BOOK REVIEW: Collaborative Governance of Tropical Landscapes

BOOK REVIEW: Collaborative Governance of Tropical Landscapes, Coral J. Pierce Colfer and Jean-Laurent Pfund, Eds, Earthscan, UK and USA, 2011, 285pp, ISBN : 978-1-84971-177-7, Price A$ 88.00 (Hard copy)


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Governance is a pivotal aspect of natural resource management initiatives. The landscape management approach is a growing trend in tackling the challenges of connectivity (not only bio-physical but also cultural, social and economic) and the nexus of biodiversity conservation and human development at a larger scale. Thus, the overall topic of this book “collaborative governance of landscapes” combines two currently very important aspects of natural resource management that need further and continuing understanding worldwide. The book draws upon lessons from applied research and learning-by-doing interventions of a multi-country interdisciplinary study coordinated by the Center for International Forest Research (CIFOR) – the Landscape Mosaics Project. Chapters describe studies in several cultural contexts whilst addressing different aspects of governance. Although I am familiar with the different topics addressed, I found the rounded analyses of how they manifest themselves in practical contexts of landscape managements very interesting. For instance, in Tanzania the reader gains an in-depth understanding of the interplay between customary and legislative rights and how the former has been eroded and replaced by modern community-based institutions over time. Yet, even though this evolution sounds logical, dimensions of customary management have persisted and traditional rules and practices have been incorporated into decision-making processes. This makes one realize how important it can be to strengthen local and/or indigenous institutions for governance. In Laos, we read about the displacement of local communities away from a National Park with the dual rhetoric of improving both conservation and development. Despite negotiations surrounding such displacement, and whilst communities themselves and housing were relocated, the villagers were still using their traditional lands for cultivation. A message here is that the understanding and accommodation of power imbalances in decision-making is critical for any successful outcome. Another case-study in Indonesia explores the role of district governments in the mitigation of conflicts with local communities opposed to an oil palm company where people from four villages unite to claim rights to the concession awarded by the Ministry of Forestry.

A common thread to all these separate analyses is the need to find suitable arrangements for a multiplicity of actors to meaningfully partake in the responsibility of natural resource management and, more so, in the context of at least attempting to address fairness and equitable sharing of costs and benefits amongst such actors. Collaborative and multi-level governance of landscapes requires, in particular, understanding the aspirations of local and indigenous communities for sustainable livelihoods. The latter in turn needs to be done in the context of planning for multiple environmental services and functions across the landscape leading towards sustainable development in any given region. A clear message is that this is all quite complex, requires a commitment of resources but without suitable collaborative governance arrangements success of such initiatives and programs is doubtful. One of the concluding chapters on indicators and evolving tools for assessing governance is a welcome contribution to the growing field of social assessments of natural resource management initiatives.

In Australia, for instance, there are currently a number of initiatives for the management of landscapes progressively coordinating efforts amongst themselves and sharing lessons-learned. A number of new initiatives are also contemplated. All of these initiatives will be required to promote, define, and nurture effective collaborative management arrangements across a multiplicity of actors from different sectors at different stages of their evolution. As this is not an easy task and needs to be tailored to each context, good insights could be gained from this multi-country study and some of the practical examples and guidance described in the book.

Lea M. Scherl
School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, James Cook University
Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy, International Union of Conservation
From: Australasian Journal of Environmental Management, May 2012. 

Work area: 
Social Policy
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