Where do we go from here?

Posted: 1 August 2000

Author: Don Gilmour

Author Info: Dr Don Gilmour is a forestry consultant based in Australia. He was head of IUCN's Forest Conservation Programme from 1993-97.

How can local efforts to save the forest feed into and be supported by national and international policies? Here Don Gilmour suggests ways to create new two-way links.

Most of the case stories on this site illustrate the ability of local communities and indigenous groups to manage forests in a way that provides for economic benefit while at the same time ensuring the long term survival of the forest itself.

However, the reality of the situation, if we take a holistic view, is that these examples, while important in themselves, represent only islands of hope in an otherwise depressing landscape. Many of them are also under threat from government policies which do not value indigenous knowledge and management skills and from industrial forestry or agricultural enterprises with their rather narrow view of development.

How can we build on the good examples that are available to ensure that local and indigenous communities can have an increasing influence on forest management outcomes? There are a number of things that need to be done.

Fourth worldThere are many initiatives at the international level which are influential in affecting outcomes in the forest. Admittedly, many of these are very remote from the forest floor but are nevertheless important in creating a policy environment which can become sensitive to such things as indigenous peoples rights and the role of local communities in forest management.

Many NGOs and some governments are advocating positions which argue for greater empowerment of indigenous and local communities in this area and there are both pragmatic and ideological reasons for putting emphasis on these issues. It is important that such positions be supported and there seems to be a ground swell of support building as the 'Fourth World' (the world of indigenous communities) is being acknowledge in international fora as requiring special attention.

The various international fora provide a rather esoteric debating arena for practical forest management issues and it is at the national level where relevant policy and legislation are formulated which directly impact on the rights and responsibilities of the various stakeholders.

A new approach is needed to move beyond the conventional distinction in development planning between 'top-down' and 'bottom-up' models. The 'top-down' approach has proved to be inadequate because such approaches do not give adequate recognition to communities' rights, abilities, knowledge, strategic positioning and potential. As a result, the approach has failed to secure the involvement or commitment of affected communities in planned development initiatives.

However, whilst very necessary and sound in terms of community participation and empowerment, 'bottom-up' approaches by themselves may not necessarily create room for community action in the management of the global environment. It has been noted that, to date, bottom-up approaches have not constituted a full-fledged development strategy and that to be effective they require an enabling national policy framework.

Indeed, 'bottom-up' approaches alone may obscure the responsibilities of the national and international levels to facilitate such a process and may fail to link local initiatives to global efforts - the application of 'bottom-up' planning has, by and large, only been good for addressing localised problems. In the post-UNCED context, there is an immediate need for a two-way link from local people into international policy formulation and decision-making, including resource allocation, and from the international community to local communities, in recognition of their crucial role in both maintaining and influencing global environmental services.

Local knowledgeA planning framework of 'pluralistic planning' is not focused on either a movement downwards or upwards. Rather, it is focused on the link between local action and global environmental issues, a middle ground which is often overlooked. It is still fundamentally based on local knowledge, local experience and local action.

Pluralistic planning aims to both provide a mechanism for translating agreements adopted by the international community into local environmental management and development programmes, and a mechanism for using local experience to refine and reformulate both national and international policy instruments.

© WWF Martin Harvey

Reviews of large international environmental programmes such as the Tropical Forestry Action Program (TFAP) have suggested that a major reason for low levels of effectiveness has been the fact that many efforts in particular areas were not country-driven and failed to secure the appropriate involvement of affected communities. Achieving effective linkages between international programmes and affected communities will involve commitment to participatory approaches and development of specific mechanisms to facilitate local participation in international programmes. Some important initiatives could include:

  • The general objectives of international agreements such as the Biodiversity Convention, the Convention on Climate Change, and the International Tropical Timber Agreement, need to be translated into more specific targets such as the aerial extent of protected areas that will be needed to secure the conservation of viable, bio-geographically balanced samples of the major plant communities and rare or endangered species. These more specific targets could then be used to facilitate both the development of detailed country action programmes and the mobilization of targeted, performance-driven support from the international community.
  • National commitments to international agreements for environmental management and conservation need to be translated into specific national targets for conservation action, for example, a national commitment to Biodiversity Conservation might be translated into a small number of specific proposals for additional protected areas and a number of specific changes to forest management or agricultural practices; national commitments to sustainable forest management may be translated into an area target of "well managed" forest.
  • In each of the above cases, agreements with local communities could be brokered so that management of these areas would be undertaken by local communities on a fee for service basis, with the role of national governments and their bureaucracies limited to one of standard setting and monitoring. Ultimately, local communities should be given the power to decide how they may best contribute to the achievement of established targets.
  • Gradually, and perhaps most importantly, feedback loops need to be developed so that progressively acquired local experiences can be fed into the international and national policy review process to allow the refinement of more appropriate and achievable targets. For this to occur, the targets established under international agreements must reflect the social, economic and environmental realities of affected communities at all levels. In particular, this process should identify the specific interventions that will need the support of the international community to achieve accepted global objectives of conservation and sustainable development.
In summary, pluralistic planning recognises that there is a need to concentrate efforts at a middle ground in three ways. There must be more effective linking of local initiatives for both conservation and development to the process of global environmental management. National and international agreements on the environment must be translated into locally relevant targets for the development and marketing of local action programmes focused on providing environmental management services. And there must be a search for mutual responsibilities and complementarities, for example, defining appropriate roles for all levels of involvement in environmental management - local, national and global.

Key requirements to make these linkages effective include establishing clear lines of communication between local communities and policy makers and well-defined mechanisms for setting and reviewing environmental and development priorities and choice of actions.