What enables successful community participation in forest management?

What enables successful community participation in forest management?

What enables successful community participation in forest management?

Encouraging local communities to participate in the management of forest resources is often seen as a way to avoid environmental degradation. But this approach can create problems, for example if it conflicts with development objectives.

Researchfrom the Centre for International Forestry Research presents a case study ofcommunity forest management in Petén, Guatemala. The Petén region is a regionof rich tropical biodiversity but for many years, it has been troubled bypolitical instability, conflict and poverty.

TheMaya Biosphere Reserve (MBR), established in 1990, contains two millionhectares of forest, divided into different management zones. Initially the MBR wasa trigger for conflict, as local residents reacted violently to being excludedfrom conservation zones. The Guatemalan government, located far away in thecapital city, was unable to control the conflict.

Expertsand local decision-makers debated how to encourage greater local participationin the management of the reserve. In other regions of Guatemala, forestrycompanies were granted concessions (areas in which they use and manage forestresources) that required the involvement local communities. But in Petén, decision-makers instead granted concessions to twelvecommunities and two local forestry industries.

Theconcessions allowed participating communities to access,extract and use forest resources. They also marked areas of exclusion. Unusually,the concessions included rights to both timber and non-timber forest products(NTFPs). Recent research indicates that:

  • The concessionsindirectly benefited up to 14,000 individuals in 30 communities.
  • In 2003, theconcessions generated 50,000 days of work for local people, with a value ofnearly US$360,000.
  • Satellitemonitoring studies indicate dramatic benefits within the forest concessions, interms of reduced forest fires, deforestation and illegal logging.
  • Tensions haveemerged between community members who are part of the concessions, and thosewho have no legal management rights.

Anassociation of community organisations has played a key role in building thecapacity of communities to manage the forest. These have encouraged processesof learning and ownership among community members, which helped to ensure thateffective management continued after the withdrawal of external support. Therehas also been vital support from international donors and conservationinstitutions.

Thecase study identifies several factors that are necessary for effectivecommunity resource management: meaningful participation in decision-making; therecognition of local people’s rights, and; the fair distribution of the costsand benefits of conservation. It also demonstrates the potential of commercialtimber production by communities, instead of income generation through NTFPs,which is the focus of many community forestry initiatives.

However,the community concessions in Petén still need further assistance to consolidateand extend their achievements and address their problems.

  • Prioritiesinclude the need for appropriate new production strategies, new links to marketsand an enhanced capacity to negotiate with external stakeholders.
  • Business andmarketing expertise are vital for participants in community forestry management;these are just as important as conservation and technical forestry skills.

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