Research Paper dated 17 Feb 2005 by School of Biological and Conservation Sciences, South Africa
New forest policies in South Africa seek to reconcile conservation and development objectives by devolving some responsibilty for forest management from the state to local communities. Community participation in forest management aims to protect forest-based
subsistence livelihoods by incorporating the interests of resource users, while simultaneously diffusing threats to biodiversity by managing resource use.
To date, participatory forest management (PFM) has had mixed success in South Africa because the transfer of rights to users has not accompanied changes in policy. A questionnaire survey of 60 households (43%) revealed the attitudes of users toward current
management and conservation options for iGxalingenwa forest. Users chose participatory forest management (52%) over community (25%) or state-dominated forest management (2%) structures.
User choice was motivated by the desire to secure rights of access to, and ensure equitable benefit from, a dwindling resource base, rather than the conservation of these resources to sustain future yields. Users were unwilling to reduce resource use and
compromise usufruct rights to achieve conservation goals, even to improve the availability of the resource stock.
Current user needs compromise biodiversity conservation goals, and users regard state conservation practices as protectionist and obstructing their rights of access to resources. While the National Forest Act of 1998 seek to conserve resources by limiting
access to them and is based on principles of sustainable use, it is nevertheless perceived to offer few incentives to users to participate in forest management and conservation.
Ideally, an institutional and legal framework that allocates user rights and managerial responsibilities to households is required, but clearlysuitable alternatives to forest produce are also vital for successful management. Greater trust between the provincial
parks authority and users is needed, but is complicated by weak traditional leadership and poor community representation.
Ultimately, users preferred PFM because, while recognising that harvest rates are unsustainable, user dependence upon forest resources and weak traditional leadership means they can protect usufruct rights only by participation. Changes to any of these factors
may create demands for a new management system. PFM allows the greatest flexibility for responding to changes in demands as well as the environment.
While there is no implementation blueprint that suits every situation, the researchers feel that participatory management of iGxalingenwa forest is the preferred management institution.
However, its success will depend on an improvement on the levels of trust between stakeholders, particularly between users and forest owners(the State). Recognition of community property and access rights is an important prerequisite for participation by
users in forest management.
( John Robertson and Michael J. Lawes ( 2005), Environmental Conservation 32(1) 64-75)