Nations worldwide have introduced various reforms aspiring to bring natural resource decisions closer to the people who use, manage and administer them, but there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Decentralisation of decision-making occurs when the authority to make or influence decisions is passed down to government jurisdictions closer to the resources. In this case, it is intended to make local government more responsive and accountable to local people’s needs and aspirations so as to improve natural resource management. But how well does decentralisation work, and how can existing systems be improved?
RFGI explores ways to best work with local governments to make decentralisation more effective for the communities and for the forests on which they depend.
Natural resources, especially forests, play an important role since they provide people with needed revenue, wealth, and subsistence. Responsive local governments can provide forest-dependent people with the flexibility they need to manage, adapt to, and remain resilient in their changing environment. Responsive and accountable local governance can reduce vulnerability, enhance local wellbeing and improve forest management.
The goal of RFGI research and related outputs is to help conservation agents, researchers, local people and local governments find ways to strengthen local governance in these capacities.
The RFGI is funded by Sida and executed by the Council for the Development of Social Sciences Research in Africa (CODESRIA), the IUCN and the University of Illinois. The research team includes postdoctoral fellows and more than 30 researchers working in 13 countries. These countries are: Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.
Learning from projects to improve conservation interventions
Despite good intentions, conservation interventions sometimes have negative outcomes for the environment and local residents. The following RFGI research identifies some of the questions raised by unintended consequences of well-meaning decisions within the context of forest conservation, and it offers guidance on how to improve outcomes from future interventions.
Sharing the benefits of forest resources
In sub-Saharan Africa, there are many ways local communities are officially entitled to share in the benefits derived from their community forests. These interventions can include carbon projects, state-recognised community forests, and legal arrangements between local people and forestry companies. The following RFGI research identifies some of the issues that can trigger poor benefit sharing.
Improving representation of local people
Working with local administrations in order to help represent people’s environmental goals is often fraught with difficulty. This can include conflicting political and environmental goals, struggles between local NGOs and government administrations, and challenges in working with other types of representatives such as customary authorities. The following RFGI research identifies some of the issues around ensuring adequate local representation in conservation interventions.
Carbon forestry, including REDD+
Conserving forests through creating carbon markets could be one effective means of reducing climate change. Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) is one such approach being developed and adopted by many tropical countries. However, attempts to manage forests for carbon benefits will have definite impacts on the people living in and around those forests, and the construction of equitable interventions is not always straightforward. The following research from the Responsive Forest Governance Initiative identifies some of the social issues that arise as part of these interventions.
Background documents and handbooks
The following documents provide more information on the theoretical background of RFGI research and in depth discussions of the natural resource governance concepts of institutional choice, recognition, and local representation.