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Common Forest Resource management - 2. ASIA


A great deal of attention is currently being given in forestry development to social or community forestry. This term is used for any forest management situation which closely involves local people in the management of local forest and tree resources, for which the people assume some part of the management responsibility and from which they derive a direct benefit for their own efforts. Social forestry projects may take several forms in which local people have the primary responsibility for managing forest and tree resources at the level of private households or individuals, communities or communal groups or state institutions [44].

In the late 1970s, when the first generation of social forestry projects were identified and designed, considerable attention was given to establishing village woodlots. This approach was taken because forests were considered a public property to be managed for the general good of local people. It was also expected that woodlot management by local people would allow an economy of scale in establishing and maintaining forest cover. Furthermore, the presence of what were referred to as "communal lands" seemed to offer a good starting point for community and other group reforestation projects.

Many of these early collective forestry projects met with little success [44, 48, 95] and gradually development planners and donor agencies gave more attention to stimulating private tree growing in the farm forestry context. It has been amply demonstrated, however, that farm forestry projects may have undesired social consequences and that they are not suitable under all land tenure conditions [44, 48,113].

Therefore, more recent attention has been focused on the potential for developing community forest management systems. To plan and implement these second generation social forestry projects, however, it is necessary to thoroughly evaluate the erratic results of past projects and to refine the knowledge of community parameters that indicate when such schemes may be more or less successful. In making such analyses, recent scientific advances in understanding the nature of management of common property resources (CPRs) and new empirical data about various ways in which rural communities have traditionally managed their common forest resources (CFRs) should be used.

This study is designed to contribute to an analysis of the nature and scope for the development and management of CFRs through a review of the literature on forest management from South and Southeast Asia.

For our purposes, collective management is defined as any management system in which responsibility for maintaining forests is vested in a local rural community, communal or other group and planning and implementation of the management practices are carried out through cooperative or collective efforts by the group members. Furthermore, we identify and analyse two decisive aspects in common forest management success: the extent to which the use and maintenance of forest resources can be locally controlled and justly distributed.

The results of many community reforestation schemes have been amply described. [44, 48]. Reviewers often explain the limited success of such schemes as a lack of attention to arrangements for long-term maintenance of plantations and inattention to equitable distribution of benefits. We concentrate, therefore, on aspects of collective management, and do not deal with information or discussions in the literature focused only on the establishment phase of new plantations.

We have not reviewed the various schemes aimed at providing management rights to individual people on plots of public forest lands (e.g. tree patty in India, village forests in Thailand, community forestry in the Philippines, leasehold forestry in Nepal). Although such programmes are often implemented through mediation of local village institutions, the direct responsibility for maintaining the tree resources belongs, by definition and intent, to individuals rather than to collectivities or groups, and the benefits, therefore, accrue to the private usufruct holders. We also excluded any discussion of schemes for group agroforestry projects which involve annual cropping on state forest lands for example, the Philippines' Ikalahan Project or state controlled management of trees on communal lands, such as roadside plantations in India.

The study begins with a review of "Some principles of collective management", followed by a discussion of "Some major features of forest management". We then examine "Local systems of forest management" followed by "Externally linked systems of forest management", based on the literature from selected countries of South and Southeast Asia. Further considerations are introduced, and the chapter concludes with an annotated bibliography in the References.


A common resource is any resource that is subject to individual use but not to individual ownership. It may be used by a number of persons, either by open access or under some arrangement of community or group management. Open access implies unrestricted entry and unregulated use. This may cause over-exploitation and degradation of common resources, a situation referred to in the literature as the "tragedy of the commons" [61, 63, 85]. In India, this belief is expressed in the synonymous use of the terms "common lands" and "wastelands" [101, 1131. The social processes leading to such resource degradation have received much scientific attention. Moench [91] attributes it to three interrelated causes. The commons are degraded, he says, because:

Theoretical interest has been rising at the same time as common resources have been deteriorating under open access regimes. As a result, during the last decade a great deal of concern and effort has been given to bringing their use and management under state or private control.

Attention has been centred on studying the conditions under which groups act cooperatively to manage and maintain common resources. It is now recognized that, in many cases, common resources are not open access but are actively managed on a group basis. Such common property resource management (CPRM) is characterized by a set of regulations on the rights of independent users or group members, and by the ability of the collective group to exclude outsiders from using the resource. It has recently been demonstrated that such CPRM regimes still play key roles in the effective maintenance of scarce natural resources, often complementing and accompanying private management systems. These regimes have often been misunderstood, however, or have remained unnoticed by outsiders. Consequently, their potential contributions to natural resources management have been neglected [103]. Jodha [73] notes the following reasons for this neglect:

Recently, a general model for analysing CPRs has been developed by Oakerson [96]. It contains four subsets of factors or attributes important to understanding the nature of utilization and management:

Several authors have used and/or adapted this model for analysing common property, including common forest, systems [6, 7, 15]. Some have noted its conceptual weaknesses and have suggested improvements [79, 87].

As indicated by the theories explaining "the tragedy of the commons", participation of individual people in collective action is not self-evident. Individuals normally choose between participation in group action or private action based on their perception of which activity brings them the most benefit or profit. Useful questions for analysing which factors influence choice are given by Lekanne dit Deprez [80]:

From these advances in the theoretical understanding of CPRM, it can now be said that an important prerequisite for group management is a set of institutional arrangements which enable a specific group of people to control resource maintenance and exploitation.

In developing CPRM regimes, seven major variables should be considered [39, 55]. These include:

The exact nature of these variables will depend on the nature of the management regime, and is generally culture specific. Successful CPRM schemes should include all these variables in some form. A proper understanding of these variables is, therefore, vital, even if their exact nature is location specific.



Forests are one of the most important common resources. Collective forest management refers to all kinds of forest management carried out on the basis of group action. It includes any management situation in which the forest tenure and management responsibility is vested in a specific group or collectivity, such as a lineage, clan or caste (communal management), a village or community forestry, users identified by religion or gender, a cooperative, and so forth. Collective forest tenure refers to arrangements under which certain groups hold specific rights to forest lands, trees and their products. Even if land is privately or state owned, responsibility to manage the forest may be vested in common with a local group. Thus, collective forest management may be based on common property or vested in common institutions.

Forest management consists of a group of deliberate activities for conservation and possible enhancement of useful forest resources and the controlled utilization of those resources. Such activities include:

Collective forest management systems usually involve a variety of regulations for controlled use of specific products [49], such as:

Management involves not only the carrying out of these resource management activities but also the process of decision making when dealing with questions of "when?" and "by whom?" Collective management also requires the existence of a control system to ensure that the proposed activities are carried out as planned. Overall, it requires attention to these four factors [25, 55]:

a system of group control over behaviour of members to ensure that the management practices are carried out,

The rules for control may not only consist of regulations on behaviour of group members and on the exploitation and distribution of forest products but may also consist of regulations for taxation of group members as a means to raise funds needed for payment of required management and maintenance.


The importance of CFRs is basically twofold [7, 20, 66, 73]. First, they fill crucial gaps in the resource and income flow from private resources, providing complementary inputs critical to the continued functioning of agricultural systems. Many common forest areas provide a variety of basic inputs, free of cost to local households, for example, firewood and small timber, animal fodder, green manure and various fruits and medicinal products. The common forest may also protect village water resources such as springs, and irrigation canals. In periods of low employment, for example, the agricultural off-seasons, local people may collect forest products which they can sell. Second, they are often a major source of support for the poor at the time of greatest vulnerability. Poor people who have only limited or no access to private farmlands depend on common lands to obtain many essential household products. In case of deterioration of the common forest, the poor suffer earlier and more intensely than relatively more affluent villagers because they seldom have adequate land or capital resources on which to make alternative choices.

There are other reasons to maintain CFRs. For one, the lands which still remain in common use are often best suited to forms of resource management that require, or benefit from, the economies of scale possible only within groups. For another, active group management may assist in maintaining, or developing, village level institutions and local management skills help stimulate and maintain local self-reliance [7, p. 36].


Collective management systems are often associated with small groups, such as villages or lineages. In India and Nepal, the preservation of CPRs, forest and other, is found to be positively related to small, often isolated villages [1, 72].

Collective management need not necessarily be restricted to small conditions but may also be found successfully occurring with larger organizational entities. An important factor to consider is the prevalent type of ownership rights on uncultivated land. Historically, only a few basic systems for claiming such lands existed. One, for example, is where a local ruler claimed all uncultivated lands in the region to be under his control. Another is where such lands were considered to be the common property of families descended from the village founders, out of which communal systems based on kinship, for example, lineage, or clan have evolved. Some non-communal forms of collective group management also evolved, based on other organizational premises such as religion, gender or neighbourhood.

In Timor, Indonesia, all lands falling under the jurisdiction of officially codified adats, for example, were owned by the local ruler (raja until the middle of this century. Farmers under the raja had usufruct rights only. The allocation of particular fields to individual farmers was supervised by the raga's council and local representatives. One study found that during the 1940s and 1950s, in the district of Amarasi, several steps were taken to improve the management of land resources. They were based on the authority of adat laws and backed by subsequent state regulations in 64 administrative villages of the district. They included the obligation to establish rows of ipil-ipil (Leucaena leucocephala) along the contours of swidden-fallow plots before leaving them in fallow, and a system of land use zoning that separated farming and silvopastoral grazing zones [89]. The Indonesian marga system, established earlier this century, is similar [ 102, 108].

Although success of collective management systems may be best assured in smaller groups, the examples given indicate that they may also be developed in larger groups. This requires, however, that increased attention be given to proper identification and execution of enforcement and monitoring procedures [96].


Many traditional societies have long histories of collective forest management. [Some are described below.] These systems should not be considered static but rather as evolving through time as they adapt to changes in the socio-economic, cultural and political environments. The dynamic nature of these systems is the result of several interrelated factors: population growth and immigration, incorporation of previously isolated areas into the market economy, privatization of farming systems, nationalization of forest lands, the advent of state-controlled institutions and a lack of attention, by those same institutions, to local forms of resource management organization [25, 71, 72, 103].

The processes of rural change may influence traditional forest management regimes in several ways. Traditional regimes may adjust to the new situations, for example, by adapting new management practices or by changing the regulations for management control. Or, they may break down as common resources as they become privatized or redefined to open access within a framework of non-operational external regulations [7]. This often results in a degradation of common forests formerly managed by communities or other groups.

On the first of these processes, the dynamic response of traditional systems to specific changes in internal and external conditions at the village level, there is only limited information available. The available evidence indicates two sorts of adaptations. One is a gradual change to systems that look and act quite different from earlier forms. Another is the development of informal management systems parallel to those imposed or created by an external agency or institution.

In cases where the outside agency is too weak to assure maintenance of regulatory practices, various types of customary local group management from the past may remain in effect, although with reduced authority. In some situations on state forest lands, the formal public management system and an informal community forest management system may coexist. The formal externally initiated system may involve some sort of contractual arrangement between the public forest agency and local users. The informal, locally initiated, system usually involves no such contract, and may be virtually invisible to the outside to the degree that the resource managed or extracted by local people is not considered to fall within the administrative interest, responsibility or jurisdiction of the outside agency [71 ]. In situations where specific forest resources such as firewood, fodder, medicinal extracts and other "minor" forest products are considered unprofitable or too difficult to manage by the outside agency but are nonetheless of great value to local people, the local people may manage their exploitation on the basis of residual customary rights and practices [98].

The causes of the breakdown of common forest management systems have generally received much more attention than the adaptive processes by which these systems are adjusted and redefined under changed conditions. As already noted, the two main processes in the decline of collective management regimes are resource privatization and state intervention [7]. Due to these processes, systems of common tenure and resource management in many Asian countries have now almost disappeared or survive only in weakened and attenuated form. [These processes are further treated below in "Discussion: The decline of local systems".]


As indicated earlier, the promotion of development collectives or other group forest management systems may be considered a specialized form of social forestry. Like any social forestry development, common forest management should not be promoted for its own sake but should be related to specific development objectives [44]. Social forestry objectives include:

Although some of these objectives may be complementary, they are not similar and, taken together, they reflect broadly divergent views about the purpose of social forestry. Some are primarily concerned with improving the effective maintenance of forest resources. Others are directed at improving the quality of life of rural people, especially the poor and underprivileged.

Gilmour etal. [57] describe these two very different motives in terms of two contrasting paradigms existing side-by-side in forestry development: "forest-centred" and "people-centred". The need for development of common or collective forest management may be identified on the basis of assumptions from within either paradigm. On the one hand, there is a tendency of some government schemes, as in Nepal, to promote community forestry as a means to improve effective forest management - under the "forest-centred" paradigm [6, 57]. On the other hand, locally-initiated popular movements such as chipko ("hug the trees") in India [8,59] or the externally initiated Aga Khan Rural Support Programme in India [110, 112; see also 114, 45] are examples of activity more concerned with empowering and enhancing the resource security of specific local rural groups - under the "people-centred" paradigm. The choice of objectives for promoting collective forest management schemes obviously affects the degree to which such social forestry activities are successful.

Although terms like "communal" or "community" forest management suggest that decisions are made on the basis of communal (e.g. lineage, clan or caste) or community (village- or panchayat-based) decision making, this is not always the case. In several traditional systems, a socially acceptable local authority may determine management rules and regulations. Examples are the adat regulatory system in Indonesia [89] and the traditional systems in Nepal where decision making is deferred to a local authority [83].

In Nepal, it is a mistake to assume that all traditional and indigenous forest management systems necessarily involve shared responsibility or result in fair and equitable distribution of benefits [65]. In India, it has been observed that increased productivity as a result of intensified management of common land resources may induce relatively affluent people to take an interest in using common lands or resources previously ignored or neglected by them and used only by the local poor [71, 72]. In extreme cases where collective management has been introduced in villages, social conflict may arise, and it may even assist the further empowerment of a local elite instead of assisting the poor and landless to improve their living conditions [113].

Because of the diversity in forestry development objectives, it is not possible to judge the success of such projects by any single criterion. The degree of success of collective management can only be evaluated if the aims and objectives of the scheme have been clearly identified both with respect to social aspects and ecological consequences. This is especially true in cases where CFR management schemes are intended to benefit categories of people most dependent on CPRs. Then it may be necessary to invoke a process of change in local decision making and rule enforcement.


Many examples of locally initiated or indigenous common forest resource management systems are found in Asia. Historically, an internal consistency has existed between the use and management of natural resources and the behavioural patterns of society. Various social, demographic, religious and productive factors are integrated within lifestyles characterized by specific patterns of resource use and cultural values. Local ways of using and managing forest resources are closely linked with indigenous and traditional subsistence strategies such as hunting and gathering, shifting cultivation, pastoralism and field agriculture. The following common forest management patterns are described in the literature; each is discussed in turn:

In conclusion, we focus on reasons for the apparent decline of locally initiated systems, then turn to a discussion of externally initiated systems in the following section on swidden-fallow cultivation.


Many studies have been conducted on swidden-fallow cultivation found in Southeast Asia [116]. Most concentrate on the cropping period and suggest that swidden-fallow cultivators do not actively manage forests. Some findings indicate, however, that indigenous forest management practices do exist, or have existed in the past [37, 58, 69, 76, 102, 108]. The basic rules for controlling swidden-fallow land use often distinguish between:

More specifically in relation to the forests, the following management practices are associated with swidden-fallow agriculture:


There is a traditionally close link in mountain areas of South Asia between private agricultural lands and forests. The forests provide important materials to the total farm enterprise; e.g. to agriculture in the form of green compost, to household energy needs as fuel for cooking and heat and for the construction of houses and stalls from timber and poles. The forests also provide grazing areas and animal fodder for farmers' livestock including cattle, water buffalo, goats, sheep which form an important component of the local farming system [4, 82, 83]. The amount of forest required to support one hectare of cropland has been estimated at between one and nine hectares.

These close relations of people-land-livestock and forest within subsistence farming systems have resulted in a variety of local arrangements for common forest management on the subcontinent [51]. Some examples are the turf system of northern Uttar Pradesh, India [90, 92], the nistar system in Madya Pradesh, India [28, 33] and tribal systems in Swat, Pakistan [86]. Other examples are found in Nepal [47, 57, 82, 83, 86, 96]. See Figure 2-1 for examples of management practices and village-sanctioned control measures in Nepal.

Mountain forest management practices are not only directed at controlled collection of wood products but also at the control of fodder collection and forest grazing. Various management practices, including rotational grazing, deferred grazing and collection of tree tops or pollarded branches for stall feeding, are commonly used, both in addition to and instead of continual free grazing.

Figure 2-1

Control Systems used in Traditional Forest
Management in Nepal

Basis of Group Rules


1. Harvesting only selected
products and species

  • Trees: timber, fuelwood, food (fruit, nuts, seeds, honey), leaf fodder, fibre, leaf mulch, other minor forest products (gums, resins, dyes, liquor, plate leaves, etc.)
  • Grass: fodder, thatching, rope
  • Other wild plants: medicinal herbs, food (tubers, etc.), bamboos, etc.
  • Other cultivated plants: upland crops (maize, millet, wheat, potatoes, vegetables), fruit, etc.
  • Wildlife: animals, birds, bees, other insects, etc.

2. Harvesting according to condition of product

  • Stage of growth, maturity, alive or dead
  • Size, shape
  • Plant density, spacing
  • Season (flowering, leaves fallen, etc.)
  • Part: branch, stem, shoot,flower

3. Limiting amount of product

  • By time: by season, by days, by year, by several years
  • By quantity: number of trees, headloads, baskets, number of animals
  • By tool: sickles, saws, axes
  • By area: zoning, blocks, types of terrain, altitude
  • By payment: cash, kind, food or liquor to watchers or village, manure
  • By agency: women, children, hired labour, contractor, type of animal

4. Using social means

  • By watcher: paid in grains or cash
  • By rotational guard duty
  • By voluntary group action
  • By making use of herder mandatory

Source: Arnold and Campbell 1986

In Bhutan, a local system called soashing is practised in which a forest area is reserved for the exclusive collection of leaves, which are used in stables as bedding for livestock. These materials are subsequently mixed with manure and spread on agricultural lands. Sometimes dead branches and leaves are also collected there. Sogshing arrangements are recognized by the government, and the forest department is not allowed to issue commercial cutting permits in such areas [S. Wangchuk, personal communication 1989].

In cases where previously common forests are now officially incorporated into state forest reserves, remnants of older management systems may still exist. Examples include traditional forms of fodder collection continued on state forest lands near Mount Merapi in Indonesia [98] and in the mountains of Himachal Pradesh, India [38].

The dynamic nature of the development and operation of common forest management systems are not only influenced by external conditions. Gilmour et al. [57, p. 1001 relate an account by a local leader that eloquently describes the adaptation of a common forest management system in a Nepali village to both internal and external conditions. Prior to 1950, the account goes, a forest guard appointed by the royal ruler had the responsibility for looking after the forest. He was paid only once a month. The villagers did not protect the forest. This system did not prevent the forest from being cleared and people had to walk increasing distances to collect one load of firewood. After the introduction of the panchayat system in 1960, the villages were divided into wards. Some villages began to prohibit people from other wards from going to the forests in their wards. A village meeting was held to decide what to do about the forest. They decided to collect food grain or money to pay a local forest guard. The quantity to be paid was fixed on the basis of the number of members in a family. In this way, the village employed forest guards for about 20 years. But gradually, people grew dissatisfied with the guard. They claimed that he did not treat everybody equally and favoured the powerful over the poor. The people then stopped donating rice and the forest guard resigned.

Another process which influences the current nature of local management practices is the increased commercialization of animal husbandry for the production of milk, with concomitant shifts to higher valued animals, more intensive livestock management, stall feeding and the production of higher quality fodder [5]. In addition, a rise in commercial timber exploitation by external contractors has put increased pressure on the traditional and indigenous mountain area forest management systems.

Gilmour [56] postulates a direct correlation between relative scarcity or abundance of forest resources and villager attitudes to resource use and management (Figure 2-2).


In the dry areas of South Asia, several types of common property tree and forest management systems are found. Examples from India include the management of gauchar lands in Gujarat, gomal lands in Karnataka and poromboke lands in Tamil Nadu [16, 23, 661. Common trees or forests may also be planted on bank foreshores. Further examples of rangeland management systems are found in Baluchistan, Pakistan and in the dry zones of Sri Lanka [20, 43].

As in mountain areas, the vegetation on these common drylands has an important part to play in local farming systems. Traditionally, their main role was to complement the highly variable level of private agricultural production. Common land resources are

Figure 2-2

Accessibility of Forest Resources and Probable Villagers Response in Nepal


Local interest


1. Ample forest in or adjacent to village. ->

No interest in forest

management protection or tree exist, planting.

Indigenous systems confined to

defining use-rights only. Few trees on private land.

2. Forest becoming depleted or access restricted (up to 3-hour walk). ->

Emerging interest in management forest development exist to activities (or potential for extension).

Indigenous systems define use- rights and in some cases have biological objectives.

Few trees on private land but interest beginning.

3. Severe shortage of forest products (accessible forest more than 4-hour walk). ->

Genuine interest in forest development activities. Little need for people to be

convinced by extension.

Indigenous management systems well developed and define both use-rights and biological objectives.

Extensive private tree planting and protection likely.

Source: Gilmour 1989

a major source of fodder and saleable products such as fuelwood, fodder, fibres, wild fruits, spices, gum, soap nuts, during dry periods without crop production. In addition, they are utilized for the collection of fuelwood, small-scale construction materials, green manure and thatching materials for local household use [7] (Figure 2-3).

Common tree and forest property resources are of special significance to the poor. Landless and treeless people depend on CFRs for a majority of their fuelwood and fodder requirements as well as the collection of saleable products during off-seasons or drought periods, when there are few other opportunities for employment and income generation [70, 72, 119].

Compared to the mountain areas, management of CFRs in the dry regions is relatively less developed. There are two reasons for this. First, the value of products from the commons is relatively low, therefore, there is little incentive to invest in intensive control measures. Second, the poor, who are most dependent on these resources, often lack the economic or organizational power to properly manage the resources themselves or to improve their productivity while wealthier villagers who have private resources are often more interested in privatizing the commons than in preserving them. As a result, many

Figure 2-3

Quantifying the Contribution of CPRs to Private Farming
in Dry Regions of India

The value of CPR's contribution to private farming throughout the agricultural cycle

Pre-sowing to pre-harvest






CPR contribution to total income (excluding relief and credit) during

Drought years

Non-drought years



How much resource availability would decline without CPRs

Draft power





Land area for cash/crops


Crop by product for sale


Source: Jodha 1990


commons are subject to reallocation and encroachment [66, 70, 71,72] and have been much reduced in size. One observer notes that in India, only ten percent of the original rules governing the management of CPRs are still in effect [70, 72]. Many commons have been gradually redefined in practice as open access areas, due to indifference and neglect by local villagers. Jodha [71 ] has indicated how both the rich and the poor have adapted to the decline in area, productivity and management of CPRs (see Figure 2-4).

The conditions of CPRs vary considerably from place to place. In Gujarat, India, it was found that where the prospects for irrigation and improved agriculture are high, common property covers only a small percentage of the land and there is little or no dependence on CPRs. But, in villages where prospects for agricultural development are low, the area of common property lands is large and their resources are important [66]. The preservation of CPRs is associated with the following village characteristics [52, p. 241]:

In one study, the following institutional similarities were noted among CPRM regimes in communities of India's Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan states [7, pp. 29-30]:

Figure 2-4

People's Adaptions to Changing Situations of CPRs
in Dry Regions of India

Measures adopted by different groups in the face of decline in area,
productivity and management systems of CPRs.

Rural rich

Rural poor

Rural community

1. Withdrawal from CPRs as user of products: opportunity cost of labour higher than CPR product value.

1. Use of CPRs as an important source of sustenance: complementarity of CPR and PPR-based activities.

1. Acceptance of CPRs as open access resources: over-exploitation without user' obligations, regulations.

2. Increased reliance on alternative options:

  • Own bio-mass of supplies (stall feeding, etc.)
  • Non-renewable/external resources (e.g. replacing stone fencing for thorn fencing, wooden tyres for carts, iron tools for local wooden ones)

2. Acceptance of interior options:

  • Opportunity cost of labour lower than value of products of degraded CPRs

2. Selective approach to specific CPR units: despite general neglect of CPRs, concern for some units.

3. Private squeeze on CPRs assets:

  • Grabbing CPR lands
  • Preventing others from using seasonal CPRs (private crop lands during off-season)

3. Measures reflecting desperation:

  • Premature harvesting of CPR products
  • Removal of roots/base of product
  • Over-crowding and over-exploitation of CPRs
  • Use of hitherto unusable inferior products

3. Focus on "other" uses of CPRs: Item in seeking government subsidy/relief in running local, factional quarrels, in populist programmes, etc.

4. Approach to CPR management:

  • Indifference to decline of CPRs
  • As rural influential party to non-functioning legal and administartive superstructure for coomunity resources

4. Part of non-operating legal and administrative measures


5. Structural changes/ focus on alternative sources:

  • Changes in livestock composition (replacing cattle w/sheep/goats, etc.)
  • Agroforestry initiative (revival of indigenous agro-forestry, etc.)

Source: Jodha 1990


The relationship between forests and water sources is also important in considering the management of trees and forests as common property. Unfortunately, the presence of common forest-water management arrangements has received little attention and only a few descriptions are found in the literature.

One example is found in swidden-fallow systems where forest areas are often conserved to protect local water supplies. Similar management and protection measures exist in areas with more permanent cultivation. In the Ifugao region of the Philippines, forests play an important role in ensuring a regular water supply for wet rice cultivation [37]. In Sri Lanka, inspired by benevolent village leaders, some small forest areas are maintained to protect village water sources (K.F. Wiersum, personal observation; see also [132]). Water source protection is also quite common in villages in Nepal [88]. The practice of planting and managing trees on the embankments of village ponds, for their enhancement and protection from erosion, has been observed in Nepal's Terai lowlands [ 119], as has the deliberate practice of planting trees to curb bank erosion along streams and rivers (D. Messerschmidt, personal communication 1990). In instances where water sources are sacred, the protection of their catchment forests is more readily assured.


In many societies of India, the Philippines and Thailand, and elsewhere, local people traditionally preserve small patches of forest as "sacred groves" for the abode of local spirits or deities [37, 53, 100]. Originally, it was forbidden to remove products from these forests. With increasing deforestation, these groves have become some of the last remaining natural forest patches. In such cases, the collection of medicinal plants, leaf litter and dead wood has been gradually accepted but removal of live wood is not normally allowed. The control over these forests is closely inter-linked with local religious belief and custom.

A religious basis for group management also exists in cases where trees and forest reserves are owned or are under the supervision of monasteries or temples, or are designated as common village properties. This occurs, for example, in Nepal, India and Sri Lanka [84, 93,119]. Examples have even been observed of common property trees set aside and managed exclusively for future socio-religious contingencies. In one Terai (lowland) village of Nepal, certain mango trees, not intrinsically sacred, have been set aside on common land, by village group decision, exclusively for use by treeless and landless poor people for Hindu funeral pyres [119]. In Pakistan, trees in Muslim cemetery grounds are reserved exclusively for the benefit of local religious leaders (D. Messerschmidt, personal communication 1990).


While a wide range of common forest management systems have been developed and maintained in the past in many societies of South and Southeast Asia, in recent decades many have been severely compromised by other development, or have lost their importance, or have disappeared altogether from the landscape. Some causes of the impairment of common management regimes are at least partially related to changes in forest management practices.

As illustrated by the swidden-fallow related systems noted earlier, many indigenous practices seem to have been designed to control utilization of the natural vegetation and to protect valuable tree species and their products. Little attention is given to active tree propagation in the form of seeding or planting seedlings, although villagers sometimes take pains to protect and nurture naturally sprouted seedlings [87] (D. Messerschmidt, personal communication 1990). This activity is usually unobserved and goes unrecorded by researchers or forestry agents. Simple protection of forest and tree resources on commons and reserves is a principle concern. Sustainability and regeneration for the future, at least under earlier conditions, seems to have been taken for granted as a natural process in which people do not often meddle.

Where tree planting does take place, the incentive is typically private. The planted trees are owned mostly by the persons who plant them. In several regions such as south Sumatra, Indonesia, the introduction of commercial tree crops, for example, rubber and coffee has resulted in a declining importance of group-managed natural forests and forest products. This, in turn, has contributed to the process of individualization, privatization and commercialization [102]. Similarly, the advent of large-scale logging and the extraction of other commercially valuable forest products in formerly isolated areas has put heavy pressure on indigenous forest management practices. There are examples from Sumatra [69] and from East Kalimantan, Indonesia [122]. In contrast to these observations, however, while private tree farming for profit has increased markedly in recent years in the Nepal lowlands, no such concomitant decline in forest management on commons has been noted [119].

One of the most important factors resulting in the decline of common forest management appears to be the involvement and institutionalization of state control over forest management. Several observers have noted that local interest in common forest management has been reduced as a result of nationalization of forest land and the development of national forestry services [6,120,121]. In Nepal, however, some observers question the actual impacts on village-managed forests by legislation nationalizing forest lands. It has been proposed that, at least at some locations, the official cadastral survey of 1975 had greater impact [57, see also 116].

When some of the first national forestry codes were formulated, only limited attention was given to the possibility of incorporating and developing local forest management systems. In India, while some recognition of pre-existing local systems did occur, only limited measures were taken to encourage or ensure their proper functioning, such as the creation or further development of viable local institutions for common forest management [7].

After India's independence, the area of forest under common property management was greatly reduced and suffered from the inability of concerned persons to cope with commercialization, individualization and demographic change [66, 73]. In several cases, privatization of common lands was even officially advocated in the framework of land reform programmes [7, 113, 114].

Similarly, the conversion of common shamilat land management gradually occurred in Pakistan's Azad Kashmir. Three phases of shamilat change have been described. Informal partitioning came first, as families whose land adjoined shamilat areas began to divide user rights among themselves. That was followed by incremental appropriation, as partitioned lands began to be used for cultivation and the rights to these lands became (informally) transferable. The final phase was gradual privatization, and occurred as formal validation of private rights took place following abolishment of the land tax on private lands [30, 31].

As a result of these kinds of changes, tenure and management arrangements regarding commons in many Asian countries have now almost disappeared. These include India, Indonesia, Philippines, and Malaysia or have survived only in weakened form. In India, certain systems can still be found but mostly in the following agroecological regions [7]:

Despite the large number of sources cited here, there is, nonetheless, a dearth of empirical data from which to evaluate the precise nature of indigenous management systems or the scope and potential to re-invigorate or further develop them. Most studies of these systems have been directed at specific forest products, and not at overall forest management and utilization. Gilmour et al. [57] and other writers have noted that most indigenous forest management systems emphasize the protection of larger trees and often ignore seedling regeneration. As studies focus mostly on specific trees and tree products neglecting whole forest systems, including forest grazing, full evaluation of the merits of such systems is difficult.

A few studies of indigenous common forest resource management systems support the notion that these systems allowed for both conservation and sustainability, where "sustainability" refers to economic use and social conditions and not biological regeneration. Arnold and Campbell [6] state that most indigenous forest management systems tend to be very conservative and allow access to only a few products under conditions of strict control. Molnar [93] observes that local management systems develop when pressure on forest resources is sufficient to cause immediate concern but not yet so great as to make locally applied controls unfeasible (also [56, 86, 87] and Figure 2-2).

From our analysis it appears that many traditional and indigenous management systems are directed at conserving forest resources but that current conditions call for a change of focus-from the utilization of existing resources to the creation and maintenance of new resources [7]. The response in many regions has been the deliberate creation of new tree resources through tree planting as an essentially private activity, by individual or household rather than as a public activity, by user group or community.

Both indigenous and traditional management systems are site- and culturespecific and more precise empirical information is needed before firm conclusions can be made about the long-term potential of specific cases. From available information, however, we deduce that although existing forest management systems offer conclusive proof about their significance, in many cases further adaptation of these systems require attention to how they can be strengthened to withstand external pressures. Modifications to existing management regimes may need to be made in institutional and/or technical aspects. It is sometimes assumed that such adaptations can be facilitated by carefully tailored external interventions. In the following discussion, we describe the results of some outside interventions for common forest resource management.

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