Putting communities back in charge of their forests
29th June, 2010
What can western countries learn from their less industrialised counterparts about returning woodlands and forests to productive, profitable, local control?
Most post-colonial governments have kept forests under their own guardianship. 'Colonial systems were modelled on forest management in Britain and Germany where departments were set up to serve national interests,' says Tom Blomley, a community forestry expert in East Africa. 'These ideas were transferred to Africa - lock, stock and barrel.'
Many post-colonial governments have also failed to manage their natural resources effectively. Typically, the few capture the benefits of forest resources and the many lose out. Politicians may access logging permits through 'influence' (at the expense of local people). Revenues from forestry sales may be remitted to central government while local people bear the burden of living next to forests they cannot use - losing their crops to forest wildlife.
To tackle rural poverty and reduce encroachment, some countries have looked to devolution. Tanzania is a leader in the move from centralised forest management. 'The country has unique circumstances,' Blomley says. 'Former president Julius Nyerere's socialism (Ujamaa) was based on the agrarian reforms of Chairman Mao. As a spin-off, Ujamaa created village governments with authority over local land and resources.'
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