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To achieve sustainable development, it is important to understand the impact that different forest management systems, such as communal, private or state, have on both the welfare of local communities and the utilization and conservation of forest resources.

Common property systems have historically governed the management of substantial parts of the world's forest resources. To prevent their overuse, these resources were often subject to some form of effective local control. Now, nearly everywhere, both the resources and the common property systems are facing increasing pressures as populations grow and the economic and political environment changes.

In some cases common property systems have been legislated out of existence, and in other cases local management mechanisms have weakened or disappeared gradually as communities have evolved and changed. Nevertheless, communal management has remained an important option for a great number of communities, and continues to be a potential strategy for the conservation and sustainable use of large parts of the world's forests.

The challenge is to enable both local people and the nation to obtain goods and services that improve livelihoods, without compromising long-term resource and development goals. The need to confront this challenge has taken on a new urgency due to the surge of interest in decentralization. At the same time, changes in ownership and control systems are being considered for vast areas of forest, and new forms of joint management are emerging. Understanding the opportunities and constraints of common property management systems has therefore become both crucial and urgent.

In order to have a greater understanding of the possibilities offered by various tenure and management arrangements for forest lands, a group of researchers was brought together by FAO in the early 1990s to analyse the available literature from Asia, Africa and Latin America on communal forest management. It became clear that these management systems entailed intricate relationships between village groups and local institutions, between individuals and laws that govern the forest, and between governments and villagers. An annotated bibliography emerged from this effort in 1993. The advisory group and FAO then agreed that it was timely to produce a state of knowledge paper on this issue, and requested J.E.M. Arnold to take on this assignment.

J.E.M. Arnold is a well-known authority on managing forests as common property. In this document, he has clarified definitions and analysed indigenous systems and those more recently introduced through projects or development programmes. He has highlighted issues to consider when evaluating the potential for successful communal management. He explores broad factors such as policies, population pressures and a suitable economic environment, local factors of organizational capacity and motivation to manage in relation to the available resource and institutional factors at the government and donor level. He also points out which types of experiences and data are necessary to collect and analyse so that the questions left unanswered may be more effectively addressed. FAO hopes that this study will be a seminal document, which will serve as an important benchmark for future work in the field.

This study is part of a series of documents on forest and tree management. Related documents concerned with tenure, institutional and legal analysis and communal management are discussed in the box on page xi.

Support and funding for Managing forests as common property was provided by the multidonor Forests, Trees and People Programme (FTPP), which works to increase livelihoods of women and men through local, sustainable management of tree and forest resources.

M. Hosny El-Lakany
Assistant Director-General
Forestry Department

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