O'Hara, Peter and Hesselden, Fiona (2015) Reflections on Participatory Forest Management in South West Ethiopia – beyond a project to a process of devolved forest management. In: 14th World Forestry Congress 2015, 7th - 11th September 2015, Durban, South Africa.
Abstract

This paper highlights key lessons from 12 years of project work in establishing Participatory Forest Management (PFM) in the SW highlands of Ethiopia. Arguments are put forward that to be truly sustainable PFM needs to ensure first that forest dependent communities have legally recognised long-term security of forest tenure and are truly the lead actor in forest management. Second that the community has sufficient forest user rights to ensure that the forest ‘pays its way’ competing with other land uses to generate sufficient returns to reward investment in PFM. Third, that mutual trust is established, with community members secure in their rights and government staff having faith in community abilities to manage the forest.
Challenges remain: acceptance of the new paradigm – a move from ‘save the forests from the people’ to ‘hand it over to the people to use it or lose it’ needs to be fully internalised within forestry professionals’ mind-sets, government policy and institutional practice. Dependency is still too high on donor funding and securing truly sustainable community institutions is a battle still being fought. There is also an urgent need to decriminalise the use of the full range of PFM forest products to fully incentivise sustainable forest management investment.
Despite these challenges the impact on the forest to date is impressive with forest loss slowed, forest health increased, community livelihoods improved and customary links to the forest restored. These experiences demonstrate that successful PFM is fundamentally about addressing perverse incentives in the governance environment that delink forest-dependent people from their forests. Local people were never at the root of the problem with regards to deforestation in SW Ethiopia and with appropriate incentives in place like secure legal tenure, use rights and decision making power communities have proven themselves to be at the centre of a sustainable solution to forest management.

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