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Sharing Power : A few examples of policies that defend the values of participation, subsidiarity, and empowerment in natural resources management throughout the world.

Documents sources

Borrini-Feyerabend Grazia, Pimbert Michel, Farvar M.Taghi, Kothari Ashish, Renard Yves et al, Sharing Power - Learning by Doing in Co-management of Natural Resources throughout the World, IIED, IUCN, CMWG, CEESP, 2004.

Some policies defend, around the world, the values of participation, subsidiarity and empowerment in natural resources management. Here are presented some examples of co-management of natural resources and protected areas inscribed in national policy and legislation.

Marine protected areas legislation in Tanzania

National legislation defines the rules under which participatory management of natural resources can take place. The case of the Tanzania Marine Park and Reserves Act of 1994 is a good example. Several local initiatives were started for the co-management of coastal areas, and local government authorities established by-laws and regulations to legalise these activities. It soon became apparent that the national legislation on marine parks and reserves was deficient, and did not formally allow for participatory management processes involving the Division of Fisheries and Village Councils 1. A new legislation was thus drafted and ratified in 1994 to define the rules for the involvement of village councils in the participatory management of marine parks and reserves. The new national legislation provides an adequate statutory framework for local initiatives to be fully incorporated into national policy, and for village-based resource management systems to be formally recognised as a legal option.

The National Conservation Strategy of Pakistan

Pakistan‘s National Conservation Strategy, which was ratified in 1994, emphasises public involvement in the management of natural resources and of protected areas in particular. Under its umbrella, provincial and territorial governments embarked in developing regional conservation strategies. The Sarhad Provincial Conservation Strategy 2 includes specific guidelines for the involvement of communities in co-managing protected areas, such as the need to set up a co-management structure where local communities are to be directly represented, as well as specific mechanisms to facilitate their participation, protect their cultural identity, effectively share information and to distribute fairly the benefits deriving from each specific protected area.

Provisions for devolution of protected area management in El Salvador

In El Salvador, the National Park Service has issued a policy document stipulating the official procedures for NGOs and CBOs interested in joint management of protected areas. The relevant agreements take the form of a memorandum of understanding between El Salvador‘s Park Service and the organisation requesting to co-manage a protected area. A series of requisites are established for an organisation to qualify, such as possessing legal status, and having administrative capacity and prior experience in managing protected areas. Once the organisation qualifies, the Park Service requires it to submit an operational plan, which details the objectives and goals as well as the activities designed to meet them. As in many other instances, the state reserves the right to revoke the agreement that, as a memorandum of understanding, has clear time limits and evaluation periods. If the organisation complies with the requirements and is successfully evaluated, the participatory management of the protected area can continue over longer periods of time.

Civil society management of protected areas in Lebanon

In Lebanon, important conservation initiatives emerged in the 1980s, when there was no effective national government and the country was under Israeli occupation. The initiatives were developed endogenously— one could even say spontaneously— by civil society groups, at times based on progressive religious leader- ship by Druze and other Moslem groups and Christians, who “declared” and managed a number of protected areas. When Israel was forced to withdraw from Lebanon and a legitimate government was established, it allowed the civil society groups and NGOs that had established the protected areas to continue to manage them, now under the authority of the government and under contract with the Ministry of the Environment. Up to today this arrangement continues more or less unchanged in all 9 protected areas of the country, including marine and coastal zones. Yet, states have by nature a monopolistic tendency and the conditions for the management of protected areas are getting tighter for the NGOs— despite their excellent results and their proven capacity to engage local communities and other stakeholders. Unfortunately, the co-management setting of Lebanese protected areas appears in jeopardy.

Joint Forest Management in India

On 1 June 1990, a Joint Forest Management (JFM) programme was officially launched in more than 14 states of India, largely in response to the fast deterioration and uncontrolled exploitation of their forests. The goal of the programme was “to secure the willing cooperation of the people through their active participation for the conservation and development of forests on a sustainable basis”3. Through co-management agreements, local forest protection committees received the formal authority to control forest resource uses. In the best cases, the agreements have managed to define a fair share of the rights and responsibilities of local user groups and the forest department, and have led to impressive forest regeneration 4. In other cases, complex controversies related to equity and real versus token participation in forest management decisions have arisen leading to the failure of several local attempts 5. In 2002, nearly 64,000 Forest Protection Committees were registered in 27 Indian states 6. Similarly in Nepal, over 3,400 forest user groups have been formed that currently manage 2000 community forests. These legally registered groups work with government forestry staff to develop a five year operational plan. Upon approval of the plan, conditional management rights are handed over to the user groups. The operational plan spells out the rights and obligations of the parties involved in the forest management agreement7.

Provisions for claiming land and resource rights in Canada

Under the Federal Government Policy of Canada, a comprehensive claim process enables the negotiation and recognition of indigenous rights and interests in areas where earlier treaties did not involve the surrendering of aboriginal titles. Comprehensive claims processes involve negotiations over indigenous peoples‘ claims to land and resource management, determination of development strategies and indigenous self-government. Claimant groups can secure title to lands covered by the settlement, wildlife harvesting rights, participation in land, water, wildlife and environmental management in the settlement area, financial compensations, revenue-sharing rights, access to measures to stimulate economic development, and a role in the management of heritage resources (Box 10.7). Agreements are protected under the Canadian Constitution and cannot be amended without the concurrence of the claimant group8. The comprehensive claims have evolved over time. In 1984, they mostly dealt with rights to harvest wildlife, harvesting methods, native employment in the parks, business considerations and the like.9 More recently, the boards established under land claim settlements have gained more encompassing and authoritative roles10.

Fisheries management in Vietnam

In Vietnam, the Government has developed a Master Plan for Fisheries (1997- 2010). This plan is particularly relevant to the development of coastal and marine protected areas as it emphasises user rights over resources, addresses policy for marine capture fisheries, and promotes the need to adopt and implement more effective conservation measures. The plan emphasises accelerating the process of establishing a rational system for the exploitation and use of the country‘s natural marine resources and habitats, including the introduction of management systems and structures aimed at supporting resource and habitat protection while recognising the need for an equitable allocation of resource use rights and obligations of the people and coastal communities. Within this policy framework, both fishery co-management and marine protected areas find their complementary places11.

Fisheries legislation for co-management in the Eastern Caribbean

In the 1980s, all countries that are members of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States participated in a review of their fisheries legislation that resulted in the inclusion of a provision for the establishment of Local Fisheries Management Areas. It is this provision that was followed in Saint Lucia to establish the Soufriere Marine Management Area (see Box 3.9 in Chapter 3) and thus provided the institutional basis for its co-management regime. In the absence of this provision, the Soufriere Marine Management Area may not have been able to realise the positive results that it has obtained over the past few years.

Policies for multi-stakeholder boards for protected areas in the Philippines

In the Philippines, new policies and legal instruments provide for local representation on multi-stakeholder protected area management boards. These boards comprise representatives of national and local governmental agencies, non-governmental organisations, indigenous peoples and other local cultural communities. They have primary responsibility for protected area management and they call for the participation of community and other civil society actors. With increased capacity-building for community and indigenous people‘s representatives, some of these boards have become models of participation in protected area management12. When combined with the respect of the principle of Prior Informed Consent these policy shifts potentially allow local communities to actively shape protected area policies13.

Enabling legislation for local fisheries management in Turkey

The small-scale fishery in Alanya, on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey, is located on the edge of a deep basin, and the inshore zone for setting nets is very limited. The fishers have organised among themselves a system of rotating fishing areas so that each fisher receives equitable access to the more productive fishing spots. There are some 40 named fishing spots in Alanya‘s trammel net fishery, which takes place between September and May. The overall system of access rights and rules for taking turns is quite complicated but, starting in the 1980s, it has reduced conflict among fishers. Fishery management in Turkey is centralised. There are no local government jurisdictions or local village jurisdictions over fishing, as for example one finds in Japanese coastal fisheries. This created a dilemma for the fishers in Alanya: how to provide legitimacy for the system they designed? They decided to draw legitimacy by using the Aquatic Resources Act as enabling legislation. The Act states that local cooperatives have jurisdiction over “local arrangements”. Thus the rules were drawn up under the letterhead of the local fisheries co-operative, endorsed by the fishers at the coffee house where they were formulated, and copies were deposited with the local mayor and police14.

Forest policy for co-management in Nepal

As Nepal emerged from a feudal regime during the early 1950s, the incipient state established a basic forest policy. Initially, this policy distinguished three categories of forests, including “community forests” meant to satisfy community needs. Their management and protection was entrusted to village Panchayats. This policy remained on paper and was not truly implemented until the late 1970s. During these two decades, Nepal‘s forest policy followed the Western model, by which forest ownership was vested in the state and management authority placed in the hands of the Forest Department. The forests were nationalised in 1957, actually not— as many have erroneously remarked— to take them away from the communities, but rather to break the feudal tenure arrangements by which three quarters of the forests and agricultural lands in the country were held by a single family. After nationalisation, the Forest Department was responsible for performing all policing and licensing functions, a nearly impossible task in light of its limited staff capacity. The Forest Act of 1961 provided the first legislation that contemplated transferring government forest lands to village Panchayats for community use. Unfortunately, these legal provisions were never implemented, and the issue was not addressed until 15 years later. Meanwhile, the Forest Preservation Act of 1967 strengthened the role of the Forest Department as policy and law-enforcement agency. A Forestry Plan was established in 1976, including provisions for creating Panchayat Forests to benefit local communities. Finally, in 1978, specific rules and regulations governing the transfer of limited areas of state forests to the Panchayats were enacted. Formal recognition had thus been given to the rights of villagers to manage their own forest resources with provisions for technical assistance by the Forest Department, as necessary. In 1990, the Government of Nepal stressed its engagement about community forestry by inscribing it as a key component in its major master plan for the forestry sector. This included provisions for:

  • handing over of all the accessible hill forests to the communities to the extent that they are able and willing to manage them;

  • entrusting the users with the task of protecting and managing the forests, with the users receiving all of the income;

  • re-training the entire staff of the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation to enable them to perform their new role as advisers and extension workers.

Investigations in forest management have shown conclusively that a great many village communities have been managing their forest resources effectively, creating institutional arrangements to ensure the basic protection of hill forests and the enforcement of access and use rights. Many of these local management systems evolved over the past 35 years, and proved more effective than management by the Forest Department, which had been plagued by constant budget and staff cuts15.

Despite the diversity of situations, one broad general lesson emerges from working with natural resource policies throughout the world. While it is essential to establish an appropriate policy and legislative framework at the national level, the purpose of such frameworks is to provide an adequate policy environment, not to impose specific and rigid systems and models of co-management on the ground. Appropriate legislation allows a measure of flexibility in its interpretation and some site-level decision-making to fit at best the specificities of different contexts. It is therefore important to remain aware of the distinction between the co-management provisions that more appropriately belong to national law and those that more appropriately belong to specific management agreements, as proposed in Box 10.8.


1 Magnus Ngoile, personal communication, 1996.

2 GONWFP and IUCN Pakistan, 1996; Oli, 1998.

3 Palit, 1995; Morrison, 1997.

4 Poffenberger, 1994.

5 Sarin, 2003.

6 RUPFOR. 2002; see also

7 McDermott, 1996.

8 Siddons, 1993.

9 Kovacs, 1984.

10 The first modern comprehensive claims treaty in Canada was the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement of 1975. It set the precedent for co-management provisions in the subsequent agreements in British Columbia, Yukon, the North West Territories and others. See also Richardson, Craig and Boer, 1994a; Richardson, Craig and Boer, 1994b.

11 Vorah, 2001.

12 Worah, 2002.

13 See, however, Ferrari and De Vera, 2003.

14 Berkes, 1992.

15 Gilmour and Fisher, 1991; Kothari et al., 1997.