|Balancing Acts: Community-Based Forest Management and National Law in Asia and the Pacific (WRI, 1995, 204 pages)|
|VI. Promoting Sustainable Forest Management Through Community-Based Tenure|
Local communities would have the greatest leverage and capacity to negotiate and promote their self interest if they possessed government recognized private community-based property rights. Except in Pacific Island nation, however, few forest communities are likely to possess such leverage, at least in the short term, since political realities and prevailing interpretations of national laws in Asia largely preclude it. The only options available to many, if not most, forest-dependent communities are to lease rights or otherwise secure privileges to their local resource base or lose access.
Government leasing of rights to forest land is the core element of community forestry programs in Nepal, Thailand, and the Philippines. It also occurs, to a limited extent, in Indonesia. Community forest leases and other rights based on privileges stem from the assumption that government owns the resources and the other party had no legal right to use them. Essentially they are agreements between appropriate government agencies and resource-dependent communities that recognize the rights and duties of both entities. Written documents, however, are "less important than the understanding, commitment, and good faith of parties to the agreement. The process, not the paper, is the key."141 The goal should be to provide forest-dependent people with appropriate legal and economic incentives to protect remaining natural forests and to regenerate degraded ones. Ideally, the agreements should be simple, straightforward, and reflect local variables. They especially need to discourage migration into forest areas and help stabilize populations that are already there. (See Appendix B, Sample Community Forest Lease.)
Before any specific agreements are reached or any community-based rights recognized or granted, communities should first identify the areas that they believe belong to them. (See Box 9, Community Mapping Initiatives.) Three other steps are also essential: government officials must understand how the community perceives its needs, the community must understand the nature and potential impact of the initiative proposed, and both parties must determine if prospects for community-based tenurial rights are realistic.
Box 9. Community Mapping Initiatives
Around the world, forest-dwelling communities are beginning to recognize the power that maps can have in efforts to protect their lands from intruders. Legally marginalized and politically invisible, forest dwellers have all too often been unable to effectively oppose government resettlement schemes, wealthy concessionaires, gun-wielding colonists and soldiers, and others vying for scarce land and resources. Recently, non-governmental organizations and local communities have collaborated - in efforts to enhance local rights and claims - to make precise maps of the areas inhabited by forest-dwellers to inform outsiders about their occupancy and sustainable resource-management systems. By combining locally generated sketch maps with government base maps and using a Global Positioning System (GPS)a to check positional accuracy, villagers can create "scientific proof" and legally cognizable evidence of their occupancy. Two of the best examples of successful mapping projects are in Latin America and Asia.
Threatened by the incursion of loggers, cattle ranchers, and the proposed Pan-American Highway, the people of eastern Panama have been organizing themselves to defend their lands. Together with the Centro de Estudios y Acción Social Panameño (CEASPA) and the Center for the Support of Native Lands, the Congresses of the Wounaan, Emberá, and Kuna led a project to map the subsistence land-use patterns of the 82 forest-dependent communities that live in the area known as the Darién. Community-generated sketch maps were combined with government maps, aerial photographs, and GPS to produce technically accurate representations of local resource use.
When the project was completed, the Darién communities presented a final composite map to government ministers and local and international non-governmental organizations during a forum on Indigenous Cultures and Resources. At this forum, the Minister of Government and Justice, who had previously authorized the use of force to suppress indigenous rights demonstrations, acknowledged the importance of the forest-dwellers' struggle. In addition, the Institute Geográfico Nacional, which collaborated in the project, concluded that the maps generated by the forest communities were more accurate and detailed than previous maps and that it would incorporate them - indigenous names and all - into their official map of the region. The final maps, still the property of the Wounaan, Kuna, and Emberá, will be used to discuss future plans for the land, including negotiations over the construction of the Pan-American Highway through the Darién Gap.
In East Kalimantan, Indonesia, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)/Indonesia helped villagers conduct a similar mapping project. WWF/Indonesia and the communities involved are preparing to recommend a status change of the areas they inhabit from Nature Reserve to National Park. The change would allow them to use the land and resources in zones according to commonly agreed traditional use. A mapping method similar to that of the Panama project was used. Locally sketched maps were used as base maps, and details and corrections were made with GPS. Ultimately, the mapping team will use Geographic Information Systems (GIS, a computer program used to overlay multiple information sets) technology to help delineate zones and store biological research data.
During the village mapping exercises, the mapping team realized that participation by all groups in the community is crucial because people perceive resources according to how they use them. (Women, for example, generally want to conserve areas where medicinal plants, vegetables, rattan, and other staples of subsistence are cultivated, as well as preserving areas essential for drinking water and firewood. Men, on the other hand, are more concerned about protecting areas used for hunting and commercial purposes.b) In addition, villagers discovered that it was essential to include representatives from neighboring communities in their discussions in order to achieve a unified voice from the field and to avert potential conflicts of interest. Similarly, they found it useful to involve relevant government parties in the mapping process because they were distinguishing boundaries for parks, villages, and forest concessions.
Ultimately, the communities developed detailed maps showing their traditional lands zoned for various uses. For each zone, including areas outside the park boundary whose purpose is to maintain the integrity of the parklands (i.e. Buffer Zones), they devised user rights and responsibilities. These regulations cover areas ranging from strict conservation of sacred areas to Wildlife Sanctuary Zones that are closed to hunting but open to limited tourism, research, and the collection of non-timber forest products. In June 1994, Forest Department officials and provincial and district governments presented the village maps to the Ministry of Forestry, recommending an official status change of the area from Nature Reserve to National Park. Even if the maps and other information gathered are not utilized by the National Government, the villagers have become politically involved - hopefully permanently.
Forest-dependent people can thus help prevent outside incursion by mapping their lands and resource use. As the above projects suggest, maps can be used to support community-level education, political unity, and allow for local participation in government conservation programs. In Darién, most of the inhabitants had only a local view of the forest destruction that is occurring on a larger scale. By bringing communities together to map their lands and discuss regional development, local people saw the destruction plaguing the entire area and got a sense of how it affects them. Working together has helped foster solidarity among the communities and made them politically stronger. Clearly, mapping can be an invaluable tool for local-level empowerment as forest-dwellers struggle to protect their lands against outside encroachment.
a. GPS is a relatively inexpensive low tech hand-held tool used in the field to determine latitude and longitude at any given point.
b. Peter Poole, "Indigenous Peoples, Mapping, and Biodiversity Conservation: A Survey of Current Activities," p. 13.
Sources: Janis Alcorn, Catherine Veninga, Derek Denniston,
"Defending the Land with Maps," World Watch (January-February 1994).
Nicanor González, Francisco Herrera, Mac Chapin, "Ethnocartography in the
Darién," Cultural Survival Quarterly (Winter 1995). Peter Poole,
"Indigenous Peoples, Mapping, and Biodiversity Conservation: A Survey of Current
Activities." Bill Threlkeld. World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)/Indonesia-Kayan
Mentarang Project, "Participatory Tools for Community-Forest Profiling and
Zonation of Conservation Areas, Experiences from the Kayan Mentarang Nature
Reserve, East Kalimantan, Indonesia," (July 1994).
Establishing a community-based forest management project without informing local communities early on is foolhardy. Governments should carefully gauge local acceptance of or opposition to any such initiative, especially from those who primarily depend on the resources targeted. Persistent, widespread opposition should stop the project.