How dialogue transformed conflict – Samata Manandhar

01 Nov 2018
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Samata Manandhar has worked on the Community based adaptive learning in management of conflicts and natural resources in Bangladesh and Nepal (CALCNR). As the research project closes, she reflects on the project’s impact on forest users in the Chisapani forest area of Nepal, where participatory action research has led to a unique transformation of conflict into cooperation.

The Chisapani Community Forest is located in the northern part of the East-West highway in the Nawalparasi district of Nepal. The forest has two groups of users: those people that reside in the north and those in the south.

The southern users reside 18 km from the highway, while the northern users live in close proximity to the forest along the northern part of the highway where the forest is concentrated. As a result, the northern users have a greater role in forest management and access to forest resources whereas the traditional users’ who predominantly reside in the south, are limited in their ability to participate in the management of the forest and in their access to the natural resource.

Both groups are dependent on the forest for their livelihood. Timber and fuelwood are the major forest resources demanded by both the community user groups for cooking as well as other household purposes. However, less than 40% of the demand for fuelwood is fulfilled by the Chisapani Community Forest due to the increasing number of users and due to government policy which restricts the harvesting of timber.

Each of the groups places blame on the other for difficulties faced with regard to accessing and managing the forest resources. At the same time, the groups are not aware of the benefits accrued and difficulties faced by each other, and the limitations of the forest itself. In an effort to address the knowledge gaps, and with the premise that active community participation and innovation could reduce conflict, the CALCNR project was conducted between 2014 and 2017.

Through participatory action research, researchers played the role of a mediator and conducted regular meetings, discussions and continuous dialogue with the key actors and relevant stakeholders at the community, network and authority levels. The meetings provided a platform for all the concerned stakeholders – representing both the north and the south – where they could express their views and concerns.

By bringing the users of the resource together, the northern users began to understand the needs and interests of the southern users. Instead of drawing a line through the forest, an executive committee of the stakeholders was able to find the underlying needs of the users.

The discussions helped to focus on the interest of the parties instead of focusing on the positions held by the respective participants. In addition, the communities were able to identify mutual interests and opportunities. Specifically, the southern users were most concerned in the collection of fuelwood and timber for construction, while the northern users wanted their counterparts to contribute to the management and conservation of the forest.

The in-depth discussions led to planning and decision-making that would benefit both groups of users. A depot was established in the south with the view of developing a new distribution mechanism for fuelwood to the local communities. The depot has proven to be economical and has vastly reduced the time spent on wood collection. The development of a new constitution and operation plan for Chisapani Community enables a greater contribution and participation in the conservation of the forest, ensuring the sustainable use of the natural resource.

While there are many areas still to be improved upon, the progress made thus far has paved a way for Mutual consensus to work together in the years to come.

Samata wrote this blog following a training given by The Centre For People and Forests in Bangkok, Thailand on Transforming forest landscape conflicts for better governance”. CALCNR was one of seven research projects that formed part of the DFID-funded, NWO-WOTRO managed Conflict and Cooperation in the Management of Climate Change programme, which concluded in September 2018.

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