game against local management capacity. Local people are encouraged to appeal cases from the village level at the canton chief's court. In the canton arena, bribe bargaining may increase litigation costs, over and above the sharp increase in transactions costs involved in litigating away from the village where the dispute originates. Village headmen or village moots can render decisions on local cases with a minimum of bother and time lost. Court costs are generally very low -- the equivalent of a couple of cola nuts. If both litigants are resident in the village, they can appear before the headman and have the dispute resolved within an hour. If on the other hand, one litigant appeals to the canton chief while the other litigant refuses to appear voluntarily, then the plaintiff /appellant must travel to the canton seat, pay court costs, finance a bailiff to convoke the defendant, participate in the trial and spend time away from home and work while these processes are under way. In addition, it may be necessary for him to go back to the canton seat to pay the bailiff another fee to collect damages, and then to make at least one more trip to the canton seat to collect.
An astute canton chief can manipulate decisions to make the law ambiguous. Village headmen then find it hard to render decisions in light of cantonal precedents, because cantonal precedents are deliberately kept unclear. Thus, more cases are appealled or even tried directly at the canton level as a court of first instance.
Where this situation prevails, disputants will still try cases involving important values because potential gains outweigh costs. But cases of small importance, such as the protection of renewable natural resources -- a branch lopped from a tree, tree seedlings browsed -- may well be dropped because they cannot be resolved locally and they are simply too expensive to try at the canton level. Costs of village land use management escalate. Disorganization is induced at the local level because transactions costs are too high. The tyranny of many such small decisions by resource users not to seek resolution of disputes means the working rules of property rights in renewable natural resources are unclear and ambiguous.
In Niger national financial legislation precludes creation of collective (non-voluntary) financing mechanisms at the local level. Under such circumstances, organization for woodstock management must be largely a fortuitous side benefit of other activities rather than a result of rule systems deliberately constructed by people seeking to control access to, use of and investment in local renewable natural resources.