Who's Participating in 'Participatory' Forestry? The Promise and Pitfalls of the Joint Forest Management (JFM) Model in India

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Date
2000
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"Included in the rhetoric surrounding today's concept of 'sustainable' development of the less- developed nations is the notion of 'participation.' Participation of local communities has become a cornerstone of natural resource planning and management in principle, but whether this is evident in practice is a subject of some contention. How is the 'success' or 'failure' of a participatory resource management scheme defined? One may turn to quantifiable data in search of afforestation and regeneration figures, but social accounts need to be taken as well. Is there 'success' in participatory management without community empowerment? Recent research about the JFM experience in India indicates that despite its potential to benefit local communities by bringing them into official forest management practices, insufficient attention to relevant gender and class issues has resulted in a system which may, in fact, undermine the goal of community empowerment. In many areas, JFM serves to reinforce existing power hierarchies both within communities and between local communities and forest departments. "The findings of the research are based on case study materials of JFM in districts of West Bengal, Gujarat, Karnataka, and Himachal Pradesh. The paper argues that the existing JFM model 1) has built-in gender biases and 2) fails to create equal partnerships between local communities and the state Forest Departments. Further, the use of JFM as the single 'participatory' model for forest management fails to acknowledge that within each community, pre- existing traditions relating to the decision-making process are already present. In some cases, the introduction of JFM may encourage a shift towards more equity between dominant and minority groups within a single community. In other cases, however, the imposition of JFM management and benefit sharing provisions may disrupt relatively stable systems already in place. "The paper concludes that JFM needs to have a built-in flexibility which would allow for communities to participate in the design of the program itself, on a site-specific basis. This would allow for communities to negotiate decision-making and benefit-sharing provisions in conjunction with the state Forest Departments. The program could be further improved by encouraging the association of local NGOs, which could facilitate sensitization about gender and caste/class equity issues in decision-making as well. Finally, sensitization within the ranks of the Forest Departments on the issue of 'partnerships' with local communities must also be achieved."
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IASC, common pool resources, forest management, community participation, joint management, inequality, gender
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