Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Research Report

Bridging the Gap:: Communities, Forests and International Networks

Marcus Colchester
Tejaswini Apte
Michel Laforge
Alois Mandondo
Neema Pathak
Copyright Date: Jan. 1, 2003
Pages: 72
  • Cite this Item

Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 1-3)

    Since the 1978 World Forestry Congress, community forestry has become a major theme in international forestry debates. The idea that forests should primarily be managed to meet people’s needs, especially the needs of the rural poor, has struck a strong chord with many developing country governments and development agencies. Just how this is best achieved and reconciled with the other demands for forest resources by industry, for export and by urban populations, has secured less unanimity and not just because of different national situations. To what extent should forests be devolved to local control, and be owned and managed by...

  2. (pp. 4-7)

    Human beings living in communities have been dependent on forests for their livelihoods for tens of thousands of years. Archaeological evidence reveals that people have been managing forests for sustained timber production, through practices such as coppicing and rotational harvests, for at least six thousand years and quite likely much longer.³ However, forestry as a science emerged in Europe during the early years of the industrial revolution as a response to forests being cleared for agriculture and for fuelwood and timber for burgeoning industries. Scientific forestry as conceived by those early foresters sought to remove forests from the control and...

  3. (pp. 7-13)

    The international community forestry networks reviewed in this study emerged at very different moments in this history and in response to very diverse challenges and perceived needs. The earliest networks such as the RDFN and RECOFTC were formed principally as mechanisms for sharing the growing knowledge and experiences of community forestry among professional foresters and students, through information dissemination and training. While RECOFTC focused on sharing the message within Asia, the RDFN, which has a long record of academic excellence, gave a strong emphasis to transferring the experiences and lessons learned in Asia to practitioners in Africa, where community forestry...

  4. (pp. 13-15)

    Although networks have very diverse functions and ways of interacting, the actual tools they all use are surprisingly similar. Commonly used tools encountered during the investigation are listed in Table 3.

    As suggested in the table, the tools can be divided into two sets. One-way tools are appropriate for reaching large numbers (hundreds or thousands) of participants. Iowever, while they are suitable for disseminating large amounts of information, they are not best suited to encouraging feedback, dialogue, and shared decision-making. Two-way tools are useful for reaching much smaller numbers of people at any one time and they encourage dialogue, interaction,...

  5. (pp. 15-16)

    One of the strongest impressions that comes from the case studies in this review is of the great difficulties international networks have in reaching the local level. Obstacles created by inadequate analysis of local contexts, limited targeting of partners, inappropriate communications, language barriers, resource constraints, cultural differences, and capacity limitations confront all networks.

    Some of the global networks such as the IUCN-CIFM, RDFN, and FTPP were clear from the outset that they did not expect to directly reach the local level. The cost however may have been to generate a heightened sense of exclusion among the target beneficiaries. Many of...

  6. (pp. 16-17)

    The highly politicised nature of global forestry negotiations, in which forests have become a political football in a wider intergovernmental tussle for additional aid and better terms of trade for the South and technology transfer, has meant that forest policy is not subject to a legally binding instrument. Advocacy at the international level has shifted between a wide array of more or less influential international fora that have appeared to offer means for leveraging change in target countries–the World Bank especially in the early 1980s, Tropical Forestry Action Plan (FAO, World Bank and UNDP) in the later 1980s, the...

  7. (pp. 17-19)

    Community forestry may have endured in various forms for thousands of years. In today’s global markets, with skewed tenure regimes, inequitable subsidy systems, and destructive resource extraction being the norm, sustainable community forestry often is uncompetitive and economically unviable in market terms (though it remains crucial to local livelihoods and markets).42 Especially in Latin America and Africa, where agrarian systems are relatively less involuted than Asia43 and where connections to global markets more direct, the promotion and revival of community forestry may require substantial start-up funds. If structural and market reforms do not soon follow, recurrent costs may also require...

  8. (pp. 19-22)

    Since the 1970s, an estimated 20,000 transnational civil society networks have come into being, and although studies show that accountability is the key to the long term health of networks, relatively few of these have democratic systems of governance and accountability. Are networks trying to have it both ways, demanding standards of accountability from governments and the private sector, which they are not prepared to adhere to themselves?50

    Suggested indicators that international networks should use to assess their accountability to the grassroots include the following:

    demonstrable benefits to constituents;

    shared information, including local knowledge;

    representation in advocacy and network decision-making;...

  9. (pp. 22-25)

    Like activists in many other sectors,57 advocates of community forestry have recognised that the main challenges to the adoption and spread of community forestry come from vested interests–those who benefit from the present system, which gives them preferential access to forest resources and forest lands. The promotion of community forests implies a transfer of both resources and power in favour of local communities. In most national contexts, the empowerment of communities implies the disempowerment of others who contest their rights of access to, and control of, forests. Although it is conceivable that these shifts of control over resources can...

  10. (pp. 25-43)

    The community forestry of today is radically different from the community forestry that was promoted by foresters 25 years ago. Not only has the model of community forestry changed–towards one that gives far more emphasis to rights, local control, customary institutions, and traditional knowledge–but the framework for discussions about community forestry has also transformed. Today community forestry is analysed and discussed as one of many elements in local livelihoods and as one of several components in the national and international frameworks that control its implementation. Advocacy in favour of community forestry now focuses as much on legal, political,...