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Seeking Solutions

POLICY THAT WORKS FOR FORESTS AND PEOPLE·James Mayers and Stephen Bass·International Institute for Environment and development (IIED), 1999

Published: Saturday 30 June 2001

Lack of people friendly polici ARNAB KUMAR HAZRA

Decrease in forest cover not only results in declining timber output for industries but also threatens global reserves of biodiversity, damages the carbon sinks that absorb greenhouse gases, degrades forest ecosystems and most importantly, jeopardises the well being of tens of millions of forest dependent people. Especially vulnerable are those historically marginalised, indigenous, and tribal populations that still live outside mainstream society.

Community-based management is both promising and often, effective. But until nation states grant legitimacy and protection to community-based regimes, little or no real progress in community-based resource management can take place. However, there is no fixed solution to the problem of degradation of forests and community-based management is not the only cure for the problems arising from decreasing forest cover.

The Forestry and Land Use Programme of the International Institute for Environment and Development (iied) embarked upon a project in January 1995, with the objective of improving the sustainability of forest management and optimising stakeholders benefits, in a number of countries.

The researchers tried to find out the contextual factors that are conducive to effective policies and the process that seems to have worked towards policy decisions that appear to be sound. It soon became clear that a flexible notion of policy was needed, which could accommodate different views within the country teams and could also provide a basis for the teams to engage with the prevailing perspective and state of the debate in each country. The book, which is more of a summary of the results and functioning of the projects, aims to discover what it takes for policy to provide a working, trusted, guiding framework in tackling forest problems and delivering equitable and sustainable benefits.

The book comprises six chapters and a host of annexes that outlines the working of the project in various countries. The first two chapters are introductory in nature wherein the authors spell the need for policy reforms towards forest management. However, in the process they adopt a holier- than-thou approach and vilify all other policy initiatives towards management of forests.

In order to justify the work that iied has undertaken, the authors write, "it is not difficult, however, to find isolated success. But they can turn out to be dangerous. The 'cult of a success story' is a kind of policy hysteria where 'models' are widely replicated, without understanding the institutional, cultural or policy conditions which allowed the original example to be a success in the local environment."

The third chapter outlines the project policy that works for forests and people, while the fourth chapter, which forms the crux of the book, examines the interplay of various factors in the national policy process in several countries. The key findings from the country studies are presented in a series of linked themes from changing power to controlling forest policy over time, to reinventing state roles, to looking beyond the forest reserves, to improving learning about policy.

The authors provide an interesting insight into the complexity of forest policy practiced in various countries. While applauding the arrangement of Joint Forest Management (jfm ) in India, the authors try and explain the slow progress in the implementation of jfm in India. "Full implementation of a people-friendly forest policy would seriously affect those who have benefitted most from past policies. The fact that the new policy and subsequent documents make no mention of the institutional changes necessary to achieve implementation suggests that the policy was more of a power play than a practical way forward".

The current predicament of forests and the people has not come out of the blue. In Zimbabwe for example, concerns for woodland management are "subsumed by wider issues of land allocation and management". So the prospects for good forest management are intricately linked to the question of land redistribution wherein the politicians play a major role.

The fifth chapter lists the international initiatives and policy trends. Here three kinds of international policy initiatives, intergovernmental process, civil society approaches and private sector initiatives are examined. However, the authors agree that it is imperative to improve national policy processes and capacities, in order to provide good communication between local and international policy processes.

In the concluding chapter the authors reiterates the theme of the book - "context is all important". They sum up the discussion saying that "examination of the local context involving local factors and analysts in the process of analysis is itself a pre-requisite to a policy that works. No outsider is adequately qualified to pronounce or intervene in policy until an understanding of context is in place".

What makes the book worthwhile is the varied experience of the projects that have been presented and linked with the different issues involved with 'policy that works for forests and people'. It is a treasure trove of various complex issues and parameters that policy makers must analyse before putting forth any policy towards forest management otherwise the concept of people friendly approach will be a reality found in the papers only.

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