PARTICIPATORY FOREST MANAGEMENT IN
AFRICA: LESSONS NOT LEARNED
Applied Forest Inventory, Mapping, and Management Specialist Cooperative League of the USA – Natural Resource Management
PO Box 35-540, Lusaka, ZAMBIA
phone: (260)1 239 414
Keywords: participatory forest management, inventory, pitsawyer,
management plan, mapping
International Journal of Sustainable Development and World Ecology
Volume 10 Number 2 (2003) pages 109-118
A workshop held in Tanzania in early 2002 brought practitioners of „Participatory Forest Management‟ (PFM) from 25 African countries together with donors and other interested organizations. One objective was to search for ways forward to improve and streamline implementing PFM. It was agreed that forest legislation permitting PFM is currently widespread and that many countries are somewhere on the path of implementation. It was also agreed that more needs to be done to further the definition and sharing of benefits from PFM forests in order for the practice to be successful and sustainable. The alarming rate of deforestation in many countries has not been sufficiently monitored or addressed by PFM.
Lessons not yet learned from at least 30 years of experience include how to write satisfactory management plans and conduct inventories that would help define PFM benefits and monitoring aspects. This paper suggests ways to improve on these aspects of PFM planning. It also proposes a greater emphasis on inclusion of pitsawyer organization as a key component in sustaining forests for a longer time.
PARTICIPATORY FOREST MANAGEMENT IN AFRICA:
LESSONS NOT LEARNED
A workshop was held in early 2002 entitled „Defining the Way Forward:
Sustainable Livelihoods and Sustainable Forest Management through Participatory Forestry in Africa‟. It was sponsored by FAO, GTZ, and the United Republic of Tanzania.
The workshop was an uplifting showcase of all that is going on in Africa in „participatory‟ or „community-based‟ forest management. Among the 160
participants, 25 African countries were represented, as were several European, Australian, and American donors and supporters of the „crusade‟ of participatory forest management or PFM. Indeed, the meeting often took on the flavor of a religious revival, many participants arriving with their own messages, stories, and agendas to spread. All were interested in at least one common goal: to increase the powers and skills of African communities in sustainably managing what remains of their local forests.
WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF PFM
A notion that was brought out during the workshop is that „community forestry‟ has been around for 25 years, and at this point we can assess how it has progressed. In fact, community forestry in different forms has been around even longer. It was part of the Peace Corps forestry program during the 1960s and 70s. At that time, the vogue was to establish „community woodlots‟ around sahelian villages so that pressure on remaining scarce tree
cover for firewood supplies could be reduced. These projects turned out to be less than successful because of ill-defined tree ownership and use of exotic, less-preferred species. Nonetheless, long-term thinking had begun in recognition of the fact that local forests were disappearing as populations and
PARTICIPATORY FOREST MGMT IN AFRICA -- LESSONS 1
their needs for pastureland, arable land, and fuelwood were growing. It became apparent that government-reserved forests (also a product of long-term thinking) could not satisfy these needs for all rural people without some kind of a management plan. And most forests established from the 1930s to the 1970s were established with no long-term management plans whatsoever. Some of the other „social forestry‟ programs that involved African community
members in reducing demand and increasing supply of forest trees were taungya systems (targeting farmers) and dune stabilization in the 1960s (herders), and fuel-efficient woodstoves in the 1970s (women) (Catterson, unpublished). By the 1980s projects started targeting larger forested areas for fuelwood management. Outside the forestry domain and in non-gazetted areas, other land tenure projects took root to address ownership issues. One of the first documented experiences of developing a management plan under the heading of „community-based management of natural forests‟ in
Africa came from Niger. In 1983, the Cooperative League of the United States of America, usually associated with agricultural cooperatives, was called in to help establish a firewood- and hay-producing cooperative among surrounding communities of Guesselbodi National Forest (Heermans et al. 1986). This is the first time that a forest management project in Africa addressed the multiple objectives of:
(a) involving surrounding communities to guard, exploit, and share revenue from their nearest forest;
(b) changing forest legislation to accommodate and legally recognize village groups as partners in management; and,
(c) devising a long-term (10-year) management plan for a state-owned forest that included harvesting and regeneration of natural vegetation by the community.
Perhaps because the forest was severely degraded, and because it „only‟ produced hay and firewood, Guesselbodi became widely known as a showcase for post-harvest mulching and soil rehabilitation models (some borrowed from innovative work in Burkina Faso) that allowed precious
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grasses and Combretum to regenerate from seed on previously-bare soil. Nonetheless, a groundwork for simultaneously addressing enabling legislation, natural ecology, and empowerment of communities had been laid. It was shown during the Tanzania workshop that many or most African countries now have satisfactory new legislation in place (Wily, 2002), that plantation forestry has given way to preference for maintaining natural vegetation, and that there are many challenges to (and few examples of) guarding and sharing revenue from forests under participatory management. There is also, still, a conspicuous lack of long-term management plans for state-owned as well as locally-managed forest lands. This lack of management plans –- of long-term vision -- threatens the sustainability of both the community livelihoods and of the forest resources that PFM is supposed to safeguard.
COMMUNITY FORESTRY AS A DISTRACTION FROM
LONG-TERM MANAGEMENT AND POLICY PLANNING
Deforestation rates combined with poverty levels in African countries are among the highest in the world (FAO 2001). Where does PFM fit into deforestation? While donors and foresters debate paradigms, policy, and poverty indicators at workshops, the last large timber trees are being sold off to quick-thinking private companies (euphemistically termed „investors‟). Exported raw materials are enriching a few select people instead of providing regional forestry offices and villagers with income and skills. The horror stories abound:
; Africa‟s first and largest FSC-certified forest lost its certification after
only two years because operations were shut down by the country‟s
Director of Forestry. The craftsmen‟s union had not followed all the
steps that were outlined in the current, but not yet finalized, national
joint forest management guidelines. As a result, several hundred
woodcarvers and beekeepers lost a chance to export special products
to Europe and some have returned to illegal harvest of products.
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; Concessions for thousands of hectares of precious African teak and
Pterocarpus were awarded to foreign and ministry-owned timber
companies with sufficient capital and equipment, while local organized
pitsawyers had to travel 40 kilometers by bicycle to find trees to
support their livelihoods (Polansky, 2000).
; 10,000 hectares of state-owned forest was carved into agroforestry,
„production,‟ and wildlife zones after most of the rare Pterocarpus,
Khaya, and iroko found during the inventory 5 years previous had
been cut. Meanwhile, a foreign-owned sawmill in the provincial center
two hours away has been running 24 hours a day cutting export
planks out of clean hardwood cants. The cants are from trees that are
twice as big as the biggest tree in this 10,000-hectare forest. They
come from state-owned and open forests elsewhere in the country.
The sawmill operates on a generator when the electricity has its
regular outages (Polansky, 2001).
; A national forest turned over to a private entity to establish
agroforestry initiatives that were supposed to benefit local
communities was simply deforested, carved into fields, and left in the
same state as the open areas (Chemonics 2000).
; [insert your horror story here]
As time moves on and deforestation is described in terms of how many tens and hundreds of thousands of hectares are cleared each year in each country, it seems as if PFM has become merely a distraction from the true fate of
developing countries‟ forests. Well-meaning projects -- focusing on the „small‟
problems of teaching villagers how to hold meetings, plant trees, and better conserve, harvest, and market their mostly nontimber forest products on a seasonal basis -- have played into the hands of ministries with unsustainable, short-sighted timber policies and actions. Governments may be happy to accommodate unsuspecting donors who have taken the pressure off them to clean up their act, appearing to do something for communities while still selling off the last remaining high-income trees. At the same time, unscrupulous timber buyers enter the market from hundreds or thousands of
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kilometers away because they know there is little control on the remaining sawtrees, and little time remaining to claim them.
The small fraction of forests that are being managed with village participation can‟t possibly make up for the once-huge tracts of timber in developing
countries that are feeding the wood-hungry, cash-bearing world out there. The message here is that while advancing and improving PFM methods, donors should not lose sight of the big picture that requires working more closely with government forest departments at the ministry level to keep their natural resource incomes closer to home, better distributed, and tied to long-term management strategies and plans.
HOW TO ACHIEVE THE GOALS OF PFM: THE ROLE OF
GOVERNMENT FORESTERS AND MANAGEMENT
The workshop touched on the need for management plans as an integral part of PFM. Debates were held on the length and content of forest management plans needed for the process. It was commonly recognized that management plans need to be simpler than what the Western world is used to, and that they may range from a few pages to several chapters.
As for the role of government foresters, there seemed to be three „camps‟ attending the workshop, divided along these lines:
(1) those who believe that all the rights to all forest resources must be controlled by the government;
(2) those who believe that government forest services and departments have nothing more to offer communities living near forests, and therefore should back out of forest resource management altogether until summoned by communities themselves for „technical advice‟; and
(3) those who believe the „answer‟ to PFM lies somewhere in between (1) and (2), and more field experiences are needed to strike the balance.
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The West Africa advisor to the UK‟s Department for International Development, Andrew Roby, addressed workshop participants, and urged us to „think in parallel‟ rather than linearly – in other words, for us to work
together toward the goals of better, longer-lasting, accessible forest resources and livelihoods for all, no matter which camp we belong to. There is not one sole solution or way forward for all countries, and there is not one sole model to use for a management plan.
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SOME STILL-UNLEARNED LESSONS THAT WOULD
IMPROVE PARTICIPATORY FOREST
As projects and governments and villages find their parallel ways forward in PFM, several lessons remain to be learned. Some involve doing away with bad ideas that have survived the 30-plus years of evolution and devolution of PFM models. Others are old ideas that should still be considered during PFM project design. Following are some recently-experienced lessons from the field that can help in developing useful and sustainable management plans for PFM.
1. Local pitsawyers are important players in the wise use and conservation of remaining timber in Africa.
It became obvious during the workshop that few PFM forests still contain saw-size trees in them. It seems a common practice for governments to „liquidate‟ the highest-value products before handing over management responsibilities to local residents under new legislation. It almost appears that it is in government and private investors‟ interest to stall advances in turning control
over to village-based organizations until the bulk of the revenue-producing trees have been removed. Policies that can improve timber harvest sustainability include recognition of the following:
a) LOCAL PITSAWYERS NEED SUPPORT FROM GOVERNMENTS
AND NGOS TO GET ORGANIZED: One of the first issues that
should be addressed when talking about PFM is organizing local
pitsawyers so that they may obtain the licenses, skills, and markets to
partake more fully and legally in the bigger revenue-producing
operations. Such a shift in policy – a commitment to provide local
sawyers with the employment and income that is now being given
away to foreigners -- would still provide income to local government
forestry offices that could then finance their own inspection and
PARTICIPATORY FOREST MGMT IN AFRICA -- LESSONS 7
patrolling operations. Using trained local sawyers for contracts may even slow the rate of timber waste and removal occurring today, and assure a longer-term income to support government forestry through concession fees. Training in marketing and business skills would help cut out overexploitive brokers who simply rent saws to skilled villagers, pay in blankets and maize, and then collect planks from the side of the road.
A common government practice is to award concessions of thousands of hectares, assuring that concessionaires will pay a monthly fee that is prohibitively large for individual sawyer teams of 3 or 4 men. Groups of sawyer teams can be sufficiently organized to access capital to obtain a concession, to manage money, to produce the legally-required management plans, to obtain and maintain equipment, to find the necessary transport, and to know the markets and the number of trees they can access year after year. Disorganization of sawyers plays into the hands of unscrupulous timber dealers from both inside and outside the country. It also propagates the role of sawyers as mere laborers.
b) LOCAL SAWYER ORGANIZATIONS CAN BE A COMPONENT OF
SUSTAINABLE HARVEST: One advance we have made in the West
is that smaller, local, private companies have come to expect
employment and raw materials as public goods to be provided from their nearby state-owned forests as a public good. In return for access to these benefits, they keep part of the local economy and traditional life alive, pay levies, and are monitored by government foresters and public watchdog groups alike. This priority of maintaining the local economy is a key element missing in African forest department policies, one that could be improved by donors working at ministry levels.
For national governments, adopting a policy of prioritizing local sawyers for contract harvesting means that the long-term management of state forests will include schedules for timber to be
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