, Volume 30, Issue 3, pp 315-340

The theory of social forestry intervention: the state of the art in Asia

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Abstract

This study focuses on the major issues in current thinking about the theory of social forestry development in Asia. The first of these issues concerns the cause of deforestation. The governmental view is that deforestation is a gradual process driven by community-based factors, whereas the community view is that deforestation is a stochastic process driven by external, political-economic factors. The two explanations have different implications for where the ‘problematique’ of social forestry is located — in the forest community or in the forest agency — and how, therefore, it is to be addressed.

A second issue concerns how and when social forestry interventions are carried out. The concept of a ‘window-of-opportunity’ for intervention reflects a widespread belief that it is importantwhen interventions are carried out — with both the costs and benefits of intervention increasing as it is timed earlier and decreasing as it is timed later. A key determinant of the best time for intervention is the receptivity of the forest agency and the broader society. The purpose of intervention is to strengthen receptivity and other factors conducive to change, to hasten extant processes of change, and to minimize the possibility of a reversal of direction.

A third issue is whether the focus of social forestry intervention should be on state lands or on community lands. While there are logical reasons for either foci, the continuing vacillation between them suggests the lack of a theoretical perspective with sufficient breadth to encompass them both. Whatever the focus, attitudinal change within the forest agency is usually mandated in social forestry interventions, but it is rarely accompanied with intervention in the underlying power relations, reflecting a continuing difficulty in viewing the forest agency sociologically. This lack of sociological perspective also is seen in the tendency to focus on adding resources perceived to be in short supply, instead of removing institutional obstacles —including those within the forest agency — to the proper use of existing resources.

The final issue involves the unintended consequences of social forestry intervention. These include redirection of the intervention as a result of bureaucratic resistance or negative feedback, and secondary consequences stemming from the dynamic responses by forests, forest communities, and forest agencies to changes in their relationship.