Conservation and Society

: 2005  |  Volume : 3  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 540--542

Conservation by Consent: A Large NGO View of Participatory Management

Nitin D Rai 
 Fellow, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), India

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Nitin D Rai
659, 5th A Main Road, Hebbal, Bangalore 560024

How to cite this article:
Rai ND. Conservation by Consent: A Large NGO View of Participatory Management.Conservat Soc 2005;3:540-542

How to cite this URL:
Rai ND. Conservation by Consent: A Large NGO View of Participatory Management. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2005 [cited 2020 Apr 2 ];3:540-542
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Full Text

Borrini-Feyerabend, G., M. Pimbert, M.T. Farvar, A. Kothari and Y. Renard. Sharing Power: Learning by doing in co-management of natural resources throughout the world. IIED and IUCN/CEESP/CMWG, Cenesta, Tehran. 2004. 456 pp. Price not available. ISBN: 1 84369 444 1

Structures of forest governance that were implemented in the aftermath of India's independence did not internalise the single idea that won us independence in the first place: that people matter. In the relatively short history of free India we have witnessed a failure of conservation strategies due to the dichotomous and conflicting interests of the primary actors: the state that eyes forests for timber (and more recently large mammal densities) and the local communities who are dependent on forests in a variety of ways. The current model of centralised governance has neither succeeded in stemming the loss of biodiversity nor ensuring forest-dependent livelihoods. There is an urgent need for a more inclusive and democratic structure as forest governance in India and most tropical countries excludes local community and civil society participation. The book under review provides arguments and instruments for a collaborative effort in natural resource management. Collaborative management creates spaces and defines the rights and responsibilities of the state, civil society and local communities.

A wildlife photographer writing in a leading Indian national daily questioned, rather acerbically, the premise that humans and wildlife can coexist. I wish I could take this rather hefty book to him so he could read about the many cases from across the world where people have been managing their forests and waters for biodiversity and their livelihood needs. As an ecologist grappling with the idea of reconciling conservation of tropical biodiversity with the needs of local communities that live amongst such diversity, I found this book useful. Although the ideas expressed in the book are not new, this is a welcome addition to the literature on collaborative management of natural resources.

Community efforts have evolved into innovative arrangements, and adapted to local contexts, unlike the top down centralised systems that seem to have failed to heed local demands and have thus unraveled in areas of high conflict, often to deleterious effect. It is in this light that Amartya Sen's writings on democracy and social choice are so powerful. The book uses Sen's concept of entitlements as it builds a strong case for co-management of resources. But unlike Sen, who envisions a role of the state in ensuring entitlements, the authors underplay the importance of the state and its institutions. The authors state that 'we do not necessarily refer to co-management as a state led or even a state-involving process'. Natural resource practitioners in developing countries might question then the relevance of a book that minimises the role of the state, for in a country such as India the state plays a large role in most areas: from education to health, banking to conservation.

The idea for the book was born in the mid 1990s out of a felt need amongst the staff of the World Wide Fund for Nature and the World Conservation Union for a set of guidelines to enable participation of all stakeholders in conservation. The authors felt that 'unspecific advocacy about community participation was not sufficient and potentially even damaging'. They compiled experiences in collaborative management and gleaned from these a course of action. The book aims to 'support professionals and others attempting to understand collaborative management regimes', which it achieves rather well. Although aimed at big NGO practitioners, the book contains relevant information for local communities and small NGOs, as the canvass the book covers is vast, and the range of issues addressed is wide.

The eleven chapters in the book are organised into four parts: towards a contextual framework; towards effective process; towards effective institutions; and towards enabling policies. The book is structured to serve as a resource for co-management concepts, techniques and approaches. For readers in a hurry I strongly suggest reading part four as this section captures well the ideas expressed elsewhere in the book and establishes the relationship between state policy and local action. The authors of this section emphasise that the imposition of rational organisational models might prove counterproductive and that a provision of an adequate policy framework is of primary importance.

Sharing Power is peppered with boxes containing examples, definitions and checklists. Various co-management efforts from around the world have been diligently described. These provide a sense of the ubiquity of community conservation efforts around the world reminding us that this is not a new idea or an experimental conservation paradigm. Often however, the brief explanation of the cases misses out on the complex details that are essential for a thorough understanding. For instance, the Joint forest management (JFM) system in India appears in four boxes. The short treatment of JFM, a state-led initiative that has often appropriated local management initiatives, gives the reader only a cursory idea. While in one instance the results of JFM are lauded, elsewhere in the book it is justifiably critiqued for failing to address equity and gender issues. The information in the various boxes could have been combined and the vast literature on JFM mined to provide a more complete picture of how the state has often used JFM to appropriate even the meagre space that local communities so assiduously eked out for themselves. Many of the examples are of initiatives that are driven and funded by large and international NGOs. More examples of how co-management has been internalised by the state to form the spine of natural resource management strategies and yet be adaptable to local social and ecological contexts would have been useful.

While there is much in the book on the rationale for and the establishment of co-management systems, there is little on the evaluation of these efforts. A section on methods to evaluate the ecological, livelihood and equity outcomes would have been useful. A book of this heft and length, and one that will largely be used as a handbook of co-management, would have benefited from the inclusion of an index although the table of contents is rather detailed making the lack of an index easier to bear.

The book is truly a 'labour of volunteer love'. The amount of material that has gone into the book is commendable. I would like to see the authors use this material and their shared experience to target policy change. One of the authors of the book is actively campaigning for a reform of the Ministry of the Environment and Forests in India. Such zeal might likewise be focused on producing a slimmer book that will speak persuasively to policy makers around the world. That will be an effort that local communities, conservationists and social activists will collectively laud.

The entire book is available for download at: