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Some externally linked systems are quite recent, and some date back several generations. In this section, we discuss the following examples:

The greater attention to India, Indonesia and Nepal reflects the relative wealth of literature available from these countries [Sect."Country index"]. Other national examples are rare or lacking altogether, suggesting need for further research.


The colonial period

During the 1920s, under the Dutch administration, efforts were begun in Indonesia to introduce formal common forest resource management schemes within the framework of the marga system. The marga was a local juridical entity created in various parts of the island of Sumatra which, among other things, was responsible for regulating land use [ 102,108]. The marga consisted of several villages and was headed by a council of village leaders and elected representatives. Marga regulations were based upon a compromise between local customary law and the colonial law. The marga jurisdictions included:

During the 1920s and early 1930s, the merits of such community organizations for managing part of the natural forests was subject to various discussions within the Indonesian forest department [60, 67, 68]. It was suggested that forest management responsibilities be divided between the forest department and the local villages. Under this proposal, the department would protect and manage crucial watersheds and commercial timber production reserves, and local communities, with advice and technical assistance from the forest department, would manage the remaining forests for local needs. An experimental community forestry management scheme under supervision and control of the district forest officer was also started in an area of teak forest on the island of Java [3].

These innovative ideas, however, were never fully institutionalized. Under customary law, planted trees were individually owned but after the introduction of commercial tree crop cultivation of rubber or coffee, for example, interest declined as did community involvement and control. Community control over forest land use also diminished with the introduction of certain new laws, such as regulations on domain lands and national forestry and agricultural ordinances. As a result, local land rights became restricted to lands under actual cultivation [41, 102].


The colonial period

In the 1920s, British colonial authorities in India made a number of attempts at introducing new local forest management systems. In Uttar Pradesh state, special local "forest councils" (van panchayats) were created with the objective of providing a buffer between state forests and local villagers [7, 9, 21, see also 107]. These councils were a means to redress intense local opposition to the reservation of large tracts of state forest lands. It was thought that the management of local forests should be carried out under regulations drawn up and agreed upon by local communities.

The van panchayat council, which had a patron-client relationship with the larger village community, could make rules dealing with local forest utilization, based on general regulations issued by the government. The council was empowered to fine offenders, impound cattle and deny a household use of forest resources if any of its members broke the rules. To ensure adherence to the rules, including proper and fair utilization of forest products, the forest councils normally appointed a paid forest guard. Its own members could also act as forest watchers.

Opinions vary about the success of the forest council system. The most successful examples shared certain characteristics [7, p. 31]. These included:

Recent experiences

Several state governments in India, with national and international donor agency support, have recently begun stimulating social forestry under CFR management schemes [8, 64, 110, 112, 118, 123]. The objectives of the project designs differ as do, not surprisingly, their' impacts and benefits. The results have been variably assessed in a plethora of unpublished project evaluation documents. A recent review of the characteristics of projects located in the hill regions of India provides the following observations regarding their most common features [7, p. 33]:

fees, if any, are levied on a household basis rather than on the quantity harvested,

Two successful externally initiated projects in the dry region of India show the following similarities [8]:

Various projects have shown that interest in common resource management is facilitated in cases where the productivity of marginal lands is increased by technical measures providing fast return. Examples are the increased production of grass for fodder, marketable leaf products and water harvesting for crop cultivation. Tree growing should be considered as a complementary activity. The development of processing and marketing linkages also stimulates interest in common property resource management [112].

Although these examples show that proper local institutions and technical measures may stimulate the development of new common resource management systems, several authors have argued that, to be truly effective, further adjustments in the national forestry codes are also needed [114] (see Figure 2-5).


Recent experiences

During the past decade, several new initiatives have been undertaken by forestry departments and/or local development organizations in South and Southeast Asia to stimulate community forestry management. Nepal, like India, provides some of the most well-developed and promising examples.

Figure 2-5

Factors Influencing the Future Prospects of CPRs
in Dry Regions of India

Constraining framework for CPRs

Imperatives supporting rehabilitation of CPRs

Future of CPRs: possible options and dilemma

    Undeclared, regressive state policy towards CPRs (privatization, lack of management)

    Ecological and long-term sustainability concerns (i.e. required resource use systems in regions with sub-marginal lands and high climatic variability)

    Positive policies restricting further reduction in CPR area (obstacles: new social culture, collective indifference and land grabbing)

People's response: land grabbing over-exploitation and indifference to CPRs

  • Missing CPR-perspective of development interventions (fiscal, technological and institutional measures for CPRs)
  • Negative side-effects of development interventions (fiscal, techno logical and institutional measures for CPRs)
  • CPRs made open access resources, conductive to tragedy of commons

    Complementarity of CPR and PPR-based farming systems (i.e. due to non-covariability of input needs and product flows and narrow and unstable base of private crop farming)

    High investment needs for high productivity (obstacles: long gestation period, invisibility of gains by narrow cost-benefit norms)


    Sustenance of rural poor (through product supply, employment and income generation, etc.)

    Rehabilitation and sustaining of CPRs as high productivity community assets (technology with focus on diversification and user perspectives; managment by user groups based on equal stake and equal share in gains)

A great amount of attention has been given recently to the development of community forestry management in Nepal. Studies by Acharya [1], Arnold and Campbell [6], Bista et al. [14], Fox [51], Gilmour et al. [57] and Messerschmidt [86] represent only a small portion of the literature [see below, Country index]

Recent changes in Nepal's form of government, following a popular 1990 uprising, will certainly affect forestry management and development policy. The old system of local village councils (gaun panchayats) is now gone, as is the system of panchayat forests (PFs) and panchayat-protected forests (PPFs). The recently promulgated Forestry Sector Master Plan of 1989 has been postponed until new directions can be considered and appropriate new, non-panchayat-based legislation put in place. Community forestry and the fundamental tenants of community management of resources are not likely to be abandoned, however. The literature reflects those earlier conditions of panchayat forestry.

In 1957, Nepal passed the Private Forest Nationalization Act which nationalized virtually all forests in the country. New legislation in 1976 then reversed twenty years of policy, quickly followed by amendments and rules creating PFs and PPFs; PFs consisted of newly established plantations and PPFs referred to existing forests. (Currently, these two types are both called "community forests".)

By the early 1980s, a special division of the forestry department was established for panchayat-based community forestry, externally supported by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, the UN Development Programme and the World Bank. Other donors designed forestry and watershed management projects with similar goals. With their assistance, the formal establishment of PPFs took place in three steps (for greater detail see [6, 46]):

In order to assure proper functioning of the forest committees, several guidelines were prepared [6, 129]. The guidelines stipulated that:

The actual number of management plans created and forests handed over to local management committees is not encouraging. While considerable experience about opportunities and constraints in the programme has been gained [57], by the late 1980s, almost a decade into the community forestry programme, only about two percent of the total forest area had been brought under this kind of formal community management system.

Much of the other 98 percent of forest lands, officially under the responsibility of government forestry officers, is also used by local villagers to satisfy their subsistence needs. In many areas they are managed by even more effective informal local and customary methods [Sect. "Mountain environments"]. This observation questions whether it is effective to establish a specific category of community forest areas, or whether the state CFR management programmes should be changed to reflect the wide variety of management types and local interests that exist among local forest user groups [57].


Recent experiences

A few other examples of recent changes are mentioned briefly in the literature. In Papua New Guinea, after independence in 1975, customary land tenure became a major principle in the formulation of national forestry legislation [106, 127, 130]. In Sri Lanka, it was recently suggested that community forestry might best be stimulated by including not only new plantations in common forest management schemes but also by involving villagers in the management of existing natural forest regimes [132].

The experience of Viet Nam points out clearly the negative impacts that occur when collective management is mandated directly from above without appreciation or understanding of local tradition, experience or capability and with little assistance from state agencies. The Vietnamese result is, in comparison to other Asian countries, not very promising. Since the mid-1970s, after the war, the Vietnamese system of land and tree tenure has been variously and confusingly redesigned. All land, including forest land, is controlled by the state. The state assigns management responsibility to various collective management groups, and to individuals, including cooperatives, agricultural and silvicultural production teams, military groups and various state-owned institutions and enterprises. It has also implemented a contract system for collective enterprises for the production of pulpwood, tree seedlings and timber.

It has been recently reported that, during the 1980s, collective groups had "been given access to large areas of uplands very suddenly, with unclear rules, and with little if any technical or financial assistance". The result "was an acceleration of forest degradation. In the absence of guarantees about the duration of the allocation, land users did not invest themselves, and used the land in inappropriate ways" planting on steep slopes, cutting trees indiscriminately, and "thereby accelerating the process of degradation instead of reversing it, as the government hoped. ... it will take time and observation of others' experiences before farmers realize that the long-term returns from trees are, in fact, substantial and worth their efforts". But, so far, they have not exhibited a very positive or long-term view [ 19, p. 4-6].



There may be several objectives, not all of which are necessarily congruent, for stimulating CFR management systems. The potential and the success of such systems in rural development can, therefore, only be properly assessed according to rather precisely defined goals. An analysis of the problems confronting development should be clearly made before deciding on the scope of specific local management plans. In making such an analysis, two lessons from the literature must be borne in mind. One is the close relationship that exists between natural resource degradation and both deprivation and inequality among the rural poor. The other is that purely technocratic approaches and solutions to resource management issues are insufficient without due attention to local socio-cultural variables and other situational factors.


In the past, many effective common forest resource management systems were associated with small, independent and largely homogeneous communities, relatively self-sufficient and remote from outside pressures and impacts. Many functioned under relatively informal social organization and control arrangements. In some cases, institutional coordination was weak, with cooperation tending to be ad hoc, based on casual contacts and voluntary commitments, often lacking community-wide sanctions. Small-scale forest swiddenfallow groups are one example. In comparison with farmer groups engaged in permanent agriculture, forest swiddeners generally show weaker institutional coordination overall. With changes in the socio-cultural and economic conditions that once underlay and allowed for the existence of informal swidden-based forest management systems, their insufficiency and weaknesses in the modern context can be seen. It is uncertain whether they can be looked to as a basis for improved systems of common resource management, able to withstand current conditions of increased competition for forest and land resources.

Several traditional arrangements for common forest management, such as those in swidden-fallow cultivation areas, were closely linked to cultural values and religious sanctions. These values are highly susceptible to change, however, and, therefore, little correlation can be expected between such older collectivist traditions and successful CFR management schemes in the modern context. Resource management systems which were based on group decision making about land use practices, and less bound to cultural sanctions and hierarchical control systems, seem to offer more scope for adaptation and use in developing new and improved forest management schemes.

Most older CFR management practices were directed at the control and protection of valuable forest resources and species. Active tree propagation in the form of tree planting was not prominent. Tree planting was mostly a private activity which often developed within the context of gradual individualization and commercialization of natural resources, or as a direct response to increasing resource degradation and inaccessibility, as Gilmour [56] points out (see Figure 2-2). Therefore, while traditional but relatively formalized group management schemes lend themselves best to the development of new forest management systems, those necessitating active tree propagation through planting require the development of new practices and regulations.

Under current conditions of heavy competition for forest products by various groups throughout Asia and the world, effective common forest management may require more than a reliance on traditional models. Modern developments may require modification of older models and newer forms of mixed management involving state institutions. The latter may be necessary in order to provide local management groups with the necessary authority, information and technical assistance to proceed. A gradual transformation from a system based primarily on common property to a system based on common interest may be necessary.


For the creation of effective local management control systems, there are three main institutional requisites to consider:

As the rural environment becomes more complex, there is a greater need to formalize collective forest management arrangements at both the local and state level. At issue are questions of empowerment and enablement of local people in forest management groups to maintain and improve forest resources, and to assure that there are incentives for long-term involvement and sustainability of effort.

Regarding empowerment, collective forest management requires community or other group control over the behaviour of the membership as well as the ability to exclude outsiders. Neither follows automatically from statutory or customary ownership of forest lands. Consequently, in developing CFR management systems, ample attention must be given to the creation or strengthening of proper institutional foundations, based on common interest and responsible for management and control. The creation of effective local arrangements for control should receive attention at least equal to that received by the introduction of new management techniques.

Regarding enablement, CFR management systems will not be sustainable if measures are not taken to back them with appropriate legislation with respect to tenure and cooperative organization. It is of special importance that state institutions legitimize and assist local groups to formulate and enforce rules of group access to, and non-member exclusion from, common forest areas.

Regarding incentives, the creation of assurance for proper implementation of resource management practices is most important when developing new CFR management systems. The creation of assurances is assisted by defining, as quickly as possible, the benefits to group membership. This may be done either by securing early production pay-offs, e.g. harvest from existing vegetation or by creating readily visible environmental protection measures, over village water supplies, irrigation canals, soil stabilization, etc. Increased forest productivity, however, may have counterproductive results, such as increased interest by others who are not the traditional or targeted beneficiaries. Pressure toward privatization or illegal appropriation of common lands and forests may rise. Therefore, in cases where common management schemes are directed at specific categories of people, such as the very poor, women or tribal people, attention must be given to ways to empower them to protect and sustain the benefits. Empowerment itself is a strong incentive.

Group management schemes function best if they are organized in accordance with local socio-economic and cultural realities. Under conditions of social stratification, care must be taken that the local elite does not consider itself negatively affected by not being included in schemes to give group rights to specific underprivileged community members. If they think they have been discriminated against, or are being negatively affected by the development effort, local power struggles may develop, or be enlarged, which could undermine or destroy the forest management activity and have adverse effects on the resource.

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