Sub-theme 6. The drama of the grabbed commons
Infrastructures of inequality in the transformation of forest commons for large-scale commodity production
Forest and land commons are rapidly being converted for production of commodity agriculture, with far-reaching transformations in landscapes, wellbeing and resilience. Many of the dynamics that drive forest and land commodification are well-rehearsed, and have had dramatic impact on local lives and livelihoods. Policies to privatize commons and formalize tenure, deregulate markets and mobilize global capital have stimulated large-scale grabs of both forest and land, and have radically altered local social-cultural relations and institutions associated with governance of common-pool resources.
In this panel, we invite papers that explore how different forms of infrastructures – physical and institutional – have enabled and sustained the territorialization of forests and commons for commodity plantations since colonial times. We posit that the physical infrastructures manifested by the plantation (roads, ports, structures and movements of labour) and its enabling institutional infrastructure (macroeconomic policies, financial incentives, trade agreements) are sustained by the fabric of power and politics that benefit from them. We also invite papers that examine the diverse range of local reactions to loss of commons, including resistance in its many forms.
The underlying “infra-” of long-held narratives of forest commons as ‘idle’ or ‘unproductive’ spaces are employed alongside discourses of modernity and progress that legitimize “structures” of market and privatization as solutions. We encourage papers that examine how infrastructures to transform forest commons create disruptions and intersecting inequalities related to geographies, gender, ethnicity and age. We welcome grounded research that examine diverse responses to loss of commons through local histories, cultures, identities and politics.
1. Forest Boundaries and Forest Dwellers: Compartment and Taungya System for Large-scale Teak Production and its Influences on Forest Dwellers in Burma
1Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies, Kyoto University, Japan, 2Research Institute of Humanity and Nature, Japan
The current system of forest governance and infrastructure can be traced back to the colonial period of the nineteenth century when “scientific forestry” was introduced in the Bago region of Burma. During the British administration, teak forests were reserved and divided into compartments of sizes varying from 500 to more than 1,000 acres. “Scientific forestry” initially had three aims: (1) to ensure a permanent and sustained yield, (2) to convert the inhabitants of the forests and people in the vicinity into allies of the practice, and (3) to produce an annual surplus revenue as soon as possible for the colonial administration. Colonial government allowed long-term production permits for foreign traders. Notably, 94 percent of teak production from 1931-1939 came from five European firms. As colonial forestry institutions gained power, the forest department began to influence the customary rights of Burmese forest dwellers. Through analysis of historical data, literature, and biographies of Burmese forest officers in the colonial administration, this paper explores how the compartments and taungya system have enabled and sustained the territorialization of forests and commons for teak production and teak plantations since colonial times. Consequently, local people respond in two ways: through avoidance and resistance. On the other hand, forest administrators need local participation in labor force for forest management. To solve this problem, taungya system was introduced as a compromise, and the persistence of this infrastructure is still present in today’s large-scale private plantations.
Keywords: Colonial forestry, Scientific forestry, Teak production, Compartment, Forest dwellers, Taungya system, Burma
2. Financial flows and diverging interests in frontier change and governance in Mai Ndombe, DR Congo
1Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, Japan, 2University of Helsinki, Finland, 3Stockholm Resilience Centre, Sweden
Forest-agriculture frontiers are rapidly being converted either to agro-industrial practices and conservation interests throughout the tropics, often pursued under the guise of ‘sustainable development’. These transformations have not led to expected win-win social and ecological outcomes and benefits are often reaped by powerful and capital-rich actors (and the State) who are remote from these landscapes. We argue that such outcomes are a consequence of infrastructures that have persisted since colonial times – from the “infra” or underlying material, social and political framework, the physical infrastructure of roads, mills or tourism, to the paper infrastructure of lists, accounts, laws, and regulations which enables the capture of economic or ecological rent (Li 2019).
This study examines the material flows of finance, and the different actors and interests they represent, in the case study of Mai Ndombe in DR Congo, a forested region highly coveted for conservation values and development aspirations. Understanding that frontier change is driven not only by local people’s behaviours and land-use practices nor national policies alone, this paper applies a telecoupling approach and leverages on diverse open source data (LandMatrix, Global Forest Watch, Forest Carbon Partnership, ORBIS, OCCRP Aleph) to examine global flows of public and private finance and trace corporate ownership of investments in the region. Our preliminary findings highlight the complexity of transnational influences on frontier change for development and conservation interests, the reach of persistent infrastructures beyond boundaries and their consequences on local contestations over land-use and forest commons governance.
3. The gendered impacts of a large-scale forestry plantation in the Iringa region in Tanzania
Institute of Social Anthropology, University of Bern, Switzerland
There is little work on the gendered institutional changes and gendered impacts on common pool resources (CPR) due to Large-Scale Land Acquisitions. The aim of this presentation is to address the impacts of a forestry plantation operated by the British investor, the New Forests Company (NFC) in the Kilolo district, in the Iringa region. The institutional arrangements regarding different land-related common pool resources from pre-colonial times until the arrival of this investment will be shown. Furthermore, how these arrangements have changed over time and since the LSLA is presented. Then, the effects on men’s and women’s access to CPR and, thus, the impacts on their capacities to perform their reproductive work and resilience will be addressed. Furthermore, it focuses on how different stakeholders in the land deal (the investor, the government, different local people) make use of these different institutions to push through their own interests regarding the land. Finally, it looks at collective compensation payments (such as monetary compensation and jobs) and forms of corporate social responsibility (CSR) schemes, and how they are perceived emically. It is argued that the LSLA in this case clearly grabs land and land-related common pool resources that were previously held in common. Women, such as daughters, sisters, and wives, had specific access and property rights to these. Thus, it concludes that this grabbing lowers women’s resilience and deprives them of important resources for their livelihoods, and for food and cash production at critical times. CSR programmes and compensation rarely reach women and are, for them, an anti-politics machine, hiding the grabbing processes, and impacting the poorest of the poor, while the company uses a development discourse to legitimize its activities. In fact, the people perceive the investment as trapping them in underdevelopment.
4. Institutions and harmful convictions around forestland commons: Learning from the Greater South and the Western Highlands of Cameroon
1Group leader: Forest Institutions and International Development (FIID) Research Group, Chair of Tropical and International Forestry, Faculty of Environmental Sciences, Technische Universität Dresden, 2Department of Geography, University of Bamenda, Cameroon, 33Laboratory of Environmental Geomatics, Department of Forestry, Faculty of Agronomy and Agricultural Sciences, University of Dschang, Dschang, Cameroon
Forestland commons in many parts of sub-Saharan African have witnessed the multiplicity of institutional arrangements and power manifestations linked to their access and use. While there is significant evidence in the literature, comparative evidence on institutional arrangements and harmful convictions around forestland commons remain relatively less understood in Cameroon – an ethnically diverse country in sub-Saharan Africa. This paper undertakes a comparative analysis of the institutional arrangements in two plantation and socio-culturally distinct zones – the Greater South Region and the Western Highland Region of Cameroon. It further examines the harmful convictions that steer unequal access to forestland commons and discusses their implications for institutional change. Data was obtained through focus group discussions (28), key informant interviews (44) and expert interviews (19), and analyzed using narratives and content analysis. We observed that while ethnic-based and elitism-based harmful convictions significantly steer access to forestland commons in the greater south, gender-based and religious-based harmful convictions were more recurrent in the Western Highlands. Additionally, elites use harmful convictions to apply coercion in the greater south; in contrast, they employ incentives in the Western Highlands. The study also observed the complicity of traditional structures and institutions in fostering the dominance of state institutions, over community-based ones. Besides providing new insights on harmful convictions around forestland commons, the results also enhances our understanding of institutional change around forestland commons with emphasis on the harmful convictions.
Key words: gender, religion, elites, forestland, plantations, convictions, Cameroon