How a landscape approach could foster cooperation and lead to healthy forests – Mekonnen Biru

01 Nov 2018
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Mekonnen Biru discusses the lessons learnt from a forestry conflict transformation training in Thailand that can be applied to climate finance-related projects seeking to improve the management of forests in Ethiopia. The training, hosted by The Center for People and Forests in Bangkok, focused on ways to transform forests to foster better governance by highlighting a landscape approach.

The well-being of forests is very much connected to the wellbeing of mankind. For centuries, rural Ethiopians sourced fuel, food, cloth, medicinal plants, and animals and animal feed from their surrounding natural resources. But in recent decades, the demands of a rapidly growing population have led to widespread deforestation for agricultural expansion and commercial exploitation.

In response, the Ethiopian government began to restrict the deforestation by enacting forest law and organising institutions to better manage the forest. At present the forest management in the country is undertaken by national state (include national parks and sanctuaries), regional states (regional parks and forests managed by enterprises) and forest patches which are managed by communities.However, the forests remain in a critical condition due poor forest landscape governance which could escalate or create conflicts. Absence or weak forest landscape governance in countries like Ethiopia has been identified as a cause for conflicts between traditional users, parties with illegal claims on the land, or by parties that do not have an interest to equitable benefit- and resource- sharing.

In most of the cases conflicts over forest resources are triggered by the exclusion of all users in decision-making and the land-use change affecting the livelihoods of forest-dependent communities. Better forest landscape governance in place that involves communities, stakeholder groups, and institutions (both formal and informal) to acquire and exercise authority in the management of the resource will improve sustainability and the health of the resource.

A helpful approach to ensuring greater participation is to consider forestry issues at the landscape level which encompasses forest, agricultural land, water bodies and other land uses. By integrating a landscape conflict- sensitive approach, both the forest and its users could be better served.

Conflicts can also become opportunities as was the case in the Humbo Farmers Managed Afforestation/
Reforestation CDM project . The findings of our research conducted through the DFID-funded, NWO-WOTRO managed Conflict and Cooperation in the Management of Climate Change programme allowed competing claims to be transformed into enhanced natural resource management and maximise benefits obtained from the forest landscape.

Conflict existed between non-cooperatives members, cooperative members with cooperative leaders, and the cooperatives (cooperative members) with local government. Land use change also triggered conflict, or when benefit sharing was not equitable. A further conflict impacting the forest arose between the community and wild animals. The restriction of access resulting from the projects was extended to wild animals. In order to drive the animals away, communities took to burning the forest.

The conflict between wild animal (baboon and others) identified at Humbo is similar to the conflict between the elephants and the community living at Kaeng Krachan National Park in Thailand who shared their experiences with us during the field visit. Because of power difference in conflicting parties, it is often difficult to halt deforestation.

An improved management solution to the forest would focus on benefit sharing, a new approach to dealing with animals to lessen damage crops and attacks on domestic animals, and would facilitate dialogue to find solutions to the encroachment of people and cattle.

To this effect, stakeholders around the forest land scape including the conflicting parties, elderly person, religious leaders (context of Ethiopia), GOs, NGOs, CBOs, private sectors need to be analysed and mapped. A conflict transforming process requires mediator’s traditional and scientific knowledge of the mediation process; an understanding of the conflicting parties and causes of conflict, as well as the culture, norms and attitudes of the conflicting parties. Furthermore, negotiation and facilitation skills are important. For the proper transformation of the conflict into opportunities stakeholders’ position, interest and needs also must be addressed in the mediation process.Only once all users within the landscape have been considered can forests be better governed and conflicts transformed into sustainable opportunities.

Mekonnen Biru is a researcher who worked on the Investing in Land and Water project, which focused on turning new climate finance mechanisms into tools for cooperation. The project ran for five years under the Conflict and Cooperation in the Management of Climate Change programme.

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