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Decentralisation of forestry

Governments are looking for ways to reduce the cost of delivering services by transferring more management responsibility to communities. At the same time, communities are demanding greater control over local resources. This 'push' by governments and 'pull' by communities is seen to varying degrees across sectors and in countries throughout the world. It's called 'decentralisation', and decentralisation of forestry was the subject of a four-day workshop in Interlaken, Switzerland, in April that brought together 170 participants from 50 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, North America and Europe. The workshop, sponsored by Indonesia and Switzerland, and organised by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and Intercooperation, was designed to stimulate sharing among participants. The hope was that lessons learned by one country might benefit other countries faced with similar challenges. While the workshop produced no 'formula' for success or 'one-size-fits-all' strategy, the participants brought with them a wealth of experience and each left with many further ideas for having taken part. The following points of view are taken from papers presented and interviews recorded at the workshop.

Decentralisation - what is it about?

Decentralization is about sharing. Decentralization is not only about setting up rules and regulations on distribution of power, resources, roles and responsibilities, but also, or even more, about working together in harmony to be more efficient, equitable, by enhancing involvement and participation of stakeholders.
Dedi M.M. Riyadi, Ministry of National Development Planning/BAPPENAS, Jakarta, Indonesia

Decentralization policies have positive social effects when they seek to empower local people and when those receiving powers are accountable to local people. Decentralization policies have negative social effects when they seek to extend state control over local people, when they fail to address equity concerns and/or when those receiving powers are not accountable to local people.
"Democratic decentralization in the forestry sector: Lessons learned from Africa, Asia and Latin America" Paper by Anne Larson, Research Associate, CIFOR, Managua, Nicaragua

Decentralisation is not a panacea, nor is it always efficient or equitable. It is a possible means to the end of improving democratic governance and in doing so, it may assist poverty alleviation and/or sustainable forest management but it is not a sufficient measure.
"Paths and pitfalls of decentralisation for sustainable forest management: Experiences of the Asia-Pacific region" Paper by Ian Ferguson, Emeritus Professor, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria, Australia, and Cherukat Chandrasekharan, Consultant, Vellayambalam, Thiruvanathanapuram, Kerala, India

Decentralization is effective because it focuses decision-making at the local levels, provided there is participation and involvement from local stakeholders, including devolution of decision-making authority.
Adolino Saway, Chief, Council of Elders of the Mount Kitanglad Range Natural Park, Bukidnon, Philippines

Benefits of decentralisation

What we have realised is that, yes, people do get benefits from [the forest] and therefore it would make sense for them to take part in management. And the other thing is that we really don't manage those things for government, we manage them for the people and therefore it makes sense for them to come in and take part in the management and benefits.
Steve Nsiita, Co-ordinator, Natural Forest Management, National Forest Authority, Kampala, Uganda

Basically what we are doing is trying to find out ways, together with communities, how they can benefit from whatever resources are obtainable from forests that surround them. And we are also trying to find out how communities can harvest resources from the forests sustainably.
Witness Kozanayi, CIFOR, Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Office, Harare, Zimbabwe

For a Ghanaian the forest is everything because the forests give food, forests give shelter, forests give money, forests give medicine. So to every Ghanaian, forestry is very dear. Since we brought in the people I think the deforestation rate has gone down and the same people are also helping to reforest the areas that [have been] degraded.
Oppon Sasu, Team Leader, High Forest Resource Management, Natural Resource Management Programme, Forestry Commission, Accra, Ghana

In most of the cases, I would say that decentralization is good for people and is good for forests, but I think the issue behind decentralization is that decentralization has to call for more democracy, a more local democracy, more participation at the local level. Communities need to have more room for making decisions about how they are going to use the forest.
Pablo Pacheco, Consultant, CIFOR, Bogor, Indonesia, and Research Associate, Institute of Environmental Research for Amazônia (IPAM), Belem, Brazil

Lessons learned

The Chizvirizvi case presents a very interesting case in which we, the communities, opted to move from a top-down, government-sponsored system of settlement in favour of a bottom-up and community-driven model of settlement. The experience should serve as a poignant reminder to government and other external actors that no matter how well intentioned, top-down plans that do not accord with people's priorities and aspirations are bound to fail.
Decentralized natural resource management in the Chiredzi District of Zimbabwe: Voices from the ground" Paper by Stephen Hlambela, Community participant from Chizvirizvi resettlement, Chiredzi District, Zimbabwe, and Witness Kozanayi, CIFOR, Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Office, Harare, Zimbabwe

[Switzerland's] lesson learned is . . . if you give too much power locally the balance is too heavy on the forest and the forest will be destroyed. On the other side, if you give too much weight to the central power, the local people are too far from the forest and you cannot manage it properly. So you have to find the right balance.
Philippe Roch, Director, Swiss Agency for the Environment, Forests and Landscape

Some attempts to 'turn back the clock' have failed. One cannot assume that local communities will be able to re-establish traditional systems of forest management overnight after years of central government interference. The conclusion from many recent experiences of devolved management in Africa and Asia is that they did not really work, but we now understand why.
The implications for biodiversity conservation of decentralised forest resources management" Paper by Jeffrey Sayer, WWF International, Gland, Switzerland (and others)

Revolutionary 'treeroots' activity that pulls power down to the local level can shape the decentralisation process. Communities should not be treated as passive recipients of devolved power pushed down from the centre. Power shifts are evolutionary, involving push-me-pull-you interactions.
Bill Ritchie, Worldforests, Lochinver, Sutherland, Scotland

Sustainable forest management

Decentralized forestland and resource decision-making is vital to forest sustainability. Support by a nation's people, especially those living near and within the forest, is critical.
Perspectives on institutions and decentralization in forest management in the United States" Paper by Gerald Rose, Forest Sustainability Consultant, Former Director of Forestry/State Forester, Minnesota, USA

We can't achieve biodiversity conservation without looking at sustainability of development of the local communities. I work with them, talk with them, try to understand their culture and see how they can be an effective partner in promoting the programs of the government.
Felix Mirasol Jr, Project Area Superintendent of Mount Kitanglad Range Natural Park, Bukidnon, Philippines

What we have come up with is a participatory forestry management policy, which basically aims at involving communities living adjacent to the forest in policy formulation or even the management of forests. This is in recognition of the fact that indigenous communities have been interacting with the forests over a long period of time and have been deriving benefits from those forests, and in many cases know better than ourselves how those resources can be managed.
Renny Madula, Deputy Director, Forestry Policy, Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, Pretoria, South Africa

In Indonesia, logging operations were done and are being done currently in a very bad manner, cutting all sorts of profitable woods without any consideration of sustainable forest management, that's the reality. Often times people don't know what's really going on and all of a sudden the forest is gone.
Togu Manurong, Director, Forest Watch Indonesia, Bogor, Indonesia

The future

Decentralization was expected to lead to greater transparency, more democratic and equitable management of forest resources. Practically, however, it has also created many negative impacts. Now our major challenge is to put decentralization in the forestry sector back on the right track.
Wahjudi Wardojo, Secretary General of the Ministry of Forestry, Indonesia

The development and implementation of decentralization principles will only succeed where authorized regional bodies having regulatory functions are really capable to take decisions and ready to be responsible for these decisions. The success of decentralization also depends on the availability of sufficient resources and the possibility to use these resources autonomously.
Main features of Russia's forest management system" Paper by Natalia V. Malysheva, All-Russian Research Institute of Silviculture and Forestry Mechanization, Ministry of Natural Resources of the Russian Federation, Moscow

I think what we see in general with forests is that there are many different visions of what a forest should be for. Some people want to protect them and leave them natural so that it's good for nature and the animals. Other people want to use them, to cut them down and grow food on them. Other people want to mine in the forests and other people want to log them and use them for timber. What we need to find is ways to come to agreement about how we want to use our forests, and decentralisation, this whole process can help us find those ways.
David Kaimowitz, Director General, CIFOR, Bogor, Indonesia

The potential of decentralization to be efficient and equitable depends on the representativeness of local institutions. But there are few cases where democratically accountable local institutions are being chosen and given discretionary powers.
"Choosing representation: Institutions and powers for decentralized natural resource management" Paper by Jesse Ribot, Institutions and Governance Program, World Resources Institute, Washington, DC, USA

Date published: July 2004


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