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Democratic decentralization in forestry

by Portal Web Editor last modified Jan 10, 2013 11:42 AM
Contributors: Anne M. Larson

Many governments in Africa, Asia and Latin America claim to be decentralising natural resource management to local actors. Though in many cases these processes are still quite new, it is precisely the moment to begin to analyse these experiences, assess the ways in which they are unfolding and identify promising trends as well as problematic developments that should be adjusted for the future. This paper synthesises the results of selected research on forest sector decentralisations from about 20 Third World countries. It extracts a set of lessons learned that identify common patterns as well as key factors in success and failure, by focusing on the structure, actors and institutions that play a role in forest governance. To what extent do current experiments strengthen democratic processes by granting local actors, particularly representative and accountable local entities, greater decision-making power in forest management? The studies demonstrate that democratic decentralisation is rarely implemented: substantial decision-making power, resources and benefits from forests are still centralised, and the local actors selected to receive new authority are often neither representative nor accountable. The results of current policies are sometimes harmful to poor local people. The paper highlights the importance of meaningful national dialogue and the empowerment of civil society and of marginal actors in particular. It argues that forestry decentralisations should begin by working with local people, building on the institutions that they have already built, and that representative and accountable local governments may be the most appropriate interlocutors for this process.

Author(s): Anne M. Larson

Publication Date: 2004

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