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close this bookBalancing Acts: Community-Based Forest Management and National Law in Asia and the Pacific (WRI, 1995, 204 pages)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentForeword
View the documentAcknowledgments
View the documentPreface
View the documentIntroduction: Forests and People
Open this folder and view contentsI. Deforestation and the Prospects for Community-Based Management
Open this folder and view contentsII. Historical Overview: Colonial Patterns of Forest Management
Open this folder and view contentsIII. Contemporary Overview: The Legacies of State Ownership
Open this folder and view contentsIV. Community-Based Forest Management. Emerging Responses
Open this folder and view contentsV. Recognizing Private Community-Based Rights
Open this folder and view contentsVI. Promoting Sustainable Forest Management Through Community-Based Tenure
View the documentVII. Conclusion
View the documentAbout the Authors
View the documentAppendix A. Sample Forest Protection Lease
View the documentAppendix B. Sample Forest Community Lease
View the documentNotes
View the documentBibliography


An enduring source of food, shelter, fuel, and spiritual nourishment, tropical forests sustain hundreds of millions of people who live in or near them. In turn, many traditional forest-dwellers sustain the forests, drawing on local knowledge passed down over generations. Yet, most such people have little say in decisions about the fate of the forests. Laws all but silence them: most national governments in tropical Asia still abide by centralized forest-ownership systems inherited from the colonial past, systems in which the rights of forest-dwelling communities are not recognized.

To maintain healthy and productive forests, governments must build partnerships with the people who live in and from the forest and who have a direct stake in strategies to manage forest resources sustainably. Providing a rationale and a blueprint for such partnerships is Balancing Acts: Community-Based Forest Management and National Law in Asia and the Pacific by WRI Senior Associates Owen J. Lynch and Kirk Talbott, with assistance from Marshall S. Berdan and collaborating colleagues in the seven case-study countries. Capping five years of research on how national and state laws influence the fate of forests and forest-dwelling peoples, this report identifies laws and policies that could foster collaboration between governments and forest-dependent communities.

Balancing Acts surveys the historical antecedents and contemporary status of national laws and policies affecting forests and forest-dwellers in India, Indonesia, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Papua New Guinea. Besides numbering among Asia's and the Pacific's most heavily forested countries, all seven reflect the various legal, historical, and cultural settings under which community-based forest management initiatives are being forged - and, more important, being revised as environmental conditions deteriorate. Papua New Guinea is unique for its exemplary constitutional recognition of community-based management rights that promote wider distribution of forestry's benefits (though doesn't necessarily ensure sustainable or equitable forest-management practices). In all seven case studies, WRI's legal scholars collaborated with host-country counterparts.

The authors also discuss emerging programs in the case-study countries and review the theoretical framework of community-based property rights. They present model legal instruments and other recommendations for promoting sustainable community-based forest management. To show why nations should follow these guidelines. Lynch and Talbott argue that only by sharing power with local communities can overburdened national forest departments ensure the health and equitable development of the nation's forest patrimony.

Although no two nations face the same management constraints and opportunities, the comparative analysis offered in Balancing Acts yields lessons vital to any forested country. Indeed, the representatives from 14 Asian and Pacific nations who shared their experiences and insights at the project's 1994 workshop in the Philippines honed in on the same two principles that emerged from the case studies:

1. The national system of forest ownership and management that prevails throughout South and Southeast Asia is not sustaining forest stocks.

2. Securing local populations' community-based tenurial rights through a national policy and legal framework can improve forest management and enhance local incentives for sustainable development.

Across Asia, the authors recommend, the respective rights and duties of national governments and local communities should be balanced in mutually beneficial and enforceable ways. Now that many studies from Asia and the Pacific are documenting the causal link between secure tenure and forest health, the authors argue, the time is ripe for the changes they advocate.

Balancing Acts extends the analyses and recommendations set forth in such previous studies as Breaking the Logjam: Obstacles to Forest Policy Reform in Indonesia and the United States, Surviving the Cut: Natural Forest Management in the Humid Tropics, and The Forest for the Trees: Government Policies and the Misuse of Forest Resources. Building on this earlier work, Balancing Acts meets the pressing need for thorough country-by-country analyses of the political, social, and economic relationships between national governments and citizens who live in "public" forest zones.

We would like to thank the United States Agency for International Development, the Ford Foundation, and the International Development Research Centre for financial support of the research and fieldwork reflected in Balancing Acts. To all three, we are deeply grateful.

Jonathan Lash
World Resources Institute