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Chapter 5: Conclusions

Broader factors affecting choice of forest management regimes
Supporting local collective management of forests
Local factors affecting capacity to organize and manage

The management and use of forest resources and forest outputs seldom falls neatly into private, state or common property categories. Many, if not most, forests are characterized by multiple products and multiple users and are usually being managed in pursuit of multiple objectives. They therefore often exhibit a variety of overlapping tenure arrangements. There may be individual, corporate and collective rights to use of a resource that forms part of state property. Several different groups of users may have tenure rights to different products or to use at different times. Use may be managed or take place in an uncontrolled open access situation.

The balance and composition of the component regimes varies widely, both spatially and over time. Though many earlier collective regimes have declined or disappeared, in the face of demographic, social, economic and political change, many contemporary situations contain elements of common property. However, this still is often not recognized adequately, probably due to failure to understand the complexities of a particular tenure situation, or because these have been obscured by policies and practices biased towards privatization or control by the state.

This neglect is reflected in the relative paucity of information and analysis about the contemporary role of collective tenure relating to forest resources and outputs. Understanding is still imperfect, though it is improving rapidly. As is evident in this study, some lessons of experience are becoming clearer. The scope now exists for a more focused and effective application of what is now known to the design and implementation of interventions in many situations. It is also possible to identify areas where additional study is needed. This final chapter focuses on three dimensions of the subject that need to be addressed in application, through research and at the policy level:

· the framework of broader factors that determine whether collective management is likely to be appropriate and feasible;

· key issues that governments and government services will have to address in order to support local management of forests as common property; and

· the interplay among local factors that affect the capacity and motivation of groups of users to organize the management of use of a resource.

Broader factors affecting choice of forest management regimes

Because management of forests as common property is by definition situation-specific (i.e. tied to particular local user groups or communities) most attention has been focused on the microfactors that bear on its functioning at this level. Investigation and intervention have mainly been concerned with interrelationships between the resource, the community and its institutions, and other features of the local situation. However, the success of local solutions is ultimately governed by broader political, economic and institutional factors that determine whether or not common property is an appropriate option. As has been discussed at some length above, the circumstances that previously favoured common property in the past have often been irreversibly altered by economic, demographic and social changes. If the influence of such changes is not understood and taken into account, there is a danger of putting into place interventions that try to sustain or create common property regimes and institutions that are not appropriate, or feasible, in a particular situation.

That this danger has not been avoided is evident in much of what has been proposed in support of a greater role for common property regimes. Thus, "the arguments for increased community control of common property too often call for the complete restructuring of society... or a wholesale change in the patterns of political life. Too often, they also invoke a romantic past and seek to reverse the economy to re-find self-contained subsistence systems. [But] the economic forces of modernization and commercialization, [which] are frequently anathema to traditional community based systems, cannot be wished away..." (Campbell, 1990).

The first stage in initiatives to introduce or to try to strengthen common property governance for forest resources and products therefore needs to include examination of the broader environment within which it would be expected to function. In doing so, a fundamental issue must be that of government's willingness and ability to provide an adequate legal basis for common property management. As has been shown throughout the study, policies, legislation and the ways in which these are applied and enforced widely discriminate against collective management of forests in situations where it would often otherwise appear to be appropriate. The potential to improve the prospects for sustainable management of forests as common property is therefore often likely to rest on whether governments are able to introduce and implement needed policy measures (Bruce, 1998).

It is necessary to distinguish between those policy changes that can be effected within the forest sector and those that depend on broader policy. The potential to introduce legislation to devolve responsibility for forest resources to the local level may prove to be limited if there are higher-level polices to extend control by central government. It is, therefore, important to be able to recognize the limits to how much change can be achieved within the framework of forest-oriented programmes. Equally, success is more likely if changes designed to strengthen local-level forest management and control can be shaped so that they are compatible with existing legislation and do not, instead, require new legislation.

Progress in identifying the circumstances under which common property systems are likely to be appropriate, and the national-level interventions are likely to be most effective, often requires further research into the interrelationships between local forest management and use practices and the surrounding framework of political, economic, social and demographic factors. Past research tends to have been narrowly focused on particular situations, products or species. Because the linkages among the various factors are usually complex and poorly documented, there are many dimensions that would benefit from investigation and analysis. However, the impact of market forces is central to many of the issues that arise, and it has been proposed that research centred on this topic could provide the best starting point (Ruiz Pérez and Arnold, 1996).

Supporting local collective management of forests

Strong promotion of communal management, often at the urging of donors, has frequently imposed pressures on forestry bureaucracies that they have often found difficult to absorb. The shifts in the demands put upon foresters have been profound, and criticisms that they have failed to respond appropriately have often aggravated their problems. Needs for change have sometimes been promoted ahead of the capacity to implement them. A period of consolidation could now be desirable, to allow more consideration of how best to address the difficulties that forest departments have encountered in adapting to management of forests as common property.

It is important to ensure that the institutional underpinnings of change are in place before initiating interventions. Though recognition of the importance of changes in attitudes and skills has led to a strong donor focus on training, this is unlikely to be productive unless it is preceded or accompanied by changes in the underlying culture and operating structures of forest departments (Hobley, 1996b).

Another important area that often needs to be addressed is that of achieving rapid progress in providing support and regulatory services over large areas without becoming centralized and dependent on standard approaches that cannot be adapted to the various types of situations encountered. Pilot projects that test and refine different approaches initially on a small scale constitute one well-tried approach. However, these have a higher cost in terms of the time and resources of the implementing agency, and it is necessary to develop strategies for moving from the pilot to the operational scale.

It may also be necessary to examine which state institutions are most likely to be effective in providing support to local collective management of forests. On occasion this may be more appropriately handled by an institution other than the forest department. A related issue is that of the role of NGOs, and the most appropriate balance between government and non-government institutions, in creating the support infrastructure for this area of forest governance and management.

More broadly, it may be necessary at this stage in many national programmes to critically examine the impact of shared and collective forest management initiatives by the state. Some observers have noticed a tendency to assess progress in terms of institutional change, or in terms of more effective and lower-cost protection of forests, rather than in terms of impacts on villagers' lives.

Local factors affecting capacity to organize and manage

As shown in Chapter 4, in the section entitled. "Identifying local circumstances favourable to common property management," analysis of experience has by now identified a number of factors that appear to be associated with successful local collective management of forest resources and products. To recapitulate, key factors include clear group membership criteria; the right to organize; the existence of a resource with definable boundaries; dependence on internal rather than external institutions; realistic internally set and monitored rules; and low-cost conflict resolution mechanisms (McKean and Ostrom, 1995; Rasmussen and Meinzen-Dick, 1995).

In a number of respects, the basic requisites for effective local institutions are therefore now clearer. Considerable experience of providing support to such local institutions has also accumulated (Thomson and Freudenberger, 1997). This has helped identify areas in which further research should refine understanding of the circumstances and institutional mechanisms appropriate to successful management of forest as common property. Issues that should benefit from further investigation include the following:

· Characteristics of the resource or output that facilitate collective control - For instance, recent analysis has suggested that it is easier to develop control and management systems for resources that generate stationary products (e.g. fuelwood) than for resources that produce mobile outputs (e.g. wildlife), and that ease of management is related to the cost and difficulty with which information needed for management decisions can be generated (e.g. data on potential sustain-able yield) (Ostrom et al., 1994).

· Measures to enable collective management regimes to deal with growing commercial demands - Such measures could include defining circumstances that would make it necessary to develop separate arrangements for managing the resource and its products, or would require creation of cooperatives or NGOs to provide technical and marketing services, or would make it necessary for the user group to register as a corporation.

· The impact of size and composition of user groups on their durability and effectiveness-Issues that need clarification include the circumstances under which the advantages of small group homogeneity are likely to be offset by the benefits that larger groups often enjoy; ways to maintain consensus and uniformity of purpose as groups become larger and more internally differentiated; and circumstances that favour collaboration among similar user groups, or their integration within larger 'nested' organizational structures, in order to achieve the advantages of larger size while maintaining the benefits of small size.

To sum up, with the first generation of government and donor programmes in support of collective forest management now well advanced in several countries, opportunities are emerging to take advantage of the experience that has accumulated, and the growing understanding of lessons that can be drawn from this experience, to target management of forests as common property more effectively. In doing so, it is important to recognize that some situations are further advanced than others in the process of building up or strengthening common property regimes. For some, the focus will have to be on exploring the potential for local collective management, identifying constraints and determining the scope for their removal. For others, the need will be to reinforce existing systems and ensure an enabling legislative environment and a forest department that can properly perform a supportive role. For those in areas where the process has reached the stage of largely self-sufficient local collective systems, the principal need is likely to be to ensure that they are not hampered in consolidating and improving on what has been achieved.

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