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Sustainable forest management in a changing world


Don Gilmour*



The term "sustainable development" is defined as: "... improving the quality of human life while living within the carrying capacity of supporting ecosystems."There is a clear intention in this definition of explicitly bringing together both the human well being and biophysical components implicit within the concept.


Forest management authorities have responded to the global focus on sustainable development by embracing a significant shift in forest policy from one which emphasised sustainable harvesting of dominant products, primarily wood fibre, to one which emphasises stewardship of a complex, valuable natural resource system yielding a broad mix of goods and services.


Most countries are going through policy reform processes and there are some common themes in the direction that these are taking. Governments are down-sizing (reducing the size of their bureaucracies) and decentralising forest management decision-making to lower levels and (in many cases) devolving responsibility (and sometimes authority) to various elements of civil society such as NGOs and local communities.


There is a growing recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities in regard to their involvement in decision-making about managing natural resources over which they exercise some claim. Past government actions that nationalised forests frequently disenfranchised these people and put them "outside" the law.


Governments around the world have adopted various forms of participatory natural resource management during the past few decades in an attempt to engage with a wide range of stakeholders. The phrase "collaborative management" is becoming increasingly popular as a generic description of a range of approaches involving some form of collaboration between government and other stakeholders, particularly those groups whose livelihoods are intimately linked with the resource. Collaborative approaches to resource management involve recognition of:

·        the need to integrate conservation and development;

·        the legitimacy of the rights of local people to secure their economic future; and

·        the value of seeking the active involvement of local people in environmental care and management.







Publication of the World Conservation Strategy in 1980 (IUCN/UNEP/WWF, 1980) gave currency to the term "sustainable development", which emphasised the link between conservation and development. The Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED, 1987) titled Our Common Future (The Bruntland Report) stressed the need for integrating environment and economic development objectives to ensure sustainable development. Caring for the Earth published by IUCN, UNEP and WWF in 1991 further reinforced the importance of harmonising ecological and economic approaches to the use of natural resources. The Rio Earth Summit in 1992 focused international attention as never before on the central role of conservation in our long term interaction with the planet's resources. Perhaps one of the most important international initiatives of recent years has been the widespread adoption of the ideas included within the notion of biodiversity conservation as it applies to resource management. All of these initiatives represented important steps in the process of institutionalising an environmental agenda into the psyche of government and industry as well as the general population. While the term "sustainable development" is often interpreted in different ways depending on the perceptions of different interest groups, as used in this paper, it refers to the definition given in Caring for the Earth:


"... improving the quality of human life while living within the carrying capacity of supporting ecosystems." (p.10).


There is a clear intention in this definition of explicitly bringing together the human well being and biophysical components which are often implicit in discussions of sustainable development. The emphasis on sustainable development has emerged in international forestry (and other land management) agencies in re-statements of policy objectives and management guidelines and in some cases, in re-vamped legislation. For example, the International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO) has developed guidelines for the sustainable management of natural and planted tropical forests (ITTO, 1990; 1991). In 1993, ITTO added guidelines for the conservation of biological diversity in tropical production forests as an annex to the sustainable management guidelines. In 1990 the ITTO Council adopted a resolution that all internationally traded tropical timber should come from sustainably managed forests by the year 2000.





As the ideas contained within strategies such as Caring for the Earth have been translated into policy statements, the concept of sustainable development has become widely accepted in relation to the management of natural resources. This has also affected attitudes about the way in which conservation objectives are defined and met.


The traditional approach to meeting forest conservation needs has been to design a protected area network to ensure that a representative sample of bioregions is preserved. This policy is still at the heart of the conservation agendas of most countries. While laudable in itself, it is clear that this approach by itself is not sufficient to cater for the conservation needs of most resources. There are several reasons for this.


·        In many countries it is very difficult to enact a policy of strict preservation of protected areas because of factors which may include:


Ø     lack of institutional capacity,


Ø     lack of political will, often exacerbated by institutionalised corruption,


Ø     severe pressure by local populations (forest dwelling or forest dependent) to utilise the resources for subsistence or commercial use. Amend and Amend (1992) in a review of South America's National Parks, found that 86% of them had permanent human populations engaged in economic activities within the park.  J. McNeely ( estimates that, worldwide, more than 80% of protected areas have people living in them. We are also witnessing growing demands by indigenous peoples for access to resources for both traditional and commercial purposes. It is important to recognise that in many cases the resources traditionally belonged to these people, but as central governments have expanded their control they have typically nationalised land and forests thereby disenfranchising the traditional owners. One could argue that providing traditional communities with access to resources is simply restoring a system which previously had led to great biodiversity and, arguably, sustainable forms of relationships with resources.


·        It has become recognised that it is no longer sufficient to have a land use system which caters for conservation needs only within defined protected areas while other areas are managed free of conservation requirements. This has led to two important policy changes.


Ø      The ideas behind protected area categorisation and management have undergone substantial change. Internationally recognised criteria for defining protected areas were first published in 1978. These made provision for 10 categories, of which at least half enabled significant human involvement in the protected area, with management designed to achieve objectives of sustained use of resources. A more recent revision of these categories (IUCN, 1994) has reduced the total number to six of which only Category VI (Management Resource Protected Areas) is explicitly designed to cover the sustainable use of resources.


Ø      Perhaps more importantly, it is no longer possible to consider development without considering conservation - the two need to be integrated, although the unifying theory is not self evident. This perception, as discussed in the introduction to this paper, has led to a re-evaluation of resource management aims and objectives. Worldwide, the protected area network covers 8.2% of the land area with only 5.3% in category I and II reserves  (McNeely, 1994). Management of the area outside the formal protected areas is increasingly seen as requiring a conservation agenda as an integral part of the production agenda.


Many forest management authorities have responded to the focus on sustainable development by embracing a significant shift in forest policy from one which emphasised sustainable harvesting of dominant products, primarily wood fibre, to one which emphasises stewardship of a complex, valuable natural resource system. This new policy environment tends to be referred to by a variety of names including "ecological forestry", "sustainable forestry" or "ecologically sustainable forestry". In the United States, terms such as "new forestry" and "new perspectives" are used (Franklin, 1992). All imply the sustainable management of forest resources for a broad, optimal mix of values, and all include notions of biodiversity conservation within their mandate.





Several concepts have been mentioned which are widely used within the debate on natural resource management in general and the conservation debate in particular. One of the difficulties in translating these concepts into actions is that, by and large, they have been debated in the abstract, rather than on the basis of relevant field experience. As a result, the concepts themselves, and the linkages between the various components being discussed, are clouded in uncertainty and ambiguity. Some of the practical realities associated with these concepts are now discussed.


3.1.   Conservation-development linkages


In terms of conservation actions, part of the logic implicit within the sustainable development concept (at least for many developing countries) has been to link the conservation of a particular resource with the perceived development needs of the population which is (at least partly) dependent on that resource for livelihood support. In its simplest form, the argument supporting this linking generally has three strands.


·        The first is that if the development needs of the local community can be met from alternate sources, this will lessen their impact on the resource to be conserved (alternative livelihood approach).


·        The second is that economically impoverished communities cannot be expected to be interested in conservation while their basic subsistence needs have not been met.  Consequently, efforts should be made to improve their socioeconomic well being so that they will be in a position to take more interest in resource conservation (economic development approach).


·        The third strand is that local communities are more likely to agree to conservation initiatives if they can be actively involved in the planning and management of resource use and if they can share in the benefits.  In this way resources can be conserved while at least some of the basic needs of the dependent population are met from sustainable utilisation of the resources (participatory planning approach).


All three strands of this argument have yet to be fully explored and tested, although many projects, often falling within the broad category of integrated conservation-development projects, have been implemented based on the presumption that the linkages are valid. Implicit in the third strand of this argument is the idea that knowledge is available about levels of resource use that will be sustainable. While this is rarely true in absolute terms there is probably sufficient expert knowledge available (local and other) to make a best bet decision on what is not sustainable, and this is a good starting point.





During the past two decades forest management agencies worldwide have been forced to re-assess the way in which they define and carry out their forest management mandate because of rapidly changing conditions, both internally and externally. The globalisation of the world economy (in particular the opening up of national economies to international market forces) has created changed economic circumstances that have necessitated changes to the institutional arrangements for resource management. Structural adjustment policies of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have been major influences driving these changes in developing countries and countries with economies in transition. However, the same imperative is affecting other countries through the related drive for economic rationalisation.


Most countries are going through policy reform processes and there are some common themes in the direction that these are taking. Governments are down-sizing (reducing the size of their bureaucracies) and decentralising forest management decision-making to lower levels and (in many cases) devolving responsibility (and sometimes authority) to various elements of civil society such as NGOs and local communities (see Box 1 for an example from Madhya Pradesh in India). In many countries forests (and other natural resources) are being privatised or semi-privatised. These changes are rarely taking place because of ideological reasons, but rather for purely pragmatic ones of improving economic efficiency, although some of the changes are perceived as being appropriate for increasing democratisation.




Box 1. Deepening of democracy – an example from India


The introduction of 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act 1993 in India has opened a new chapter in the process of deepening of democracy through the establishment of a three-tier Panchayati Raj system (local self-government). The state of Madhya Pradesh became the first in the country to establish this system. Through a separate act in 1995, provision was made for a district level planning committee. The committee headed by a minister to be nominated by the state government is expected to synthesize the plans prepared by the lower levels and prepare development plans for the district as a whole. The functions related to 23 departments were transferred to enable these bodies to plan and implement programs of economic development and social justice.


Madhya Pradesh in a historical decision has further restructured its governance by introducing District Government in April 1999. A wide range of powers that were earlier vested with the state government and the heads of the departments have been devolved to the district planning committee, which has been made the institutional base of the district government. The committee, mainly composed of people’s representatives, is expected to solve the local problems locally.  Thus, the delegation of authority accompanies proportional enhancement of accountability. It is envisaged that the district government would foster and encourage an administration that is decentralized, people oriented, sensitive and accountable.

These initiatives have been complemented by efforts of the government departments to promote the constitution of pluralistic village level institutions such as village forest committee, forest protection committee, eco-development committee, watershed committee, fish-worker cooperative, minor forest produce cooperative etc. These institutions provide fora for democratic deliberations by the villagers.


In another landmark decision the state government closed the divisional offices (a level between district and state government) of most of the government departments from 1st July 1999. The de-layering of the public administration has been done with the aim of speeding up decision-making.


Source: R.K. Singh (






The combination of a changing macro-economic environment and a changing mandate for forest management means that forest management agencies are operating in a new and different environment—one for which their staff has little training. In the new globalised economy, governments can no longer justify large and expensive bureaucracies. One consequence of this combination of factors has been a reduction in the staffing levels of many forest management (and other) agencies. In many cases there are no longer large numbers of on-the-ground forest managers (in some countries there never were very many). Many agencies during the 1980s pursued institutional strengthening as a way of improving their ability to exercise control over their forests. This was often translated, in part, to mean more and better trained government staff. The focus has now shifted towards institutional change, which includes seeking ways to enable government policy to be implemented with fewer (not more) staff. Agencies are seeking new and innovative arrangements, often involving strategic alliances with a variety of stakeholders in order to bridge the gap between local level interests and the interests of government (Scherl et al. 1994).


There are several other factors that are leading to changes in how forest management is perceived and carried out.


There is a growing recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities in regard to their involvement in decision-making about managing natural resources over which they exercise some claim. This is particularly the case in situations where indigenous (and other) communities are living in and around forests and using forest resources for subsistence purposes or for generating cash income. Past government actions that nationalised forests frequently disenfranchised these people and put them "outside" the law. The rights of indigenous (and other) local communities are being increasingly recognised in national policy debates.


In many parts of the world civil society (such as NGOs and community groups) are demanding a greater say in the way that natural resources are used and the benefits accruing from them distributed. This is adding to pressures for government staff to become more transparent in their decision-making and to involve a wider range of stakeholders in the decisions. In addition, managers across both public and private sectors are realising that participatory approaches are likely to produce more viable outcomes than the centralised decision-making of the past.


The increasingly complex institutional environment described above infers that there are many autonomous and interdependent actors. This variety of interested groups (or pluralism) acknowledges a growing reality at the local, national and international levels (Anderson et al. 1998). This has broad ramifications for sustainable forest management, and approaches to policy, planning and management. For example, at the local level, such as a forestry district, there are many groups that have a legitimate interest in the results of forest planning and the implementation of field programmes. These might include forest department staff, staff of other government departments (particularly agriculture and livestock), villagers, local authorities, conservation NGOs, forest industry organisations, etc. Acknowledging the differences that exist between the interests of these groups opens the way to building dynamic institutional frameworks for sustainable forestry.



Box 2. Key concepts for pluralism in sustainable forestry


·        Different groups have and always will have different experiences, positions, opinions and objectives on sustainable forest management and rural development.

·        Groups are autonomous and independent; there is no single, absolute and permanent solution to any substantive natural resource management problem – for any given land unit there is no single, absolute, sustainable management land use scenario (there are numerous "sustainable scenarios").

·        No group/organisation can claim a superior or absolute scenario.

·        Sustainable forestry and rural development decision-making is no longer the sole mandate of expert authorities.

·        A system of organisational checks and balances is central for avoiding errors of a narrow single entity management system – this is the positive aspect of "bounded conflict".

·        Conflicts are inevitable and cannot always be resolved but must be managed.

·        Equity in decision-making is a distant but worthy ideal.

·        Platforms, mediators and facilitators are often needed to provide the conditions for negotiation and cooperation needed for sustainable forest management.

·        Communication is essential and helps participants understand their differences better.

·        Consensus is unlikely but progress can be achieved without it.

·        Approaches to sustainable forest management that aim at consensus are often misguided and unsustainable.

·        Proactive approaches and new processes of sustainable forest management decision-making in pluralistic environments are emerging – more experience is needed.


Source: Anderson et al. (1998)



In this new management environment, the role of government staff is changing from one that emphasised direct control over forest management (often with strong policing and licensing functions) to one that emphasises facilitating a process of broadly based participation of key interest groups in forest management. The direct authority and responsibility for forest management decision-making is often passing to others (or at least being shared by others). This, by its very nature, requires a more participatory style of management, involving working with a range of stakeholders with different interests in forests. It is a management style for which few government staff are trained. The traditional training of forest managers focuses on technical aspects of management—such things as silviculture, inventory, harvesting and marketing. The more participatory style of management discussed above requires additional skills to complement those traditionally taught. Most of these relate to understanding and applying social processes (dealing with "people" issues) and facilitating change by working with a wide range of stakeholders. Box 3 gives a description of the roles and responsibilities of typical mid-level participatory forest managers.



Box 3. Roles and responsibilities of mid-level forest managers


Mid-level managers in government agencies (such as Regional Forestry Officers (RFOs), District or Sub-district Forestry Officers (DFOs) or their equivalents) generally have broad and complex management responsibility. They are ultimately responsible for ensuring that an entire activity, initiative or group of initiatives are planned and carried out effectively from beginning to end. Managers may be responsible for managing a number of initiatives and field staff at the same time.


The mid-level managers face two primary challenges in carrying out their work:

                i.            Participatory management is more complex than traditional management: In a participatory management environment, managers do not direct others or act autonomously.  They facilitate decision-making and co-ordination.  They work with teams of people, and rely on verbal and written communication.  They may face more conflict, and they must find ways to build a sense of responsibility among staff and initiative collaborators.  For these and other reasons, including lack of training, participatory management is perceived to be more difficult and complex than traditional management. Many managers have never had any training in either general management or in the more complex participatory management.

             ii.            Managers are often trained in a technical field such as forestry but are in positions where their management skills are more important than their technical skills.  Due to time and resource constraints, they may spend little time in the ‘field’ themselves, but rely on field staff to conduct activities by working with communities and other stakeholders.



It is clear that a major trend in recent years has been one of constant change, and it seems likely that continuing change will be with us well into the future. If bureaucracies are going to survive and prosper in times of constant change, they must learn to adapt to that change and constantly re-invent themselves. If they cannot do this, they may well become irrelevant. Two key requirements in this dynamic setting are:


·        The need to be flexible and adaptive;

·        The need to develop, value and effectively use a "learning", exploratory and responsive organisational culture so that the staff can analyse changing situations and respond effectively to them.





One result of the changing policy focus discussed above is that forest management is becoming more sophisticated (and challenging) as managers try to balance multiple objectives and work with multiple stakeholders.


6.1.   A spectrum of management approaches


The discussion in the previous section suggested that forest managers need to change towards becoming more participatory and less focused on licencing and policing. However, this apparent dichotomy, with technical managers on one hand and participatory managers on the other is too simplistic. The reality is that in many cases the management style found in agencies falls somewhere along a spectrum between these two extremes. It is useful to describe the major elements of management style and approach that characterise different parts of the spectrum. The following table characterises organisations with different levels of participation in planning and implementation.








Central control over planning and implementation (strongly hierarchical)


Participatory planning and centralised control over implementation


Participatory planning and shared (joint) implementation


Participatory planning and devolved implementation


Devolved planning and implementation (strongly participatory)


6.2.   A word on participation


The spectrum of management approaches outlined above draws attention to the increasing importance of participation in the process of planning for and implementing resource management as one moves down the spectrum. The question arises, "participation by whom and for what?" The following discussion on participation is drawn from Ingles et al. (1999).


There are many ways for people to participate in decisions about the use of natural resources. There are extreme approaches such as going to war or court, and various passive and active approaches provided in specific decision-making processes. The different approaches require different levels of participation, corresponding to different underlying objectives for participation in each process. These characteristics provide a basis for making a classification of participatory approaches (see Figure 1).


Figure 1. Six types of participatory approaches based on their main objective



Clearly, some of these approaches are more suited to promoting collaboration in forest management than others. The two most appropriate approaches are catalysing group decisions and sharing decision-making[1]. It is clear then, that participation covers a wide range of approaches with the level of participation changing as one moves along the spectrum.


6.3.   Collaborative management


The phrase "collaborative management" is becoming increasingly popular as a generic description of a range of approaches involving some form of collaboration between government and other stakeholders, particularly those groups whose livelihoods are intimately linked with the resource. Fisher (1995) has suggested that collaborative approaches to resource management involve a recognition of:


·        the need to integrate conservation and development;

·        the legitimacy of the rights of local people to secure their economic future; and

·        the value of seeking the active involvement of local people in environmental care and management.


Collaborative management of forests refers to[2]:

·        the arrangements for management which are negotiated by multiple stakeholders and based on a set of rights and privileges (tenurial arrangements[3]) that is recognised by the government and widely accepted by resource users; and,

·        the process for sharing power among stakeholders to make decisions and exercise control over resource use.


The definition of collaborative management covers a wide range of activities and programmes that have been promoted in recent years under various titles such as:

·        Social forestry;

·        Community forestry;

·        Joint forest management;

·        Co-management of protected areas;

·        Adaptive collaborative management.


Such programmes include situations where stakeholders work together on the management of a single resource (such as a park or block of forest) and where they co-operatively address management issues of common interest (such as protecting a forest, minimising soil erosion, carrying out sustainable harvesting and equitable sharing of benefits).


Collaborative management implies that there are two or more separate parties involved. The concept of a stakeholder is useful to help explain this point. The interest may arise for a variety of reasons such as being dependent on the resource for subsistence or commercial survival, having cultural or historical ties to it, living nearby, or holding delegated responsibilities for its welfare. Stakeholders can be thought of as those parties who are affected directly or indirectly by management decisions, in a positive or negative way. It includes those who can influence such decisions, as well as those who would like to influence decisions. (See next section for more discussion on stakeholders.)


So, collaborative management is something that is done by multiple stakeholders. This feature alone represents a major difference to more conventional forms of management where one party retains sole responsibility for decision-making and other stakeholders remain at the periphery.


Commonly, the approach to management is tied to tenure, which defines the bundle and allocation of rights and privileges to use the resource (Fisher, 1995). In general terms, various tenure systems can be grouped into the four categories of state, private, communal, and open-access property. Of course, the recognition of tenure depends on who you are. The state may not recognise some private or communal rights that are accepted by local resource users, and conversely, local users may not respect some claims of ownership made by the state through its various government bodies. At various times, new claims emerge or old ones are questioned. When disputes about rights and privileges exist, management is problematic because there will be a lack of confidence in whether decisions made by either party will be agreed to or followed.


Collaborative management implies that government and resource users agree about tenure, thus providing a foundation of confidence and legitimacy for management. If disagreements arise, collaboration implies that there will be a willingness to resolve differences and an effort to negotiate an acceptable tenure arrangement. Whether it is active or passive, the hand of government is usually present in some way in collaborative management systems, even if it is restricted to approving the allocation of rights and privileges for using and managing the resource.


Often, governments are interested in setting limits on use rights and the way resources areexploited by those who hold rights. These limits can be set and imposed by the government alone or they can be established through a negotiation process that allows the participation of those who will be affected. Collaborative management implies that a participatory process is followed because rights and limits to exploitation are central to management as they determine who will benefit, by how much, and under what constraints.


Some degree of power-sharing in making decisions and controlling outcomes is a pre-condition for any system of collaborative management. Meaningful participation in a negotiation process is impossible without some power to influence the results. Without power there is no bargaining position and negotiation becomes a one-sided affair.


6.4.   Identifying and working with a range of stakeholders


6.4.1.     Stakeholders and coalitions


It is rare that there are only two groups with a serious interest in the outcome of forest management, although many programmes are planned and implemented as though that was the case. For example, programme planners may perceive that the district office of the forest department and the village leaders of a forest dependent community may be the key actors to engage in a discussion about developing a community forest agreement, and plan a discussion accordingly. However, the reality will inevitably be that there are many other groups that will have an interest in the final outcome. Some of these interest groups could be:


In the village:

·        NTFP collectors

·        Fuel wood collectors

·        Graziers

·        Poor farmers

·        Rich farmers

·        Women

·        Men


Outside the village:

·        Adjacent villagers

·        Concessionaires

·        Petty traders

·        Senior people in government

·        Politicians

·        Other government agencies

·        NGO’s


All of these groups could be considered stakeholders (see Box 4 for a succinct discussion of stakeholders), and unless they are identified and brought into the process, the results are unlikely to be acceptable by one or another group. This is particularly the case where individuals or groups wield considerable power or influence as they can easily subvert the outcome if it is not to their liking. Hobley (1999) has described a process of "mapping the institutional landscape" which is helpful in developing an understanding of the relationships that exist between different stakeholder groups. Hobley emphasises the importance of disaggregating the groups and looking critically at the underlying power relations between different individuals and groups. Often focusing on just two groups (as in the example given earlier of the forest agency and the village political leaders) tends to hide the complex net of other interacting relationships that exist. Meaningful change can not take place until the relationships that determine the interactions between the different groups are identified and taken into account in determining the outcomes.



Box 4. A definition of stakeholders


Stakeholders are the various institutions, social groups and individuals who possess a direct, significant and specific stake in the resource. The stake may originate from institutional mandate, geographic proximity, historical association, dependence for livelihood, economic interest and a variety of other capacities and concerns. In general:


·        Stakeholders are usually aware of their interest in the management of the resource (although they may not be aware of all the management issues and problems);

·        Stakeholders usually possess specific capacities (e.g. proximity, mandate) for such management; and

·        Stakeholders are usually willing to invest specific resources (e.g. time, money, political authority) in such management.


Not all stakeholders are equally interested in resource management, nor are they equally entitled to have a role in management. For the sake of effectiveness and equity, it is often necessary to distinguish between them on the basis of some agreed criteria.


Source: Borrini-Feyerabend (1996)


A clear consequence of this discussion is that planning and implementation needs to take an holistic rather than a narrow sectoral view, and move towards developing a coalition for forest management (DFID 1999), see Box 5.



Box 5. Coalitions for managing forests


A coalition is a collection of disparate groups sharing a common interest. Experience shows substantial benefits if a coalition of different stakeholder groups is involved in forest management. However, building new coalitions for forest management can involve quite radical change.


Initially, groups are unlikely to share the same objectives. But a successful coalition needs members to find and share a mutual goal. A shared vision helps groups work together – even when how to reach this mutual goal has still to be agreed.


The coalition approach is an active one:


·        Agreeing change is necessary

·        Committing to the coalition

·        Believing participation is the best way forward

·        Using transparent decision-making methods

·        Compromising through negotiation


Each group needs to feel empowered to contribute. Empowered groups who understand their environment, and the forces shaping it, are more likely to promote change. By working in partnership – and negotiating compromises – groups can help create robust management systems. 


Source: DFID (1999)



6.4.2.     Brokering agreements


The discussion of stakeholders highlights the institutional complexity that often accompanies discussions on collaborative resource management. Sometimes the major role of forest management agencies is to facilitate a dialogue with village forest users and then move towards developing a collaborative management arrangement with them. However, in some cases a major player may be a logging concessionaire who may have legal authority to carry out logging of a forest where people live and over which they have a de facto claim. The role of the forest management agency in this situation will involve acting as an honest broker and brokering an arrangement involving both the major players (the villagers and the concessionaire) while not forgetting the legitimate interests of other stakeholders. This is something that the field staff can rarely do unaided because of the high stakes involved, and the level of power that goes with the high stakes. Senior managers would more than likely need to become personally involved in the negotiation process and draw in other senior government staff.   




6.5.   Techniques for successful participatory management


One of the reasons hindering the adoption of participatory processes at the interface between mid-level managers and their field staff is that mid-level managers frequently do not know what to do to support participatory processes in their immediate workplace. Most work on participatory processes has focused on the interface between field operators and individuals and communities they are supposed to be helping.


It is often perceived as being very difficult to shift the internal culture of a bureaucracy from a traditional top-down management style to a participatory one. However, not all the planning processes need to be turned upside down. What is most important is for clear, realistic and achievable objectives to be determined in a participatory way in the bureaucracy, and used to plan and design meaningful activities in the field. The methodological framework of action-research provides an excellent reference point for working with staff in a collaborative fashion to carry out the regular activities associated with planning, implementation and evaluation. (Fisher 1999; Fisher and Jackson 1998)


6.6.   Gender and equity issues


There are important ethical and practical reasons why participatory forestry should be concerned with equity. The ethical reason is that participatory forestry is most likely to meet the needs of diverse groups if their interests are taken into account. The practical reason is that if key groups of stakeholders do not feel that their needs have been adequately addressed, they are unlikely to abide by major management decisions, and the whole programme may be in jeopardy. It is inappropriate to design a programme aimed at economic development which ignores the interests of disadvantaged groups or which makes them worse off. Ensuring that the legitimate interests of disadvantaged groups are met and that their needs are provided for requires active attempts to "empower" these groups to enhance their effective role in decision-making. This concept of "empowerment" is important because rural societies are rarely homogeneous and egalitarian and because wealthy and powerful individuals are frequently able to "capture" the benefits of development programmes for themselves.


Empowerment involves recognising the various elements in a heterogeneous society and consciously focusing attention on disadvantaged elements. The clearest example of the need to do this (and the difficulties involved) is the involvement of women. Women are often major collectors of forest products, and consequently their day-to-day decisions about what products to take and what to leave are critical to the long term condition of the forest. In many countries women are seriously disadvantaged members of a seriously disadvantaged rural society.


A common approach to addressing the special needs of women is to establish a separate women's programme, with women's committees to develop special activities such as various kinds of income generation activities. While this approach is not unimportant, it can have the effect of continuing to marginalise women from mainstream activities. The problem is how to involve women in core activities without marginalising them by setting up separate women's activities. This is best done by consciously dealing with women as a legitimate and important interest group in negotiations about forest management. Women should be involved through a process of "focused integration" (Siddiqi 1989). In other words, they should be integrated in normal activities, but efforts should be made to ensure that they are actively involved. This is not easy, but there is no real alternative. Unless women are involved in normal activities, unless their interests are considered and their voices are heard, then they will continue to be marginalised.


6.7.   Making mistakes is OK


Bureaucracies are characterised as being risk-averse, which means that the people in them tend to avoid taking risks wherever possible. Making mistakes is often penalised, whereas being successful in achieving strategic objectives rarely brings rewards. It is thus often easier (and more rewarding) to do nothing except satisfy bureaucratic demands, rather than attempting to do something constructive. This cultural norm can act as a constraint in introducing participatory processes. By its very nature a participatory culture conveys uncertainty and therefore risk. Action takes place within an uncertain and complex operational environment, where learning occurs from reflecting on practical experiences. In this setting, it is inevitable that progress will be made not in a direct, linear fashion, but rather in a circumlocutious fashion with a lot of trial and error (and of course, reflection leading to learning). With such a process, mistakes will be made as part of the trial and error approach to mutual learning and to moving forward. Making mistakes must be seen as a legitimate outcome (albeit an unintended one), and one that is discussed openly in order to learn the lessons from the mistakes. Mid-level managers have a responsibility of making staff feel comfortable with talking openly about their mistakes. This should be done in a positive and constructive fashion rather than a denigrating one. This can be helped if the managers themselves are able to share with their staff their own mistakes. This may be threatening to perceived status at first, but can lead to a more open, trusting and sharing culture, and one that is mutually supportive.





Over the past 20 years, international attention has focused on the plight of tropical forests, issues of resource degradation, declining biodiversity and the impact of decreasing forest resources on global climate. At the international level, until quite recently, proportionately less attention has been focused on local issues of decreasing access to forest resources and the implications for local people dependent on forests for securing their livelihoods. In recognition of this, many recently developed forestry programmes have sought to improve the well-being of forest-dependent villagers and put people rather than trees first.


Forest management agencies need to find ways forward on the following key challenges:



Governments around the world have adopted various forms of participatory natural resource management during the past few decades. In some countries the approaches have become wide spread and have been incorporated into national policy and translated into large scale field programmes. Community Forestry in Nepal and Joint Forest Management in India are examples of this. As these programmes have evolved, a substantial effort has gone into developing training material to assist those field staff who interact directly with communities to acquire the skills that are needed to become more effective participatory agents. See for example the FAO Community Forestry series of publications such as FAO 1989a; FAO 1989b; FAO 1990 and FAO 1994 as well as material developed by others eg. Jackson, et al. 1996. The Regional Community Forestry Training Center (RECOFTC) in Bangkok is dedicated to promoting and carrying out training on participatory forest management.





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Anderson, J., J. Clement and L.V. Crowder (1998) Accommodating conflicting interests in forestry—concepts emerging from pluralism. Unasylva 194 Vol 49(3):3-10.


Arnstein, S.R. (1969) A ladder of citizen participation. American Institute of Planners Journal Vol 35:216-224.


Borrini-Feyerabend, G. (1996) Collaborative management of protected areas: tailoring the approach to the context. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.


DFID (1999) Shaping forest management: How coalitions manage forests. Department for International Development, London.


FAO (1989a) Community Forestry: Participatory Assessment, Monitoring and Evaluation. Community Forestry Note 2, Community Forestry Unit, FAO Rome.


FAO (1989b) Community Forestry: Rapid Appraisal. Community Forestry Note 3, Community Forestry Unit, FAO Rome.


FAO (1990) The Community Toolbox: The idea, methods and tools for participatory assessment, monitoring and evaluation in community forestry. Community Forestry Field Manual 2. Community Forestry Unit, FAO Rome.


FAO (1994) Tree and Land Tenure: Rapid Appraisal Tools. Community Forestry Unit, FAO Rome.


Fisher, R.J. (1995) Collaborative management of forests for conservation and development. Issues in Forest Conservation. IUCN and WWF, Gland, Switzerland.


Fisher, R.J. (1999) Participatory action research, Training Workshop Report, Vietnam, RECOFTC and CARE International.


Fisher, R.J. and W.J.Jackson (1998) Action research for collaborative management of protected areas. Workshop on Collaborative Management of Protected Areas in the Asian Region, Sauraha, Nepal.


Franklin, J.F. (1992).  Scientific basis for new perspectives in forests and streams.  In:Naiman, R.J. Ed. (1992).  Watershed Management: Balancing Sustainability and Environmental Change.  New York:Springer-Verlag. pp.25-72.


Hobley, M. (1999) Mapping the institutional landscape.(Draft).


Ingles, A.W., A. Musch and H. Qwist-Hoffman (1999) The participatory process for supporting collaborative management of natural resources. Community Forestry Unit, FAO, Rome, Italy.


ITTO (1990). ITTO Guidelines for the sustainable management of natural tropical forests.  ITTO Technical Series 5.  Yokohama, Japan, 18pp.


ITTO (1991). Report of working group on ITTO Guidelines for the establishment and sustainable management of planted tropical forests.  ITTO, Yokohama, Japan, 50pp.


IUCN (1994).  Guidelines for protected area management categories.  IUCN Commission on National Parks and Protected Areas.  IUCN, Gland,  Switzerland, 154 pp.


IUCN/UNEP/WWF (1980).  World Conservation Strategy: Living Resource Conservation for Sustainable Development.  IUCN, UNEP, WWF, Gland, Switzerland.


IUCN/UNEP/WWF (1991).  Caring for the Earth.  A Strategy for Sustainable Living. IUCN, UNEP, WWF, Gland, Switzerland, 228pp.


Jackson, W.J., Y.B.Malla, A.W.Ingles, H.B.Singh and D.A.Bond (1996) Community forestry for rural development in Nepal: A manual for training field workers. ANUTECH and AusAID.


McNeely, J.A. (1994).  Protected areas for the 21st century: Working to provide benefits to society.  Unasylva 45:3-7.


Scherl, L.M., D.S. Cassells and D.A. Gilmour (1994) Pluralistic planning - creating room for community action in the management of the global environment. Fifth Conference of International Symposium on Society and Resource Management, Fort Collins, Colorado, June 7-10, 1994.


Siddiqi, N. (1989) Towards effective participation – a guide for working with women in forestry. Technical Note 1/89, Nepal-Australia Forestry Project, Kathmandu, Nepal.


WCED (1987).  Our Common Future.  World Commission on Environment and Development.  Oxford University Press, Oxford, 400pp.



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[1] A decision-making process could use a mix of approaches at the same time. For example, participants might be involved in persuading, informing, and consulting each other in an overall process that leads to sharing a final decision.

[2] This definition excludes situations where local users are managing natural resources which are claimed under state-ownership, without having prior government approval. Such systems, referred to as “indigenous or traditional” management systems, are often effective and involve a lot of collaboration among users. However, the definition used here seeks to include only those collaborative arrangements that are legitimised and strengthened by government recognition. It should be stressed that identifying indigenous management systems and building upon their strengths are critical steps towards establishing management systems that do have government approval.

[3] The tenurial arrangements are not necessarily formal ones—they can be ad hoc or tacit.