Managing Conflict under Decentralized Forest Governance: Lessons from Indonesia and Vietnam

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"Decentralization has been widely promoted in response to the continued destruction of natural resources and the desire to have more democratic resource management. However, studies show that the decentralization of natural resource management (NRM) introduces concomitant conflicts that often hinder the achievement of decentralization goals. To address these conflicts appropriately a thorough understanding of conflict and its dynamics is required. Although in-country case studies continue to grow, comparative analysis across countries at a regional scale is lacking. This study attempts to contribute to filling this gap by exploring the implementation of small logging concessions and forest land allocation (FLA) programmes in Indonesia and Vietnam respectively. It combined fieldwork and extensive literature review to understand issues associated with conflict in decentralized NRM, the underlying causes of conflict and associated impacts. The study reveals that conflict in small logging concession schemes in Indonesia revolved around two major issues: unclear forest boundaries and benefit sharing. Stakeholders became embroiled in conflict because of the vagueness of forest boundaries between villages and between community forest and state forest. Conflict also emerged because of unequal benefit sharing from timber sales. Elite capture triggered such dissension. Various conflicts at the local level in Indonesia caused uneasy relationships among actors and also the acceleration of timber logging. In Vietnam, conflict revolved around the following issues: exclusion, boundary disputes and access to timber. A number of groups were excluded from the FLA programme, particularly ethnic minorities and migrants. Unclear forest boundaries were also reported to trigger conflict between various households in a particular village and between villages that participated in the FLA programme. Access to timber was accentuated due to some groups being excluded from the FLA programme and also because of overlapping titles over the same forest area. These conflicts also induced uneasy relationships and distrust. The results from this study challenge the validity of decentralization assumptions. The lessons from Indonesia and Vietnam raise critical questions as to how decentralized resource management regimes enhance democratization, poverty reduction and resource conservation. Finally, a number of policy actions and practical consequences are outlined, including evaluation of decentralization policies, stakeholder negotiation and capacity building for addressing conflict appropriately and promptly."
decentralization, natural resources, resource management, forestry, conflict, allocation rules, land tenure and use, IASC