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IUFRO The Advocate for Forest Science.
Vision: Local communities the world-over effectively ensure conservation & development of local forest ecology & biodiversity, and contribute to the global efforts for mitigation of climate change and poverty alleviation, under a satisfactory tenurial right over the resources they protect and with technical & other required support from the competent authorities.
Approach: Democratic value system says that the government is by, for, and of the people. Governance, in contrast to Rule(feudal/military) essentially reduces the gap between the State and the people through transparency, mutual accountability, and democratic authorization.
Forests are one of the major resources for any nation, and public forests usually account for a major or most part of this resource that the government Forest Department is to manage by and for the people of the country. Transparency and accountability for/to the people with a trust on their potential to share the responsibility adds value to the management converting it to governance. The cost of forest management is reduced to minimum with successful utilization of two things: natural regeneration and community participation. Both these things may even go simultaneously as the former can get a better scope through the latter.
We believe that community forestry and participatory forestry are, despite their apparent similarity, different from each other by the spirit and scope vis-a-vis the community (vide Rath, B. 2010, Redefining Community Forestry: For A Better Approach & Better World, RCDC). True forest governance(not mere administration or management) essentially recognizes that people are the real owners of forests, and the Forest Department manages this resource for and on behalf of them. Community forestry establishes this principle spontaneously and rather moves a step ahead by taking into its hands even the responsibility of management & protection, with the role of professional foresters being limited to technical or other such supports/guidance. On the other hand, participatory forest management ultimately recognizes that the Forest Department is the real owner & authority of the forests, and people only provide some help in forest management for their own benefit.
The IUFRO Working Party on Community Forestry essentially emphasizes on community forestry, and advocates to upgrade the status of participatory forestry to that of community forestry where feasible. It believes that whereas local communities should be the real owners of local natural resources (we refer to public resources here when we speak of community rights & ownership), and that they have the potential to protect, conserve and manage the local natural resources including forests, they can exercise this right of ownership in a sustainable & socially justified manner only if there is proper facilitation for developing and augmenting this potential through various means. And none other than the foresters and their Department have the capacity to facilitate this in an integrated/holistic manner since they can provide support with technical, financial, and logistical arrangements. IUFRO WP on Community Forestry thus encourages professional foresters, forestry academicians, and researchers to work towards establishing forest governance in the true sense of the term, providing local communities a better scope to sustainably conserve and manage the local forests for their own benefit. It also recognizes that civil society organizations have played and can continue to play a major role in bridging the gap between technical forestry and social forestry, and facilitating necessary policy changes in favour of forest governance by, for, and on behalf of the people.
IWPCF gives equal emphasis on sustenance of community forestry in its Mission statement because there are instances where community-based forest governance has already been established, but there are many internal and/or external challenges that threaten the sustenance of this institution/initiative. Changing value system with greater focus on financial benefits from the forests under protection has been observed in the new generation of the same community, and if this is not satisfied then the impact may be a loss of interest in the institutional effort. One of our objectives is to identify such issues and to facilitate necessary interventions that can help the communities overcome such problems.
Before systematic forest management began in the 19th century, there used to be various regimes, religious or otherwise, that controlled the exploitation of forests to various extents. Tribal sacred groves have been patches of virgin forests where no exploitation is normally allowed because of religious perceptions. However, with the industrial and military developments in the western countries, augmented with the research finding that forests have ecological importance to ensure rains, scientific forestry formally began its reign primarily to ensure a systematic forest exploitation (through 'Working Plans') so that forests are preserved and developed for sustainable timber supply. It has taken quite a long time to come out of the timber-centric approach in forest management and give preference to holistic development of forest ecosystem & biodiversity.
One of the major lines of development in the history of scientific forestry has been isolation from society. It has been strongly believed, and not so unreasonably, that forest development and wildlife conservation is best possible by keeping them away from local communities or other such stakeholders. This exclusion principle caused displacement of local communities from Protected Areas, and reservation of forests with extinction of local rights. This caused not only lots of resentment, but suffering at the end of the forest-dependent communities who are usually poor and disadvantaged. In early 20th century British forest department in India had realized that instead of totally sidelining the role of local communities in forest management, it would be rather wise to take their help in some activities like control of forest fire. This created the very base of participatory forestry. On the other hand, already resource-marginalized communities spontaneously took over the responsibility of the protection & management of local forest patch traditionally under their access when they found it otherwise threatened. This is how community forestry began to work.
World over, community forestry and participatory forestry have been in differential stages of development and achievement since the level of maturity (in handling the resource) & forest-dependency, local limitations/compulsions, and policy-level elements have not been the same. In what is recognized as community forestry in urban areas, citizen’s groups help in protection & conservation of local plantations or natural forest patches chiefly for ecological reasons, and their association with the forest is usually not so intimate, diverse, and rich to the extent found in the case of rural communities.
Because of these differences that things sometimes reasonably begin with participatory forestry whereas there have been instances in which community forestry has been reduced to participatory forestry under one or more compulsions or temptations. Old institutions of community forestry are facing threats like changing value systems, impact of globalization and climate change, and other internal & external threats like diversion of forest land for non-forestry purposes by the government.
Internal upgrading of community forestry is required in terms of forest inventories, adopting silviculture for development of NWFP, management of RET (Rare, Endangered, and Threatened) species, and ensuring gender equity, among others.
IWPCF emerged out of a discussion between IUFRO and Bikash Rath of RCDC (www.rcdcindia.org), an IUFRO member following the suggestion of the latter to establish a special unit on community forestry. This is probably the first time that an internationally acclaimed scientific body like IUFRO extends its services to strengthen community forestry by establishing this new unit. It may be mentioned here that sporadic attempts have already been made in IUFRO (particularly its Division 6) to discuss issues relating to community forestry, but IWPCF would provide a consolidated & focused effort in this direction.
For this purpose, an understanding of the following elements can be helpful:
1. Current status of community forestry in various countries
2. History of community forest protection & management
3. Protection and management systems adopted by the communities
4. Forest development
5. CFM Institution Analysis
7. Major challenges and sustainability
8. Future Agenda
Several institutions around the world, like Community Forestry International (www.communityforestryinternational.org), Vasundhara (www.vasundharaorissa.org), Regional Centre for Development Cooperation (www.rcdcindia.org), and GACF (www.gacfonline.com), have been involved at regional, national, and international level in working on issues related to community forestry.