Local communities have long managed and used forests for their own livelihood. Since the central government took over forest management from the people, however, local communities have suffered and forest management has failed for lack of community participation. This paper analyzes the constraints on people’s participation in managing the forest.
Long-term state policy (1886-1989) encouraged logging concessions and large-scale monoculture cash cropping. This top-down forest management led to serious economic and ecological damage throughout the country. By the 1990s, the northeast region had sustained the worst damage through over-logging and the conversion of forestlands into rubber, coffee, and fruit plantations. These programs have also forced local ethnic minorities to move and become “illegal” residents of other areas.
While the 1997 constitution acknowledges the importance of community participation, implementation has only involved the government and private sector. Little has been done to expand local participation. There are several reasons for this failure. Government agencies look at forest management in terms of policing, preferring nitisat (strict rules and regulations) to ratthasat (diplomacy), favoring influential businessmen, and centralizing decision-making in national bodies with little understanding of local realities. Further, government officials often have negative attitudes toward local people who depend on forests. They see forest use as forest destruction and do not understand how local people manage forests. To enhance government understanding and increase trust among stakeholders, officials should attend community social activities and review policies, programs, and commitments with the people.
Forest managers are also hampered by poor training in the concepts, strategies, and participatory methods in forest management. Participatory learning which engages government officials and local people working together must be encouraged. Finally, there are few incentives for people to participate in forest management, and when they do, they do not receive proper benefits. In fact, even in the community forest bill before the Senate, poor upcountry people are seen as enemies of the forest.
Community forestry is not just forest management, but a means to wider change and local empowerment. It generates income and strengthens local capacity to manage natural resources. It contributes to the development of human resources by raising awareness and fostering right attitudes, knowledge, and skills. Eventually it will help to balance decision-making between the central government and local communities.
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Kyoto Review of Southeast Asia. Issue 2 (October 2002). Disaster and Rehabilitation