Science and Power in Participatory Forestry (SCIFOR)

Project summary

With the purposes of improving forest conservation as well as rural peoples’ livelihoods in less developed countries, local communities are increasingly becoming involved in managing forests. Yet, evidence that these purposes are met is scarce, and the reason seems to be associated with the conditions under which rural people are, in practice, allowed to participate. Justified by concerns over (lacking) forest management skills among local communities, forest bureaucracies are reluctant to transfer forest management rights to rural people. Scientific forest management plans (SFMPs) that are prepared by professional foresters and endorsed by forest authorities are, thus, often a precondition for participation. Unfortunately, the elaboration of such SFMPs is costly and time consuming and tends to over-burden cash and resource strained forest bureaucracies as well as local communities, thus hampering the spread of participatory forestry. Further, in some cases, it seems that forest bureaucracies justify delays in handing over of rights to valuable forest resources to communities with lacking SFMPs only to remain in control over lucrative resources. At community level, SFMPs may promote elite capture while serving little purpose in actual forest management. Paradoxically, the requirement of costly SFMPs, thus, appears an obstacle to implement and fulfill the purposes of people’s participation. Accordingly, SCIFOR aims to investigate the justifications, functions and values of SFMPs from the perspectives of forest bureaucracies and local communities. The project will do this in Tanzania and Nepal where participatory forestry arrangements form corner stones of national forest policies. The aim is to develop and promote participatory forestry approaches that, in practice, support equitable, environmentally sound, and economically rational forest management.


Project Completion Report:

SCIFOR examines the justifications, motivations, and role in practical forest management of scientific forestry principles as it unfolds in educative institutions, bureaucracies, and communities and forests – focusing on Nepal and Tanzania. Results show that the official justifications of scientific forestry are undermined by practices that deviate from its principles. Thus, forest management is not guided by scientific forestry principles, and the way these principles are taught and applied within educative and bureaucratic institutions match poorly with the complex forest ecologies in which they are practiced. Further, forest management by local communities and foresters alike rests on other forms of knowledge. Thus, there is scope for transformation of forest management towards more locally adapted and less bureaucratic and costly approaches. Political economies, prestige and entrenched ways of thinking, however, stand in the way of such transformation.

Brief popularized abstract

SCIFOR aimed to develop and promote forestry approaches that support equitable, environmentally sound, and economically rational forest management. Specifically, SCIFOR aimed to examine how professional foresters frame the role of science and other forms of knowledge in forest conservation and management and why. The project did extensive field-based research in Tanzania and Nepal where participatory forestry arrangements form corner stones of national forest policies. Findings show that professional foresters promote costly and bureaucratic approaches to forest management, which holds little relevance to actual practical forestry, and which tends to exclude local people. This, in turn, blocks sustainable and inclusive forest management. Findings also show that this paradoxical and counterproductive approach to forestry is reproduced through educational practices, and strengthened by demands from, among other, international donors and technical advisers. Based on these findings, SCIFOR has worked with universities and policy makers in seeking to change mindsets, educational practices, and institutional norms to further more inclusive and sustainable approaches to forestry.

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