Sub-theme 10. Local institution building and radical futures for the commons
Reconstituting institutions and norms for forest commons in contexts of multiple transitions
Forests and their resources are often framed as commons with a large number of people having access, benefiting and being actively involved in their governance and management, with rules ensuring forest sustainability. However, many social-ecological contexts are characterised by overlapping and interacting multiple transitions (changes), especially those that have experienced or are experiencing socio-cultural and other forms of societal pressure or collapse. Such changes can be demographic, economic, technological, environmental, religious, socio-cultural, and political amongst others, and with their interactions, affect forest commons, their governance and management.
The challenge therefore remains to identify ways to govern and manage forest commons to ensure that forests continue providing their ecosystem functions and ecosystem services and that those local actors and communities dependent on forests for their livelihoods, including their knowledge systems and socio-technical innovations for managing the commons, are formally recognised. Further, that communities and local actors benefit from forest resources and have the right and power to influence decisions about forests. Thus, reconstituting institutions and norms in multiple transition contexts requires research to identify how to integrate multi-perspectives, top-down and bottom-up strategies and structures to achieve sustainable outcomes for both forests and indigenous and local peoples.
This session thus asks the questions:
What are the current social-ecological realities of forest “commons” in contexts of interacting multiple transitions? How did the institutions and norms of the forest commons weaken or collapse? How do local institutions and organizations respond and adapt to exogenous and endogenous changes in resource use and stock? What roles do indigenous knowledge systems and socio-technical innovations play in the sustainability of forest products and resources? Through which processes were the institutions and norms reconstituted, strengthened and persisted? What challenges to the forest commons remain? We expect submissions to this session to identify or reflect on solution options for reconstituting institutions and norms for forest commons especially in contexts of weak or competing institutions, poverty and unequal power.
Panel 10.19. A
1. Why fishers-based forest planting initiatives occurred in Japan: lessons learned from the feudal period to the present
Fukuoka Women’s University, Japan
Forest lands in Japan cover two-thirds of the total land area. Despite the high forest cover, wood production in Japan has constantly declined since the 1960s in competition with imported wood and the aging of the population of people employed in forestry, resulting in poor forest maintenance and the loss of multiple ecological functions. Indeed, fisheries resources are subject to various influences not only from overfishing, but also from the adjacent marine and terrestrial areas. Loss of forests can affect fish populations in part due to a reduced nutrient supply and degraded water quality via the discharge of massive sediments to downstream areas. Considering the poor forest maintenance by local actors who used to play vital roles in managing the local commons, there is a need to build strategies that consider correlation between the land and sea by incorporating other relevant stakeholders including the fishers.
This paper presents a case of fishers-based forest planting initiatives in Japan highlighting the uniqueness of forests being planted by fishers in terms of the range of plantation, i.e., from upstream to downstream areas. It details the development of the initiatives by applying the ‘Adaptive Cycle Model (ACM)’ developed by Fath et al. (2015). The ACM was developed to understand the resilience of different participants by unravelling the dynamics of social-ecological systems. Using the ACM, this paper addresses the strategies adopted by the fishers to restore the environmental functions of forests to the enhancement of fisheries during the long-term period from the feudal period (after 1600) to the present.
2. Community institutional capacity-building for forest management in a REDD+ project
Nagoya University, Japan
Climate change has already extremely negative effects on our lives, such as forest fires, sea level rise, floods, and food shortage caused by droughts. As one of the countermeasures for global warming, an increasing number of governments have started to introduce REDD+ (reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, as well as the sustainable management of forests and the conservation and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries). This transition of forest management style to REDD+ necessitates the participation of local forest users in forest management at the community level more than before. Although the success of forest management in REDD+ largely depends on how forest management activities are carried out at the community level, empirical evidence on what promotes forest management activities at the community level is still limited. Based on the data collected during the author’s fieldwork in ten REDD+ project communities in Cambodia, this study revealed how institutional capacity building of local institutions (forest user groups) affected forest management activities at the community level in the REDD+ project. The study particularly investigates the roles of social capital (social network, cooperative norms, and trust) among forest users as well as between forest user groups and external agencies (forest department and Non Profit Organizations: (NPOs)) for sustainable management of their forests. Based on the findings, it provides some policy implications for strengthening the capacity of local institutions for forest management in REDD+ projects.
3. Navigating the dynamics of power and perceptions in forests facing social-environmental change
1Boston University, USA, 2Arizona State University, USA, 3Pennsylvania State University, USA
Community forests in Chitwan, Nepal are facing dual environmental and social transitions, related to invasive species and socio-demographic changes. These changes impact the ability of the forests to provide ecosystem services such as non-timber forest products that support livelihoods. The process of social and institutional change in these locally governed forests is driven partially by power dynamics between stakeholders. Historically, power has often been ignored in institutional analyses and power remains one of the most underdeveloped areas of environmental governance theory. Yet power drives institutional change in human-environment systems. Leveraging a decade of research on invasive species management in community forests in Chitwan, Nepal, we explore how perceptions of invasive species and forms of power in governance interact across multiple levels to both oppress and empower local communities. We present a framework that connects 1) forms of power in polycentric governance, 2) perceptions of actors and governance dynamics, and 3) governance outcomes in forest commons. We describe how the framework can be implemented by synthesizing findings from Chitwan on how household perceptions of stakeholders and environmental changes have interacted with forms of power, and how these interactions have shaped norms in community forest governance. This approach illuminates feedback loops between power and perceptions, some that empower local communities to achieve governance goals, and others that are oppressive. Identifying these power dynamics provides insights for empowering stakeholders in forest-based systems to transform institutions to achieve shared goals.
4. Ostrom’s Design Principles and Gender: Supernatural Institutions in Sacred Forest Conservation in Maharashtra, India
1University of Toronto Mississauga, Canada, 2Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment, India
Ostrom’s design principles are considered to explain cases of successful common-pool resource governance but the application of Ostrom’s design principles to empirically examine the role of supernatural institutions, comprising of beliefs, taboos, and rituals, in protecting sacred forests has been limited. Furthermore, the role of women in the management of sacred groves has not been well-examined. To address these two gaps, we empirically examine how Ostrom’s design principles may be represented in supernatural institutions for managing sacred forests and the role of women in managing these forests. Through eighty-six semi-structured interviews conducted in four villages in 2015-2017 in the Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary region in the Western Ghats of India known for villages with sacred forests, we find that supernatural institutions are aligned with Ostrom’s design principles and present a low-cost option for sacred forest management because of beliefs that the deity will confer automatic sanctions for violating taboos. However, these supernatural institutions continue upholding patriarchal norms that disadvantage and exclude women from not just decision-making but also from accessing the sacred groves and the temples inside the groves. Thus, examining the mechanisms through which supernatural institutions are implemented may reveal features of supernatural beliefs linked to well-defined institutions that maintain the integrity of the sacred forests while simultaneously perpetuating gender inequalities.
5. Institutions and impacts of forest governance for the persistence and transition of forests in the Tropics: An archetype analysis
University of Bern, Switzerland
Unprotected forests provide ecosystem services that support livelihoods and contribute to global environmental health. Embedded in a traditional social system and used as a common resource, changes occurring in the social-ecological context offer implications on their sustainability outcomes. While the extant literature has predominantly focused on forest degradation and depletion, there is scattered evidence of forest persistence and re-emergence among such unprotected forests. The puzzle, however, is to find out what governance arrangements influence such forest persistence and transition – often overlooked in forest transition research – despite the surge in reported anthropogenic pressures and climate change concerns. This study aims to synthesize case study evidence of governance factors driving the persistence and transitions of forests in the tropics, for cummulative learning. Through adopting a Social-Ecological Systems framework, this study will respond to the questions: What recurrent types of governance arrangements influence forest persistence and transition in tropical forest regions? What are the impact pathways that explain why forests persist or (re) grow? What sustainability outcomes emerge from such forest governance practices? The study follows a systematic literature review, utilizing the PRISMA guidelines for systematic reviews and a model-centered meta-analysis. The initial results show that various governance arrangements – self-organized and collaborative arrangements – influence forest persistence and re-emergence through functions such as collective action, benefit sharing, and monitoring. Socio-cultural norms, recognition of forest tenure, and community forest management are important change processes to forest sustainability outcomes.
Panel 10.19. B
1. Do indigenous organizations have the capacity to prevent and combat environmental crimes in the Amazon?: A holistic and participatory framework to assess their capacities
1Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP), Peru, 2Universidad del Pacífico, Perú
Local and regional indigenous organizations in the Amazon are actors with increasing relevance in preventing and combating environmental crimes (illegal logging, illegal mining, and wildlife trafficking). However, their lack of capacities (institutional and administrative) limits their active participation in governmental spaces to discuss corrective actions. Therefore, international organizations aiming at addressing this lack of capacity problem include in their intervention, activities to strengthen local capacities. Nevertheless, these organizations do not have a pathway to follow because there is limited understanding of the needed capacity to be improved, the level of capacity at the beginning of the intervention, and therefore what exactly needs to be strengthened.
This study aims to, first, provide guidelines to design and implement a framework to assess the capacities of indigenous organizations to prevent and combat environmental crimes in the Amazon. The participatory design of the assessment tool includes i) an SESF approach to understanding the underlying situations that enable these environmental crimes to happen; ii) the norms and mandate of the organization (internal and as part of the system); iii) the services that these indigenous organizations provide to the local communities they represent.
Second, perform a comparative analysis of the assessed capacities for two indigenous organizations in the Peruvian Amazon with different mandates, regions, and scales of operation.
Finally, analyzing the quantitative (the level of capacity) and qualitative (written report) assessment results, this study will provide guidance to governmental and international organizations in the Amazon aiming at strengthening institutional capacities.
2. Analyzing the transformative potential of Community Forest Resource rights in Eastern Maharashtra, India
1Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), India, 2Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), India
The idea of decentralized forest governance has gained momentum globally with an increased emphasis on a rights-based approach. The Community Forest Resource (CFR) rights provision of the Forest Rights Act, 2006 of India is a major step in that direction as it devolves legally secure, autonomous and substantive rights to local communities to use and manage their forests. However, recognition of rights, does not automatically translate into positive and equitable livelihood and conservation outcomes – much depends upon the collective decision-making processes adopted at the local level and the policy support provided post-recognition. Our study therefore addresses the question: “Does decentralized forest governance, in particular the CFR rights, lead to livelihood enhancement, community empowerment and forest conservation? And what factors enable or prevent these outcomes?”
We conducted vegetation assessments, household surveys, focus group discussions and interviews in six CFR rights recognized villages in eastern Maharashtra. Our findings indicate improved forest condition, strengthening of local institutions, increased participation of women, employment generation, and livelihood enhancement through marketing of forest products.
While intra-village dynamics do play some role, the major impediment to livelihood enhancement is the highly uneven support of the bureaucracy. By demonstrating the ecological and socioeconomic transformative potential of CFR rights and the barriers to realizing it, our study will inform thinking about post-claims policy support. The study also contributes to the emerging literature on “beyond tenure”, arguing that making use of new tenurial arrangements requires empowerment of villagers and a conscious shift towards a supportive mindset in the bureaucracy
3. Facilitation of large-scale recognition of community forest ownership in India
Indian School of Business, India
The paper documents the role of a coordination mechanism across different levels of the government in expediting and upscaling the process of community forest resource rights recognition in India. Although the legal provision for securing community tenure on forest lands has been established in the country in 2006, the implementation of the Forest Rights Act for the recognition of community forest resource rights has been less than satisfactory. We document the challenges in filing claims for the recognition of community forest resource rights in the Pangi valley of Himachal Pradesh. The existing arguments attribute the lack of recognition of community tenure to the ill intentions of the state. Contrary to this argument, we find three reasons for the failure of recognition of community forest resource rights in India. First, the absence of a coordination mechanism across different levels of the government has resulted in gaps in preparing and processing community claims on forest lands. Second, the bureaucrats responsible for the implementation of the Act for community titles lack the necessary experience (and information) on their role in recognizing community titles. Finally, the expectation from local communities to shepherd the process of filing claims for community titles on forests is both unreasonable and impractical. In this paper, we demonstrate multiple strategies to overcome these challenges. We draw on lessons from India to suggest a state-centric process for large-scale recognition of community ownership of forest lands, one that can be replicated in diverse geographies.
4. Role of Bureaucratic Discretion in Re-commoning Process: A Longitudinal Case Study of India’s Forest Rights Act 2006 Implementation in Gadchiroli District
IIM Ahmedabad, India
While a part of the IASC 2023 conference title mentions “the commons we want,” globally, operationalization of rights-based approaches (RBAs) to forest conservation in a way to respond to the “wants” is reported to be slow, and debate is around reasons for it. Under a RBA, India’s Forest Rights Act 2006 (FRA) provides a policy framework expecting to undo historical injustice, mainly on its indigenous communities, by recognizing community forest rights (CFRs) on their traditional forest resources. But its implementation is also reported to be slow and uneven across Indian states. To explore the barriers to re-commoning efforts, I study FRA implementation in India’s Gadchiroli district through a longitudinal case study tracing the district-level implementation process for around 13 years. The method involves examining how and why of the observed evolving phenomenon over time. I analyze FRA and its rules, state and central government documents, district-level documents issued to operationalize implementation, CFRs claims, and recognized CFRs data. Additionally, I draw on interviews with government actors, FRA managers/coordinators, NGO members, civil society volunteers, village-level committee members, and villagers to gather data. I describe and tentatively explain the observed forest re-commoning efforts and outputs using mixed methods. The findings demonstrate that the discretion of the key bureaucrats in the districts and village-level factors influences effective re-commoning efforts and outputs. The findings suggest that context-specific factors might influence the re-commoning of forest resources. The findings are useful for practitioners interested in re-commoning the forests.
5. What kind of transformative change is needed to safeguard forest commons?
1Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ, Germany, 2Leipzig University, Germany
Forests are fundamental for the stability and functionality of the earth and socio-ecological systems. In particular, the remaining large forests, such as those in the Amazon or the Congo Basin, constitute global commons regarding several of the services they provide to humans (e.g. biodiversity conservation, among other important for subcontinental climate). Despite their key importance, forest governance has proven inefficient in halting deforestation and forest degradation. Global assessments have reached the conclusion that fundamental, i.e. transformative change, is required to safeguard forest commons and other ecosystems. Although transformative change is called for by global reports and scientific assessments, the transformative potential of their recommendations remains unclear. Using the transformative change framework developed by Wittmer et al. (2021), we summarise and evaluate the transformative potential of recommendations from global assessment reports to explore current gaps. We complement this with a bottom-up perspective from projects and initiatives at the local scale to understand possible pathways for transformation in terms of forest governance. Our analysis shows that the measures proposed by global assessments (including supply chain, integrated landscape management, and financial approaches) constitute promising starting points but leave considerable gaps on how to best address these cross-cutting challenges and support the required transformative change. We identify four grand ambitions that are valid far beyond the forest sector. The presentation will explore the challenges and ambitions identified and discuss lessons learned from project interviews, thus seeking to contribute to unlocking the transformative potential of forest governance.