The need to improve forest governance
Good forest governance is an increasingly important topic for stakeholders in many different settings around the world. Two international initiatives to improve forest governance are the regional Forest Law Enforcement and Governance (FLEG) ministerial processes supported by the World Bank, and the European Union’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan.
Designed to support and complement such initiatives, the IUCN project ‘Strengthening Voices for Better Choices’ (SVBC) has created multi-stakeholder platforms at local, territorial and provincial levels to help improve forest governance arrangements in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), one of three project countries in Africa.
In 2008, Wageningen International (WI) launched a research programme on Multi-stakeholder Processes in Governing for Sustainability, in which it joined forces with IUCN to analyse forest governance arrangements in DRC. This case study resulted in a publication: ‘Multi-stakeholder design of forest governance and accountability arrangements in Equator province, Democratic Republic of Congo’.
Starting up a joint learning process
The objective of this action-learning/research study was to initiate a joint learning process aimed at improving forest governance and effective accountability mechanisms in Equator province. The joint learning process involved IUCN coordinators in DRC and Brussels, as well as other local stakeholders. The aim was to document their perspectives on forest governance. WI’s role was that of research designer and facilitator.
The study aimed to answer four questions:
Most Significant Change and Appreciative Inquiry
- What is good forest governance according to the different stakeholders involved in SVBC?
- What type of accountability arrangements are needed for improved forest governance?
- What potential do the structures established by SVBC have to improve forest governance and, in particular, accountability?
- What are the implications for analysing forest governance and accountability in other contexts, including interventions and the action research needed to strengthen them?
Action research methods were used, based on SVBC’s bottom-up approach to addressing forest governance. During the two-week research period one-day workshops were held with the platforms operating at the community level, territorial level and the provincial platform to define good forest governance in the given context and to identify strategies to improve forest governance, including accountability arrangements. Interviews were held with resource people representing different stakeholder groups. The WI facilitator used Most Significant Change and Appreciative Inquiry to help workshop participants to jointly elaborate their future agenda. These engage people in a joint learning process to celebrate and reinforce successes, rather than to try to overcome problems.
Study identified weaknesses and entry points for further work
At the end of the two weeks the stakeholders had drawn up a list of the important issues in good forest governance. This brought to light the issues that the platforms created with IUCN’s support cannot address:
The study also revealed that public sector performance in forest governance is weak. Civil society organisations (CSOs) are also weak, which gives timber companies, charcoal producers and artisanal loggers a free hand to exploit forest resources as they wish.
- the gaps in the regulatory framework
- the exclusion of health and education agencies from the social contract between timber companies and local populations
- the energy crisis in the capital
- a failing justice sector which is weakening respect for human rights
Three entry points were identified for creating the necessary accountability arrangements:
Building on these, the following criteria are also important:
- Supporting community-level committees in denouncing harmful and illegal forest exploitation practices, as well as asking public authorities to become more answerable to these complaints
- Increasing transparency in forest tax collection and expenditure by the public sector
- Strengthening monitoring of the social contract and the implementation of concession management plans by timber companies
When designing a process of action learning for improved forest governance, it’s important to allow enough time for all stakeholders to jointly assess, plan, implement, monitor and evaluate forest governance and accountability relations. Facilitating a dialogue across vertical linkages and in multi-stakeholder settings would contribute towards new perspectives on good forest governance, leading in turn to new ideas and strategies for improving governance.
- Respect for human rights as a minimum condition for citizens and CSOs to denounce illegal forest exploitation practices
- The existence of a legal and operational framework that is generally accepted and provides practical guidelines for law enforcement
- The importance of not only designing social accountability relations at one administrative level but also ensuring linkages between different administrative levels
- The design of accountability relations where local governments with an elected council, mandate and budget are in place
- The particular role and position of the private sector in accountability relations
Strategies for promoting improved forest governance
The study concludes with recommendations for IUCN: strategic design, promoting improved forest governance and social accountability relations. It also outlines the implications for intervention strategies, and future action research for the Centre for Development Innovation (formerly Wageningen International).
Download report: Multi-stakeholder design of forest governance and accountability arrangements in Equator province, Democratic Republic of Congo