Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 30, Issue 4, pp 569–585 | Cite as

Engaging women and the poor: adaptive collaborative governance of community forests in Nepal

  • Cynthia L. McDougall
  • Cees Leeuwis
  • Tara Bhattarai
  • Manik R. Maharjan
  • Janice Jiggins


Forests are a significant component of integrated agriculture-based livelihood systems, such as those found in many parts of Asia. Women and the poor are often relatively dependent on, and vulnerable to changes in, forests and forest access. And yet, these same actors are frequently marginalized within local forest governance. This article draws on multi-year, multi-case research in Nepal that sought to investigate and address this marginalization. Specifically, the article analyzes the influence of adaptive collaborative governance on the engagement of women and the poor in community forestry decision making. A description of adjustments to governance processes and arrangements is followed by the consequent changes in engagement observed, in terms of: efforts made by female and poor members to be involved, express views and exercise rights; leadership roles played by female and poor members; and the extent to which the user groups’ priorities and actions reflect the marginalized members’ interests and needs. The main finding is that the engagement of women and the poor increased across sites with the shift from the status quo to adaptive collaborative governance, although not without challenges. The article explores interconnected factors underlying the changes, then considers these through the lens of the “three-gap analysis of effective participation.” This leads to specific insights concerning the conceptualization and strengthening of engagement in community forestry including the central roles of power and learning.


Adaptive governance Community forestry Gender Power Participation Nepal 



Community forest user group



This research was part of the international Adaptive Collaborative Management (ACM) Project of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). We thank CIFOR for permission to use the research on which this article is based. We sincerely acknowledge the essential roles played by the research partners New ERA, ForestAction, and ERI, as well as the many others in the research: the 11 CFUGs and their facilitators; all ACM researchers and assistants; national and international advisors; collaborators from the many district forest offices, bilateral projects, nongovernmental organizations, and networks and forums including the Federation of Community Forest Users Nepal; the Asian Development Bank and Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) as the main funders; and the CG Systemwide Programme on Participatory Research and Gender Analysis, the International Institute for Rural Reconstruction (IIRR), LI-BIRD Nepal, and CIFOR for their complementary funding. We also thank Carol Colfer, the editor, Harvey James, and anonymous reviewers for their valuable feedback on the article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Cynthia L. McDougall
    • 1
  • Cees Leeuwis
    • 1
  • Tara Bhattarai
    • 2
  • Manik R. Maharjan
    • 3
  • Janice Jiggins
    • 1
  1. 1.Communication and Innovation StudiesWageningen UniversityWageningenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.RMIT UniversityMelbourneAustralia
  3. 3.New ERAKathmanduNepal

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