University of Tasmania
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Who benefits? : Decentralised forest governance through community forestry in Nepal

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posted on 2023-05-27, 11:50 authored by Sigdel Baral, B
Old fashioned, centralised and bureaucratic systems of natural resources management have been blamed for the failure to conserve forest resources. Such arrangements are alleged to result in top-down decision making processes, low levels of community participation, and lack of transparency. These criticisms have led to claims that the devolution of forest management to the community will improve resource management and more effectively deliver sustainable development. The devolution from the state to local communities of natural resource management access rights has been an important policy tool for forest management over the last several decades. This research examines to what extent, and how, decentralized forest governance delivers enhanced economic, social and environmental benefits. More specifically this study develops and tests a framework to assess how devolved forest governance performs across the indicators of participation, transparency, accountability, effectiveness, efficiency, and equity. A set of policy relevant and locally applicable governance indicators was developed through a participatory process that involved a large number of stakeholders including CFUG members and policy makers. To explore this topic, the study combines a single case study of devolved forest governance in Nepal with a medium-n research design of perceptions of community forestry operations in nine community forest user groups from three districts representing three different Nepalese ecological zones. A purposive sampling method was used to select CFUGs with different characteristics and CFUG members' opinions were collected using both qualitative and quantitative approaches. The study reveals that the key elements and indicators of governance are dialectically interconnected. Governance performance on one element and associated indicators shapes the outcome of other elements and indicators. Community forests located in the Middle Hills and High Mountains regions of Nepal generally perform well across the various governance indicators used, while a lower level of performance was observed in Terai region. However the research finds that ecological zone is not a determining factor of good governance; instead, socio-economic factors are found to shape the success of community forestry governance and outcomes. In addition, the research reveals that external agencies actually enhance community forest governance and outcomes as a result of synergy, interaction and cross-fertilization of knowledge between community forestry participants, government officials and other stakeholders. It is also the case that the better a community forest is governed, the more it flourishes and the wealthier it becomes. However, the distribution of the wealth and capital generated by a community forest remains a concern as the benefits are not being shared with the wider community. The research highlights the need to build the capacity of community forest users and, especially, to empower poor and disadvantaged people to ensure they obtain access to and are able to utilise the available resources. By developing an innovative framework to assess governance at local level, this study not only informs us about decentralised community forestry in Nepal, but the framework can also be utilised to assess community-based natural resource management initiatives in other developing countries.


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Copyright 2015 the author

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