Devolution Projects




Summary of Progress Reports
Creating Space for Local Forest Management

Center for International Forestry Research, Bogor


Asian Institute of Technology,
Bangkok East-West Center,
Honolulu Food and Agriculture Organization,
Rome Madhu Sarin,
Chandigarh Southwest Forestry College,
Kunming University of the Philippines,
Los Baños Vasundhara, Bhubaniswar, Orissa

Funding: IFAD
Start date: September 9, 1998
End date : September 8, 2001

Introduction: Competing Visions of Devolution

This joint research project focuses on the question "What kinds of government-civil society relations enable people living near forests to influence forest management decisions, improve their livelihood and enhance forest resources?" Over the last two decades forest agencies around the world have sought to restructure government-civil society relations in forest areas by decentralizing government decision-making and, in some cases, devolving management authority to local-level civil groups. Community-based organizations, NGOs and other civil society actors have also worked to change these relations, demanding more local control over forest management policy and practice.

Yet calls for devolution from government and local civil society often reflect different visions of the distribution of entitlements and responsibilities between the state and local people. Conflict persists between the state’s vision for devolution as a means for achieving better "forests" or expanded forest exports and local groups’ vision of devolution as a support for local livelihoods or as a means towards self-determination. Whether initiated by actors within civil society or by governments, assessments of devolution have been complicated by the different frames of reference that each group brings. The views of government foresters have tended to dominate formal evaluations. Thus concern about the impact on forest quality of a far-reaching transfer of authority for forest management to communities has thus also dominated discussions of devolution’s effectiveness. The perspectives of local civil society, especially of disadvantaged groups such as the poor, ethnic minorities and women have received less attention. Criteria related to just access to land, rights to self-determination and the definition of what constitutes a forest resource have been undervalued or dismissed as "political." The debate on how best to restructure government-civil society relations is framed by these competing visions of devolution.

Strategies for improving policies are therefore no longer confined to how to achieve the best form of technical management of forests according to forest departments. Instead, approaches based on local governance, pluralism and negotiation among multiple interests have also become central to finding new ways to structure government-civil society relations. To cope with complexities and uncertainty, the capacity for social learning among these multiple interests has also emerged as a key constraint. These issues have become central themes for developing alternative approaches to government-civil society relations that can improve the livelihoods of disadvantaged groups and enhance forest quality.

in press” 2009

German, L., A. Karsenty and A-.M. Tiani 2009. Governing Africa’s Forests in a Globalized World. London: Earthscan.






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