Key trends among the plethora of early participatory forest management (PFM) developments have been observed. These include increasing empowerment of local communities in forest management, and emergence of these populations as a cadre of forest managers in their own right. It has been noted that this stems in part from local demand, crystallised through participation. It also arrives through recognition by forestry administrations of the heavy and perhaps needless time and investment incurred through sustained operational roles themselves and/or supervising community roles.
Whilst some programmes have begun with power sharing in mind, most have come to this position through learning by doing, and increasingly, some degree of observation as to what works and does not work in neighbouring states. This manner of transition has been quite evident in the changing character of projects in Nigeria, Ethiopia, Malawi, Burkina Faso and Mozambique. It is likely to continue as PFM practice continues to refine. This may well include programmes in Zambia, Ghana and Ivory Coast where committees so far established are more for consultation than sharing decision-making, naming of those efforts as ‘joint forest management’ notwithstanding.
Indisputably, the flagship of this transition (and PFM overall) is the Community Forest. As already observed, the construct is most developed in Cameroon, The Gambia and Tanzania but the construct exists more widely and with increasingly legal definition. Whilst the overall notion of ‘community forests’ is fairly consistent around the continent, its development is still curtailed in a range of ways.
First, for example, whilst most communities define the community forest area themselves, in some states, limitations are placed upon its size (Cameroon).
Second, declaration of Community Forests is almost everywhere accompanied by important socio-institutional developments at the community level, in the form of variously constituted bodies, mandated to implement the forest management plan agreed to or devised by community members.
Third, whilst community tenure, albeit of usually a customary and unregistered nature, is implied, formal recognition of this is still rare and/or expressed in ambivalent terms. A main exception is The Gambia where a formal transfer of tenure is integral to finalisation of a Community Forest.
Fourth, in both legal and operational terms, fully autonomous community jurisdiction is rarely attained.
Most Community Forests come into being only with and through the formal agreement of the state and under terms largely set by it --the case even in The Gambia. In countries like Nigeria, Burkina, Faso, Togo, Malawi, Ghana, Benin and Mozambique, recognition of local tenure is conversely overlaid by quite stringent state control over how the forest is actually used. Nonetheless, Community Forests represent a significant departure from twentieth century forest management practice and related classification of forests. Inter alia, they open the way for a widening range of gazetted non-government forest estates.
Extracted from: “Participatory Forest Management in Africa. An Overview of Progress and Issues”, by Liz Alden Wily, 25 February 2002, posted on the CBNRM Net’s Web Page.