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Conservation and Society
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Conservation and Society
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Year : 2008  |  Volume : 6  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 273-274

Changing Forests: Collective Action, Common Property and Coffee in Honduras

Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis Indiana University, 513 North Park, Bloomington, IN 47408-3895 and School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University, 1315 East Tenth Street, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA

Correspondence Address:
Prakash Kashwan
Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis Indiana University, 513 North Park, Bloomington, IN 47408-3895 and School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University, 1315 East Tenth Street, Bloomington, IN 47405
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

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Date of Web Publication26-Jun-2009

How to cite this article:
Kashwan P. Changing Forests: Collective Action, Common Property and Coffee in Honduras. Conservat Soc 2008;6:273-4

How to cite this URL:
Kashwan P. Changing Forests: Collective Action, Common Property and Coffee in Honduras. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2008 [cited 2020 Sep 23];6:273-4. Available from: http://www.conservationandsociety.org/text.asp?2008/6/3/273/55784

Catherine Tucker. Changing Forests: Collective Action, Common Property and Coffee in Honduras . 2008. 258 + xv pp. USD 109.00 (Hardcover). ISBN 1-40-206976-6.

Amid unfolding processes of globalisation that have added on to the complexity of socio-ecological systems, scholars interested in the socio-political processes that mediate nature-society dialectics have advocated that new research be guided by principles of theoretical and met hodological pluralism. Catherine Tucker's book Changing forests : Collective action, common property and coffee in Honduras is a skillful response to the challenge of interdisciplinary work. Based on field work and research spread over 14 years, Tucker draws upon ethnographic, archival, survey research and remote sensing analyses. She explores simultaneous processes of transformation in social and natural systems that the indigenous Lenca community of La Campa in Honduras has gone through. The fact that La Campa was able to oust the state agency that threatened their community forests and community's control over their own lives got the author interested in the community. La Campa's journey is pockmarked with experiences of colonialism, state controlled logging, successful community opposition to the destruction brought about by commercial exploitation of their forests and the recent adoption of export oriented coffee production. Theoretically, Changing forests: Collective action, common property and coffee in Honduras merges historical analysis, political ecology, collective action theories and institutional analysis.

The introductory chapter briefly reviews the literature in sustainable development from the vantage point of literatures on political ecology, collective action and common- pool resource management. Chapter two invites the reader for a discussion of historic perturbations in western Honduras from the period of colonialism into the early twentieth century. Roots of communitarian traditions in La Campa are traced back to the governance structures introduced by Spaniards, which apparently built upon pre-existing indigenous organisation. Despite it being clear that the analyses in the book have been made poss ible by painstaking archival research conducted by the author, it is very tempting for a reader to expect more. In particular, the reader may puzzle about the processes through which a colonial apparatus of local communitarian governance was transformed by La Campa into something that suited its post-colonial polity. This would be a valuable contribution to the literature on postcolonialism. Chapter three deals with the governance of local commons by a newly constituted La Campa municipio that includes a rich discussion of the transformation of property rights from a predominantly common property regime to a predominantly private property regime. In particular, readers will enjoy the author's di scussion of the gradual demise of the institution of emboletamiento - a form of temporary private property rights for parcels of communal land issued to individual households for 2-3 years on a first come first served basis-and eventual emergence of permanent private property rights (also see chapter five for a discussion of the transformation of property rights in the wake of the national government's initiatives to promote coffee export). Broadly this chapter locates forest management within the diversified livelihood strategies developed by farmers in La Campa. Chapters four to six make the kernel of the book.

Chapter four covers the period of state-led logging and intervention in La Campa, which caused major degradation of the community's forests, and the community's unified response to this crisis. The author lays the foundation by discussing the travails of commercial logging licensing attempts by the municipio , nationalisation of forestry in Honduras and creation of the Honduran Forestry Development Corporation (COHDEFOR), taking over of La Campa forests by COHDEFOR, and extensive commercial logging that only led to impoverishment of La Campa forests and its people as the shares of timber revenue that the community was promised never came through. COHDEFOR also employed the 'social forestry system', apparently aimed at strengthening livelihoods of marginal farmers, as a governmentality technique in turning a section of La Campa community against the rest of the community that opposed COHDEFOR's control over La Campa forests. In the process of exploiting La Campa's forests COHDEFOR and its partner logging companies also damaged the infrastructure built painstakingly by the municipio with significant community part icipation (aptly summed up by the author as 'Fines, fires and broken bridges'). All of these factors contributed to the La Campa community overcoming its internal differences to oust COHDEFOR and regain control over its forests. Several important theoretical lessons emerge from this chapter. First, the community's contacts with sympathetic and supportive higher level state authorities and a broader support of common property regimes by the state, proved vital in the success of local collective action. Second, in addition to the prior organisational experience of the municipio in implementing collective endeavors, '...the tradition of community decision making and a shared ideology of rights to the forest' (p. 129) helped this community in asserting their communal land rights. Finally, the fact that La Campa forests were under community ownership , and the community had formal titles to their municipio land, proved critical in successful collective action. Property rights of access and usufruct that are common place in extant community forestry programmes would clearly have been inadequate for throwing out a national forestry corporation. The author also places the local struggle within the context of the national political scenario that created the space that La Campa success fully utilised to its advantage.

Chapters five and six deal with the recent period of globalisation in which export coffee production transformed property rights, and people's perceptions of the forest gained new conservationist and economic dimensions. In addition to the contemporary relevance of the subject, these chapters make significant theoretical and empirical contribution regarding the processes of globalisation. For one, La Campa favoured shade grown coffee (or a middle range variant of shade and sun grown) as opposed to sun grow n techniques being promoted by agronomists. This, along with increased awareness of ecological services offered by parts of its forest that su stained La Campa's water supply, contributed significantly to maintenance of forest cover in La Campa. Land use changes triggered by the community's interest in raising coffee are juxtaposed against the changes in property rights promoted by the National Agrarian Institute, and the emergence of young leadership trained in Western attitudes that favoured entrepreneur-led development. One such leader single handedly changed a generation old rule that prohibited outsiders from acquiring land in La Campa, with far reaching implications for resilience of local socio-ecological sy stems.

The case of La Campa illustrates the dynamism characteristic of forest conservation in communities that depend on forests for their livelihoods. The community may have to deal with a number of factors that may threaten its forest resources. Increasing social heterogeneity, population growth and market integration may work against the community's attempts at sustainable forest management, even as satellite images show that overall forest cover has expanded since the community prohibited logging in 1987. Through her discussion of the global coffee crisis, the author shows that subsistence agriculture, access to common-pool resources, and membership in formal and informal groups contribute to resilience amid crises triggered by sudden fluctuation in global trade. Thus, she presents a measured criticism of international donor agencies' emphasis on promoting market production, and implicates such misplaced priorities in neglect of concerns for food security, primary health care, access to education and building diversified livelihoods. Finally, Tucker briefly touches upon the potential threat that increased inequities may present to the resilience of socio-ecological systems. This insight deserves lot more attention in future research on coping and adaptation mechanisms in the context of global climate change.

Changing forests: Collective action, common property and coffee in Honduras offers extensive treatment of important questions of our time and its theoretical and methodological coverage is inspiring. Political ecologists may debate her treatment of the aspects of property rights such as common-property being defined as 'joint private property' (p. 11), and the efficiency argument for property rights transformation. Similarly, political ecologists would argue for a more problematised treatment of governance of common -pool resources in chapter three. After all, social and political mediation of resource use patterns is at the very heart of the discipline of political ecology. In general, the book would have benefited from a greater synergy between the findings presented in various chapters. Including a glossary would have helped the non-Spanish speaking readers. However, these are minor is sues for a work of scholarship that will certainly inspire young scholars to undertake inter-disciplinary and intertheoretical work. Students of institutional analysis, property rights, forest conservation and globalisation will find Tucker's book refreshing and engaging.


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