Wanted: all-round negotiators
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CTA. 1999. Wanted: all-round negotiators. Spore 82. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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The concept of participation now occupies pride of place in forestry planning, and has become the key to redefining policy. Yet it can only work under certain conditions: there have to be responsible attitudes on the part of participants, mutual...
The concept of participation now occupies pride of place in forestry planning, and has become the key to redefining policy. Yet it can only work under certain conditions: there have to be responsible attitudes on the part of participants, mutual exchange of information between them, commitment by public bodies, an independent role for facilitators, and a rigorous approach. Most forestry policies which are currently being revisited in developing countries claim to be based on bringing together the interest groups that represent the various users of the forest. Just as in other sectors of society, the notion of participation has come to dominate thinking on planning. It is a real novelty in the forestry world, long accustomed to the State taking decisions without any consultation. In forestry, a long term vision is needed with regard to public intervention, and strategic planning has an essential role to play. Participation thrust its way onto the stage in developing countries during the 1980s, following criticism of the ineffectiveness of State systems to slow down the degradation of forest resources. When studies showed the importance of the forest for local communities, the idea was born to involve them in forestry management as a way to improve protection. Coupled to this was the need to involve the representatives of various interests in the formulation of corresponding political and planning options. Several approaches found favour, varying according to the country and the international agencies backing them. In the beginning, the type of participation practised was passive, with representatives of interest groups being involved solely to be informed about options, or to provide information to the State on what it could do. In time, this attitude gradually made way for real, active involvement respecting the opinions of each party, and negotiating a compromise on objectives and means between often antagonistic positions. Slowly, pluralism was accepted in administrative bodies which had been unwilling to listen to the points of view of forest users suspected of degrading forest resources rather than maintaining them. Now the tables have turned and today one of the key conditions of leading international donor agencies is, alongside an emphasis on training, that there must be a participatory process of drawing up national forestry policies and programmes. The 'mixed model' is a complex procedure, which has been used in several ACP countries. It involves organising on a nationwide basis a massive process of consultation, discussion and negotiation from bottom to top on forestry problems, on how to resolve them and on how to permit stakeholders to assume their proper responsibilities. There are rounds of consultations to arrive at a common diagnosis of the present situation, to agree on objectives to be met, to elaborate implementation strategies and related priorities. Series of regional, then national, workshops are held so that all participants can state their preferences, debate them in public and then negotiate a compromise acceptable to all parties. The forest service plays a central technical role in the discussion, but it is only a non-majority stakeholder. This process, when conducted with due rigour, can help a State to affirm its independence in decision-making and to avoid having to follow international prescriptions. The extent to which this type of direct democracy is effective depends on many factors. Firstly, there has to be a free and full flow of information between participants, which is not always the case since holding back information can be used as a way to maintain power. Participants also have to be able to properly represent real social issues, and to avoid restricting themselves to promoting their own representativeness. Further, facilitators have to have the utmost neutrality. Finally, there must be a clear commitment on the part of the public authorities to put into practice the decisions arising from the process, not normally an easy task since most of them entail expenditure. Furthermore, there is a risk involved in the withdrawal of the State and international donor agencies from forestry development. At a time when sectoral aid is falling fast and the means of central administrations are restricted, arranging the participation of stakeholders can be a way to pull out of the sector and to leave local stakeholders to fend for themselves alone. Forestry development would not be any the better for such an approach. To involve interest groups in decisions about forestry policy is a good thing. But it has to be a reasoned choice, arrived at on the basis of methods and techniques proper to democracy. Negotiation has to be taken and conducted seriously, with the rigour necessary for respecting the sincerity of all participants. Only then can the resulting decisions be sure of having optimal effectiveness, and equity. 'Serious, rigorous negotiations' The opinions expressed in Viewpoint are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of CTA.
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