Same Platform: Different Train
Pluralism, Participation and Power

by Nicholas Hildyard, Pandurang Hegde, Paul Wolvekamp and Somasekhare Reddy

first published 12 December 1997


Participation, forests and environment all mean different things to different people and different interest groups. This presentation analyses the discourse on participation, as reflected in conflicts over forest resources and more widely. It highlights examples where participation is being used to soften resistance to projects or to engineer consent.

It was given at a UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) workshop on "Pluralism and Sustainable Forestry and Rural Development" held over 9-12 December 1999, by Nicholas Hildyard of The Corner House, UK; Pandurang Hegde of Appiko Movement, India; Paul Wolvekamp, Both Ends, The Netherlands; and Somasekhare Reddy, Indian Institute of Management, India.





Participation, forests and environment all mean different things to different people and different interest groups. For some government departments and industry groups, the environment is principally what is around their economies: for local villagers, it is what is around their homes and livelihoods. For Forest Department officials, forests may be what pass across their desks; for villagers, they represent secure water supplies, the availability of fodder for animals, medicines for friends or family, places to play or sources of spiritual power. Similarly, "participation" covers a spectrum of meanings: for many project managers, it may signal a means to cut costs, secure cheap labour or co-opt opposition; for marginalised groups, by contrast, it is a right - both a means to an end and an end in itself.

Part 1 analyses the discourse on participation - as reflected in conflicts over forest resources and more widely. In particular, it highlights a number of examples where participation is being used to soften resistance to projects or to engineer consent. It argues that participation cannot be divorced from issues of power and that a pluralistic approach to policy making (though welcome) should not substitute for measures to address social exclusion and unequal power relations.

Part 2 considers the rise of "participatory development" and sets it in its historical context - as a response to growing resistance from grassroots groups to the mainstream forest policies and practices. It looks at the enclosure of forest commons since colonialism and analyses the political shifts that have resulted from such enclosure. Finally it documents a range of examples from India and elsewhere of resistance to such enclosure in order to set the demands for participation in the context of attempts by excluded groups to recover politics (and decision-making) from political elites and institutions. It looks at the successes and failures of such reclaimed commons and the conditions under which community groups have proved successful in managing forests. It cautions against a romantic view of community management but argues that communities have a right to control of the resources on which their livelihoods depend. Successful management of those resources depends critically on equitable power relations.

Part 3 examines Joint Forest Participatory Management as a response to such resistance and looks at the different (and often conflicting) agendas of stakeholders in one project: the Western Ghats Forestry Project. It sets out what participation has meant in practice; who has benefited and who lost out; and how NGO pressure has proved critical to the evolution of the project. It also looks at the political space for marginalised groups that has been both opened up and closed down through the project - and how local people have used the project to further their own agendas, both positive and negative.

Part 4 argues that a participation which fails to engage with the distribution and operations of power within local communities and the wider society in which they live is likely to offer little to marginalised groups. It cautions against views of power that divide the world into the "powerful" and the "powerless" and argues that active opposition to projects which fail to reflect the political demands of marginalised groups may be the a better way to effect genuine structural change than participating in them. It also suggests that agencies should be pressed to take a more political-committed approach to participatory projects. If donors and governments are serious about addressing issues of equity, sustainability and poverty reduction, they should be pressed to give primacy to the needs and political demands of marginalised and oppressed groups - including, where called up, taking measures that actively disempower dominant groups, for example through the implementation agrarian reform. Support should be offered in the spirit of solidarity - not of co-opting stakeholders to a preconceived agenda or with a view to empowering from outside. The implications for agencies are considered - not least the need to put their own house in order before advising others how to improve theirs.


For want of a better term, one might call it the "Late Train Syndrome". It's raining, the wind is blowing a gale, bits of rubbish are skitting up and down the all-but-deserted platform and the loudspeaker is telling you for the umpteenth time that the train (crackle) is (crackle) delayed (crackle). You get into conversation with the person reading (or is it re-reading, she has been looking at it long enough) the advertisement about all-in-one family outings to the seaside. Gradually it emerges that you share similar concerns. You're both from the North-East; you both left to take up jobs down South; you're both fed up with trains being late (its the third time in as many days) - but you'd both rather travel by train than by car because you're both worried about pollution, the greenhouse effect, the ozone hole, the "environment".

But then as the conversation moves on, an edge of doubt begins to creep in. What you have in common seems far less important than the areas where you have differences. You're not convinced that privatising the railways will mean no more late trains. And, no, you don't agree that the greatest tragedy for the Third World was when "we left". And, yes, you are serious when you say that it is consumers in the North and not babies in the South who are primarily responsible for global warming.

And then the train comes in, and she opens the door for you, and you get on and she stays on the platform. "Aren't you getting on too?" "Oh, No. This isn't my train. I'm going in the opposite direction".

Part 1: Conflicting Interests, Differing Perceptions

It is an encounter that may be familiar to many - and not just lonely travellers who wind up late at night on windy railway platforms. What divides is often more important than what is held in common. Even words and concepts whose meaning is often assumed to be self-evident and universal - "family", "community", "environment" and "forests", to take just a few examples - convey very different things to different groups at different times and in different places.

Far from being an unproblematic "given", for example, the seemingly self-evident "natural" category of "forests" is a fiercely contested political space. For many middle-ranking Forest Department officials, "forests" tend to be defined by what passes across their desks; the latest scientific paper on planting regimes, budgets for planting, tenders for logging, catalogues advertising new logging equipment or the latest jeep, curriculum vitaes, training schemes and opportunities for promotion. For logging company accountants, forests may be no more than board feet of timber; for many pharmaceutical researchers, they are increasingly pools of "biodiversity" from which new value can be extracted in the form of patented drugs; whilst for many harried executives in polluting industries, they have become "sinks" to be created (or preserved) in order to offset industrial carbon dioxide emissions. By contrast, for numerous forest dwellers (or those who rely directly on the forests for their livelihoods) the value of forests lie not in the black ink on balance sheets or the opportunities they provide for promotion but in secure water supplies, the availability of fodder for animals, medicines for friends or family, the home they provide for local deities or the shelter they offer from army patrols, tax collectors or even (for playful children) adults. Moreover, within the deceptively homogeneous local settings of the village, the forest department or the company boardroom, the meaning of forests will vary. The senior forest official will have a different view to the forest guard; the rich landowner to the landless labourer; women to men; the bushmeat hunter to the farmer whose land borders the forest and whose crops are menaced by its wild animals; and so on.

Similarly, the degradation of earth, air, forests and water is experienced in radically different ways by different people. For those who depend for their livelihoods on what is directly around them, such degradation means a loss of dignity and independence, security, well-being and health. Defending the commons against degradation is thus often a matter of life and death. Not so for most figures in government, business and international organisations, who tend to view environmental degradation and the protests it provokes as threats to their political and economic interests. For them, the environment is not what is around their homes but what is around their economies. Northern leaders, for example, are preoccupied with how to keep a growing South from tapping resources and filling up waste sinks which the North has grown accustomed to using, while simultaneously maintaining the global capital flows which help the world economy expand. Southern leaders, responding to prodding from Northern capital and hoping to benefit themselves as well, are equally preoccupied with extending the boundaries of their economies by bringing more land under the plough, logging more forests, diverting more water to industry, and so on.[The Ecologist, 1993] Not surprisingly, these many and varied groupings approach environmental degradation very differently. For those who rely on the commons, the response that makes most sense is to concentrate on what has proved to be effective in the past, a response that entails maintaining or creating a space in which local commons regimes can root themselves. Such a strategy entails pushing for an erosion of the power of those who would undermine the commons, so that capital flows around the globe can be reduced, local control increased, wasteful consumption cut and markets limited. The demands from grassroots groups and radical People's Organisations are thus not for more "management" (a buzzword now common within the development literature) but for agrarian reform, local control over resources, the power to veto developments, a decisive say in all matters that affect livelihoods, and a politics that is committed to unsettling inequitable power relationships at all levels of society - not only between communities but within them. For them the question is not how their environment should be managed - they have the experience of the past as their guide - but whose environment gets managed, by whom in whose interest. The search is generally not for "alternatives" in the sense that Western environmentalists might use the term: rather it is to rejuvenate what works, to combine traditional and new approaches and to develop strategies that meet local needs.

In that respect, the debate is not over such technocratic issues as how to conserve soil or what species of tree to plant - for those who rely on the commons, the starting point for addressing such questions is usually "Let's see what has worked in the past and build on that" - but rather over how to create or defend open, democratic community institutions that ensure people's control over their own lives. Indeed, if there is a common denominator to the initiatives that have evolved from such struggles, it is not that they share a uniform "vision" of the future, or adhere to a single "blueprint" for change, but rather that they are all, in their many and various ways, attempts by local people to reclaim the political process and to re-root it within the local community. The central demand made by group after group is thus for authority to be vested in the community - not in the state, local government, the market or the local landlord, but in those who rely on the local commons for their livelihood. As such, the struggle is for more than the mere recognition of rights over the physical commons: critically, it is also a struggle to restore or to defend the checks and balances that limit power within the local community.

By contrast, the preferred response of many planners, politicians, development practitioners, civil servants and heads of industry lies in increasingly global forms of management. In contrast to commons-based movements - which place particular store by the virtues of receptivity, patience, open-endedness, and respect for the opinions of others - the managerial approach is instrumental and (inevitably) top-down. The world is split up into fixed ends and available means. Then, in a process that is taken to be synonymous with rationality, the means are matched to the ends. In doing so, nearly everyone and everything is transformed into tools whose effectiveness in "helping us get from A to B" it is the prerogative of the managers themselves to decide and measure. Acting on "objective data", managers plan, mobilise and "clear space for action". Others, whose lack of skills and autonomous ends are either assumed or enforced, are "tapped", "mobilised", "brought out of traditional isolation" and "empowered" so that they can carry out the managers' designs. People become "obstacles" to be removed or cajoled in "collaboration"; the physical environment a terrain to be reordered, zoned and parcelled up according to some preconceived Master Plan.

Illustrative of this approach is the Tropical Forestry Action Plan (TFAP), launched in the late 1980s and described a "Marshall Plan for the forests" of over 80 countries. Northern donors and experts supporting the TFAP, which was abandoned after widespread popular resistance, routinely divided their meetings into two parts: one on "objectives", in which experts decided, on the basis of "scientific data" and "industrial and conservation requirements", what forest zones which are home to hundreds of millions of people should look like: and another on "implementation", in which those present decided how to get everyone else to carry out their vision. (A number of NGOs from the South and the North have intensively participated in the attempts to "revamp" TFAP and joined various stock taking meetings hosted by FAO and entered into dialogue with the World Bank and UNDP. At some stage NGOs shared a careful enthusiasm for the new directions TFAP seemed to be heading for. Notably the newly formulated goals and objectives and the suggested consultative group, a multi-party platform meant for problem-solving, participation and quality control, promised major progress for international forestry aid; in terms of democratisation, transparency and co-ordination. It even involved increasing accountability on the part of the donor agencies. But then the reform process slowed down and came to a hold due to opposition within the FAO Council. The fact that World Bank and UNDP tacitly back out effectively killed TFAP. (Was TFAP becoming too democratic?))

A second illustration of the top-down managerialism favoured by modern global managers is the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation's Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development (SARD) Programme, as originally outlined in 1992. Under SARD, Southern governments are advised to zone agriculture land, with the best land being reserved for export crops. Only in those areas where "natural resource limits" or "environmental or socio-economic constraints" preclude intensification would farmers be allowed to grow food for their own use. Coupled with this zoning policy is the recommendation that governments should "evaluate the carrying capacity and population supporting capacity of major agricultural areas", and, where such areas are deemed to be "overpopulated", take steps to change the "man/land ratio" (their terminology) by "facilitating the accommodation of migrating populations into better endowed areas."[FAO, 1992] Transmigration programmes are explicitly recommended as a possible way forward. Peasants who have been forced onto marginal land as a result of "high potential areas" being taken over for intensive export-oriented agriculture will thus be liable to resettlement at the whim of any government that deems them a threat to the environment. Since it is admitted that there are few "better endowed areas" that can be opened up for agriculture, the majority of the new transmigrants will have no option but to move. Many of those displaced are likely to wind up as labourers or "tied producers" growing cash crops under contract to large corporations. Predictably, perhaps, the proponents of such "sustainable agriculture" policies do not consider the possibility that ecological stress in marginal areas would be better relieved by reclaiming "high potential areas" for peasant agriculture.

The global managers thus threaten to unleash a new wave of colonialism in which the management of people - even whole societies - for the benefit of commercial interests is now justified in the name of environmental protection. Whereas in the past "crown sovereignty" and "poverty alleviation" were used to legitimise the appropriation of local resources and the dismantling (or reworking) of local institutions for the national good, under the new regime, integral local practices are to be broken down yet further in the service of systemic goals. This time these goals are not simply to provide raw materials, cheap labour, and markets to an international economic system, but also to supply environmental repair or caretaker services to mitigate the problems that the system has itself created. Carbon-dioxide-absorbing tree farms will displace peasants' fields and fallows, tropical forests will be taken away from their inhabitants to provide services to multinational corporations, researchers and tourists, and population control efforts will be redoubled as a way of taking pressure off Northern-controlled resources. It is easy to snigger at such solemn megalomania. But if one accepts current patterns of economic development and the institutions and premises on which they rely, the logic of "global environmental management" is impeccable. Development, after all, entails an uncompromising drive towards a single global structure fitted out with mechanisms for global surveillance and global resource conversion to feed unlimited material advance. "Sustaining" this process through damage control requires an equivalent level of surveillance and intervention. The flip side of global prospecting for resources and waste sinks is global environmental monitoring, accounting and enforcement.

Part 2: Participation In Context1

Given such very different approaches to environmental degradation in general and to forests in particular, it is perhaps unsurprising that the growing enthusiasm amongst forestry departments the world over for "participatory" forms of forest management - and, increasingly, for participatory approaches that stress "community-based resource management" - should arouse deep suspicions even within those movements that have made participation and community control of forests a central planks of their political agenda.

One reason for that suspicion is that few of the institutions that are now pushing for "participation" (a "warmly persuasive word" which seems "never to be used unfavourably" [Williams 1976:76]) have a history of taking such participation seriously. Consider for example the World Bank, which is committed to the principle of participation in numerous policy documents. Its Forest Policy, for example, states that the "Bank will stress new approaches to the management of protected areas that incorporate local people into protection, benefit sharing and planning and will highlight the need to consider the needs and welfare of forest-dwelling people." That policy, according to an internal 1994 Implementation Review, has been successfully implemented by Bank staff, the reviewing stating that the Bank "has responded to the mandate provided by the policy to focus its assistance on helping governments ... empower rural people to better conserve and manage all forests" and "incorporated into its work the need to involve stakeholders with interests in the forests."[World Bank, 1994: Lohmann, L., 1994]

The reality on the ground, however, is very different. As Larry Lohmann points out in a critique of the Bank's record on participation, written at the time of the Bank's Implementation Review: "I have in front of me hundreds of pages of a Pre-Investment Study for a GEF project called The Conservation Forest Area Protection, Management and Development Project, which is a project in the pipeline for an important protected area in Thailand, and which is mentioned in the Implementation Review. These hundreds of pages are only part of the Study ... The project is slated for an area - the Thung Yai-Huai Kha Khaeng sanctuaries - inhabited by thousands of Karen people, who speak a language distinct from that of the Thai majority. The project calls for their eviction. Yet not one of these hundreds of pages of bureaucratic English has been translated in Thai, much less Karen: much less communicated to, much less discussed with, much less agreed to by the local Karen people in the sanctuary to be affected. This in spite of the fact that NGOs have requested Thai translations of all this material.

The task manager of the GEF project I've referred to, ..., perhaps provided some insight into this novel concept of "participation" and "empowerment" when he told a Thai audience ... that the eviction of the Karen people of Thung Yai-Huai Kha Khaeng - a course of action which is, by the way, opposed by the chief of the Thung Yai sanctuary himself - would have to be carried out by means of 'the sword, the carrot and the stick'". [Lohmann, L. 1994]2

Lohmann's purpose in recounting the failure of "participation" in Thung Yai-Huai Kha Keng is "not to embarrass (the task manager) for his ignorance or for his contempt for his employer's policies" but rather "to suggest that the failure to implement the Forest policy's clauses on participation is deep-seated and structural." The sort of attitude and practice followed by (him) is "not an isolated individual aberration", it is "embedded throughout the culture of the World Bank." Indeed, judging from the Bank's 1997 World Development Report, such support as exists within the more influential quarters of the World Bank for participatory approaches appears to derive not from a concern for the democratic rights of local people but from a perception that participation helps to save on the "transaction costs" of projects.[World Bank 1997] This is not to say that there are no sympathetic individuals within theses institutions, on the contrary. The reality is, however, that they have to operate within a framework which is often not sympathetic to their points of view and which blocks their intentions.

Not surprisingly when development agencies, such as the World Bank, actively begin to pursue participatory programmes, those who have had past experience of Bank projects have good reason to be wary. What is the Bank up to? Why the sudden enthusiasm for consulting people? What is the Bank's game plan? In the main, the answers to those and other sceptical questions are either supplied by the Bank's own project documents (with their paternalistic emphasis on "educating" local people into "better practices") or by the cosmetic nature of participation in the vast majority of projects where participatory approaches have actually been implemented. Not only does consultation tend to be desultory, but even where meetings are held, the voices of local people rarely appear to be listened to. Local people become a ghostly presence within the planning process - visible, heard even, but ultimately only there because their involvement lends credibility and legitimacy to decisions that have already been made. Far from being a transformative process in which local people are able to exert control over decision-making, participation becomes a well-honed tool for engineering consent to projects and programmes whose framework already been determined in advance - a means for top-down planning to be imposed from the bottom-up. As a minister in a recently "democratised" country recently commented on his ministry's use of participation: "We decide what is to be done and we tell the people to do it."[Peter, P.:1997]3

Managing Resistance

The use of participation as a strategy for control, rather than transformation, brings us to the third major reason why peoples' movements have expressed scepticism over the current vogue among development agencies for participatory projects: namely their increasing use as strategies for managing and containing dissent. Here it is necessary to set the rise of "participatory" development in its social and political context - in particular, the growing resistance of local communities to the environmental and social impacts of current forms of development. Neither environmental degradation nor the demands of peoples' movements for a greater say in the decisions that affect their lives are new. On the contrary, from the smokestacks of Victorian Britain to the logged out moonscapes of modern day British Colombia or Sarawak, environmental degradation has gone hand in hand with economic expansion, as commercial interests have sacrificed local livelihoods and environments in order to obtain raw materials, transform them into commodities, market them and dispose of the wastes.

Nor has the destruction gone unchallenged. In the South, local cultures have fought successive attempts - first by colonial regimes and then by their "own" post-independence governments, acting in consort with commercial interests and international development agencies - to transform their homelands and themselves into "resources" for the global economy. Timber operations have been sabotaged, logging roads blockaded, dams delayed, commercial plantations uprooted, factories and installations burned, mines closed down and rallies held in a constant effort to keep the forces of destruction at bay.

Where environmental degradation was limited to the local level - a clear-cut forest here, a leaking toxic waste dump there, a polluted river here, a salinized tract of land there - and where protest was restricted to isolated movements, the threat that they posed to established patterns of power could be contained with relative ease. Commercial and industrial interests were able to follow a strategy of simply denying the problem or justifying the destruction in the name of "the greater good" or the "national interest". Opposition could be met by force or play down as "uninformed", "reactionary", "luddite", "subversive" or "anti-development".

As environmental degradation has become increasingly widespread, however, so it has become more and more difficult for industry and other groups to buy off, crush or otherwise contain resistance from local people. The very scale of the opposition has forced the previously marginalised discourse of environmentalism into the mainstream, transforming ecological degradation from a side issue that corporation felt able to disregard, into lost markets and lost votes. If timber companies are now making noises about moving towards "sustainable logging", it is not because they have suddenly become aware of the damage they are causing to the environment (in many cases, they still deny the problem) but because timber boycotts and local protests have forced them to respond to growing public outrage over their activities.

It is by no means the first time in history that movements for social change have threatened the power of established commercial and political elites. As in the past, the ability of those elites to survive with their power intact will ultimately depend on how far they are able to turn that challenge to their advantage. Now that it has become clear that environmentalism and environmental degradation can no longer be ignored, outright resistance to change is giving way to strategies for managing that change.

There is growing evidence, for example, that companies and other groupings with an interest in containing environmentalism and other forms of social dissent are now taking an active role in monitoring environmental opposition. As Larry Lohmann reports of the pulp and paper industry: "In 1993, Finnish consulting firm Jaako Poyry (responsible for drawing up a Forestry Master Plan for Thailand) began publishing a confidential quarterly intelligence report on environmental thinking and activities, aimed at a clientele of wealthy companies. Industry-retained PR firms also maintain files on activist groups, their leaderships, methods of operations, anticipated reactions to new products, funding sources and 'potential for industry relationship', with a view to finding out 'what's motivating them, how serious they are, what they will consider 'success'". Such firms advise pulp and paper corporations and their allies on how to offer financial support to environmentalist groups which need funding and 'respectability', as well as how to go about putting critical individual environmentalists or former regulators on their payrolls."[Lohmann, L., 1996]. Lohman argues that the object of such tactics is not simply to engineer consent but also to help "help colonise democratic discussion and replace it with a more predictable type of interchange."

Participatory approaches play a key role in such strategies - and indeed are actively promoted in many strategy documents prepared for companies by PR companies, not least because direct contact with opponents allow companies the opportunity to bring other strategies into play. Such tactics include cultivating opponents as part of a wider strategy of divide and rule. The US public relations firm Mongoven, Biscoe and Duchin, for example, divides opponents into four categories: "radicals", "opportunists", "idealists" and "realists". "Opportunists" are seen as relatively easy to deal with. All that is needed is to give them "the perception of a partial victory" so that it looks good on their CVs. "Idealists" are harder. They want to change the world. So the tactic is to cast doubt on the ethics of their position. They can then be "educated" into a more "realistic" position. The so-called "realists", meanwhile, are seen as a piece of cake. They should, quote, "always receive the highest priority in any strategy dealing with a public policy issue." Often inexperienced in the workings of power, they are particularly susceptible to industry's claim to be the "only show in town". For them the "real world" is the corporate world. They are already primed for what they see and the inevitable "trade off". The hardest group - and the one which industry is most fearful of - is that of the "radicals". Their belief, quote, that "individuals and local groups should have direct power over industry" makes it "impossible to predict with any certainty what standards will be deemed acceptable." The strategy is clear. Isolate the radical. Cultivate and educate the idealists into becoming realists. And co-opt the realists into agreeing with what industry had already decided, leaving the radicals isolated.

Alongside such "in-your-face" management of opposition, a number of other trends within the official discourse on the environment are noticeable. First, agencies which have played a central role in actively degrading large tracts of the environment are conspicuously distancing themselves from the destructiveness of "past" policies. Constant references within official documents to "recent" satellite data, "new" studies, "latest statistics" and the like convey the impression that ecological degradation is a recent phenomenon - and one moreover that has primarily come to light through the diligence and foresight of government scientists, international institutions and industrial planners. The past disappears from view - or if it is visible, it is devoid of any of the social movements that played such a key role in highlighting environmental degradation. Instead, the public is asked to look towards the future and with it, a new age of environmental awareness in which industry - now aware of the environment - has put its house in order to the satisfaction of earthworm and peasant resistor alike.

Second, there is an attempt to gloss over the many conflicts of interest underlying environmental degradation. Neither the institutional framework of the global economy, nor the material interests and values it reflects receive any serious scrutiny. Instead, environmental destruction is cast as having just "happened". No-one (other than ignorant peasants) would appear to have promoted the destruction, except by way of lack of knowledge, foresight or alternatives. No one stands accused of gaining power or profit from the destruction; no one is accused of having blocked solutions. Instead, international meetings such as the UN Conference on Environment and Development present the public with a rosy-tinted view of a world where all humanity is united by a common interest in survival, and in which conflicts of race, class, gender and culture are characterised as being of secondary importance to humanity's supposedly common goals. Constant references to "humanity's common resources", for example, neatly obscure the fact that the vast majority of people have no access to those resources, which they neither own nor control, and which are selfishly exploited for the narrow ends of the few. (In Brazil. for example, multinational companies own more land than all the peasants put together. In Britain, just nine per cent of the population owns 84 per cent of the land).

Third, the mainstream discourse either eschews serious consideration of the alternatives put forward by the many movements that forced a response to environmentalism or reworks those alternatives to the advantage of dominant institutions. In the hands of the World Bank, for example, land reform has become a means of freeing up "under-utilised" land for intensive agriculture or promoting contract farming, thus providing transnationals with a dependent labour force which takes many of the risks of production.[Plant, R., 1993] Or again, popular demands to cease environmentally destructive practices may be turned into programmes that further TNC objectives, creating new markets and new forms of control. Similarly - and particularly pertinent to our theme - the call for local people to have a decisive say in the matters that affect their lives have been contained through the directed use of "participatory" processes that are reworked to suit the ends of industry and other powerful groupings - notably that of increasing control over local people. Grassroots organisations thus become the human "software" through which investments can be made with least local opposition. As Majid Rahmena, formerly of the UN Development Programme, puts it: "Participation is now simply perceived as one of the many "resources" needed to keep the economy alive. To participate is thus reduced to the act of partaking in the objectives of the economy and the societal arrangements related to it."[Rahmena, M., 1992] In effect, local people become "yet one more resource for industry and government to manage" - and, at least in a political sense, consume. [M'Gonigle, R.M., 1997]

Undermining the Commons

Given this political context, it is perhaps unsurprising that many community groups see the new vogue amongst development agencies for Joint Forest Management, Community Resources Management and other forms of participatory development as attempts to actively undermine their attempts to reclaim control over the institutions, forests, fishing grounds, fields and rivers on which they rely for their livelihoods. For some groups and communities, the focus of that struggle has been the defence of existing commons regimes against enclosure: for others, the reclaiming of those commons that have been enclosed; and in still others, the building of new commons.

Within India, for example, the 1980s saw a blossoming of local attempts to wrestle control of forest lands from state control by Forest Departments and to manage those lands in the interest of local communities. In West Bengal, no less than 1,200 forest protection committees were set up by villagers themselves to reverse the degradation of forest lands - initiatives that predated official community forest programmes by several years. Much the same story (though on a lesser scale) apply to many other Indian states where deforestation and forest degradation had begun to pose problems for local people.[Arora, D, 1994: Pattnaik, B.K. and Brahmachari, A., 1996]

In other areas, villagers faced with drought have formed Pani Panchayats (water councils), the role of such panchayats being to ensure that no individual should be deprived of a rightful share of the limited water resources on which life and livelihood depend. As Vandana Shiva reports, "To ensure equity, the Pani Panchayats treat water as a community resource, not as private property. Further, water rights are based on the number of family members, not on the size of landholdings. While members of the panchayat are free to decide how to use their water allocation, sugar-cane cultivation [which is extremely water-intensive] is completely banned as being inconsistent with the principles of responsible resource use. A suitable Patkari or water distributor, is appointed by the Pani Panchayat to assure fair day-to-day allocations of water to all its beneficiaries." [Shiva, V., 1991]

Elsewhere, villagers whose lives have been made insecure by overdependence on the market economy and whose experience has made them wary of the monocultures demanded by modern agriculture are adopting strategies grounded in traditional practices as a means of restoring their environment and disengaging from the wider market economy. In the Segou region of Mali, for example, villagers have withheld co-operative labour from those who buy modern farm machinery, because it causes damage to the soil and undermines the tradition of shared labour that is crucial at certain season. Likewise, in Eastern Senegal, the Federation of Sarakiolle Villages - a peasant group - has "successfully resisted efforts by the state agriculture agency to impose irrigation systems, cropping patterns, uniform pricing policies and marketing restrictions".[Rau, B, 1991] The Association, set up in the 1960s, has promoted crop production "primarily for food, secondarily for surplus distribution and only lastly for sales."

In still other cases, the accent has been less on reclaiming the physical commons as on recovering or evolving the institutions that enable the commons to "work". In India, the general failure of local panchayats (not to be confused with the Pani Panchayats described above) to reflect the will of the commons has led many communities to create alternative village-level institutions "that can work with a high degree of democracy". [Agarwal, A and Narain, S., 1992] Only by doing so have villagers been able to regain the authority necessary to check and even reverse resource depletion. In some villages, for example, villagers have invested executive and legal power in bodies known as "Gram Sabhas", consisting of all the adults of the village. In Rasjasthan, where villages can register under the Rajasthan Gramdam Act of 1971, the Gram Sabha has full control over all the land within the village boundary and lays down the rules for how the village commons should be used. It also has the power to judge, penalise and prosecute. Anil Agarawal and Sunita Narain of the Delhi-based Centre for Science and the Environment cite the village of Seed near Udaipur as "an excellent example of how the village ecosystem can be managed by the executive Gram Sabha":

"The common land has been divided into two categories - one category consists of lands on which both grazing and leaf collection is banned and the second category consists of lands on which grazing is permitted but leaf collection or harming trees is banned. The first category of land is lush, green and full of grass which villagers can cut only once a year ... Even during the unprecedented drought of 1987, Seed was able to harvest 80 bullock cartloads of grass from this patch. The grass was distributed equitably amongst all households. Seed's Gram Sabha does not even allow trees on private land to be cut. Prior permission from the gram Sabha is required and it is only granted if the owner needs the wood for domestic reasons but not for sale. The Gram Sabha also has a system of penalties to enforce disciplined use of the village trees and grasslands." [Agarwal, A. and Narain, S.:1992]

Seed only became a Gramdam village some ten years ago, but in that time it has demonstrated how, once authority has been restored to the commons, the local environment can be defended, restored and improved for the benefit of the local community as a whole. Agarwal and Narain conclude, "We are absolutely convinced ... that there is no alternative to this concept. Increasingly we get convinced that the most sophisticated decision-making will begin only when people start sitting under banyan trees as a group to discuss their problems and find common solutions. Only this form of decentralised decision-making can match the enormous cultural and biological diversity of Indian villages. People sitting in closed rooms in distant Central and State capitals or even district headquarters can only produce monolithic nonsense which will have little relevance on the ground." [Agarwal, A. and Narain, S., 1992]

That conclusion is also being drawn by other communities, both North and South. Across the world, grassroots movements are working to open up more space for the commons by denying that any single social whole - whether culture, language, livelihood, art, theory or science - has a right to assert privileged status over, and thus to enclose other social wholes. They are creating space where, on the contrary, the local community has the right to decide its own future; the right to refuse to have to abide by an alien translation of its own words and practices; the right to its own culture.

Key to that struggle is the building up of open and accountable institutions that restore authority to commons regimes - a struggle which requires increasing the bargaining power of those who are currently excluded or marginalised from the political process and eroding the power of those who are currently able to impose their will on others. Only in this way - when all those who will have to live with a decision have a voice in making that decision - can the checks and balances on power that are so critical to the workings of the commons be ensured. Achieving that political order requires promoting the virtues of receptivity, flexibility, patience, open-mindedness, non-defensiveness, humour, curiosity and respect for the opinions of others as a counterweight to the formulas, principles, translations or "limits" which trap people in single languages. It involves legitimising a type of rational decision-making and self-correction which emphasises not the application of predetermined methods, technical vocabularies, "objective" data and yardsticks - the machinery of enclosure - but the indispensability of open-ended conversation, a willingness to listen and learn, to change one's view and to work at achieving a consensus.

Uncommon Equity

For those who are used to imposing their will and languages on others, or who see the environmental threats facing humanity as so overwhelming that only centralised decision-making by cliques of experts can meet the task in hand, the call for community control is at best a threat to their power, at worst a recipe for indecision and muddling through to ecological disaster. Critics point out, for example, that commons-based conservation efforts - for all their acknowledged successes - have had a limited impact in terms of repairing or halting the damage caused by logging operations, commercial agriculture, and other industrial activities. This is undeniable. However, as Larry Lohmann points out in the context of Thailand: "It is necessary to add that village initiatives, by their very nature, show greater potential than other programmes aimed at rehabilitating degraded forest land or checking further colonisation [of forests]. One important reason for the failure of official programmes is the incompatibility between the informal local tenure systems to which villagers remain committed and the land-use patterns the government seeks to impose. The result has often been 'increased immigration and forest deterioration', while 'legislation controls over land ownership have been a significant factor in the accelerated depletion of forest resources'. Internationally backed programmes, while occasionally more successful, are difficult to replicate due to high costs. Commercial 'reforestation' efforts are meanwhile widely acknowledged to have been counterproductive so far in terms of conservation."[Lohmann, L., 1991.]

A second limitation - readily acknowledged - is that village conservation efforts do not embrace all of the concerns of wildlife biologists. "Farmers tend primarily to be interested in the conservation of species used locally, and may not support the establishment of strictly protected areas from which they are banned." In addition, "they may be indifferent to the question of whether or not to establish protected areas of the large size required for comprehensive biological diversity." Their ultimate objectives may thus differ from those of conservation managers "intent on preserving areas of extremely high diversity in an untouched state." [Lohmann, L., 1991].

Critically, however, local people - unlike the staff of government departments, international agencies or corporations - have an immediate and long-term stake in defending and evolving practices that conserve some level of biodiversity and self-reliance. Indeed, one reason why local control is so essential to conservation, as Richard O'Connor has argued, is that "the environment itself is local; nature diversifies to make niches, enmeshing each locale in its own intricate web. Insofar as this holds, enduring human adaptations must also ultimately be quite local".[O'Connor, R., 1989.] Biological diversity, for example, is related to the degree to which one locale is distinct from the next in its topography and natural and human history. It is best preserved by societies which nourish those local differences - in which the traditions and natural history of each area interact to create distinctive systems of cultivation and water and forest use. This local orientation is displayed par excellence in small commons regimes. As Elinor Ostrom notes:

"Small-scale communities are more likely to have the formal conditions required for successful and enduring collective management of the commons. Among these are the visibility of common resources and behaviour toward them; feedback on the effects of regulations; widespread understanding and acceptance of the rules and their rationales; the values expressed in these rules (that is, equitable treatment of all and protection of the environment); and the backing of values by socialisation, standards and strict enforcement." [Ostrom, E., 1985.]

Indeed, the evidence is overwhelming that local-level institutions in which power is limited and the common right to survival is the preoccupation of all, are the best means of repairing the damage done through enclosure. Equally overwhelming is the evidence that "non-local, state-management systems are both costly and often ineffective." [Freeman, M.,1989] This is not to claim that all commons regimes work all of the time, nor that commons regimes are some romantic idyll free from internal inequalities (particularly gender inequities), back-biting, social injustices or environmentally destructive practices.

It is to insist, however, that, for all their inequalities, commons regimes exhibit "an uncommon equity" [Netting, R., 1997], an equity that results not from some preconceived notion of "communitas" but rather from "the inability of a small community's elite to eliminate entirely the bargaining power of any one of its members ... and the calculated jockeying for position of many individuals who know each other and share an interest both in minimising their own risks and in not letting any one of their number become too powerful".[The Ecologist, 1992].

It is also to recognise that for the vast majority of humanity, commons regimes are an everyday reality - they are the context in which most local people begin any effort to reverse environmental degradation. Moreover, the very rootedness of such commons-based regimes, their face-to-face contact with those who depend on their successful operation and their responsiveness to local needs and changing local circumstances make them far more sustainable (in an institutional sense) than external forms of control, even where those forms of control seek to include an element (and, by their nature, it will always be limited to an element) of participation by local people.

Part 3: Participation As Enclosure: The Western Ghats Project

The ability of commons-based regimes to manage their environments without causing degradation and in an equitable manner is now recognised by more progressive elements within the major international development agencies. Generally, however, such recognition is backward-looking. Granted, it is argued, commons regimes worked in the past but few have been able to survive (delete according to political bias) the acid bath of the market/ the intrusions of state bureaucracy/ the pressures of population growth/ the lure of consumerism/ other corrosive effects of modernism. The conclusion reached for forest commons in India is widely shared that: "Even if communities made a sustainable use of forests in the pre-commercial past, it cannot be assumed that they can do so today without any monitoring and regulatory power exercised by the state to ensure their proper use." [Nadkarni, M.V. et al, 1992]

Whilst the pressures on the commons are real enough, such a view renders almost invisible the resistance of commons regimes to further enclosure by state and market and the numerous efforts of commoners to maintain or reclaim a space for the commons in spite of masculinist population control programmes, the pervasive propaganda of corporate advertising or the privileging of elite knowledge systems. It also overlooks the everyday reality of working commons regimes for millions of people around the world. Ninety per cent of the world's fishers rely on small inshore marine commons, catching over half the fish eaten in the world today.[Ostrom, E., 1991.] In the Philippines, Java and Laos, numerous irrigation systems are devised and run by villagers themselves, the water rights being distributed through rules laid down by the community.[Cruz, M.C.J., 1989.] Even in the North, where commons regimes are generally viewed as archaic relics, new commons are constantly being born, even among what might seem the most fragmented communities. In southern California, water users have crafted self-governing institutional structures, basin by basin, and watershed by watershed, to control water abstraction from local aquifers.[Blomquist, W., 1992.]

The view that commons regimes are (sadly) irrelevant to the assumed realities of Tomorrow's World nonetheless prevails within mainstream development circles. Policy is thus increasingly directed to the project of bringing "dying" or "collapsed" commons regimes under bureaucratic control in order to secure the environment against communities which (in the judgement of the experts) have "lost" their "traditional culture of environmental care". That project, however, is tempered by the recognition that the widespread failure of past development projects to "deliver development" rests in large part with the failure to gain the support of local people. Progressive policy makers are thus increasingly obsessed with instituting forms of local power that "involve" local people in projects (for example, through "community resource management" programmes) without conceding control to them. The result is that the power structures that have long caused local people to be excluded from the decision making processes and resources on which their lives and livelihoods depend are not only reproduced (albeit in modified forms) but, in many cases, reinforced. Participation, in effect, becomes a further form of enclosure - a means of inaugurating what Ivan Illich has called "a new ecological order", in this instance an ecological order responsive to the emerging requirements of global management; of cordoning off those aspects of the environment that are deemed "useful" to the encloser; of controlling the forums in which decisions about the environment are made; and of reworking the networks of local power so that they are more responsive to the new institutional priorities of late twentieth century commercial and bureaucratic elites. The new vogue for Joint Forest Management (JFM) illustrates the point. In India, for example, JFM (and its latest incarnation, JFPM - Joint Forest Planning and Management) has played an increasingly central role in forestry projects and programmes since the late 1980s. Its adoption by both central and state governments followed widespread protests against both the degradation of forests through industrial forestry and the exclusion of local people from forest resources. Under the prompting of agencies such as the World Bank, the Indian government initially responded to this growing public unrest by initiating a series of social forestry programmes, the stated aim being to meet local needs for firewood and other forest products through the active participation of villagers in plantation forestry. Far from defusing the protests, however, the widespread take-over of communal lands for commercial plantations (chiefly environmentally-damaging eucalyptus for the pulp and paper industry) rather than woodlots for villagers led to still further unrest, with villagers uprooting the eucalyptus.

The failure of social forestry prompted the government to revise its national Forest Policy, requiring Forest Departments to make the commercial exploitation of forests secondary to their management for environmental benefits and for meeting the subsistence needs of local people. The revised policy also called for the protection of villagers' customary rights to the forests and advocated greater participation by local people in the protection and development of those forests from which they derived benefits such as fuelwood, fodder and timber.[Feeney, T. 1997] Shortly after the publication of the revised policy, the Ministry of Environment and Forest sent a circular to the forest secretaries in all state governments setting out guidelines for involving village communities and voluntary agencies in the regeneration of degraded forests. The circular, issued in June 1990, proposed that usufruct rights to specified forest lands be granted to those who formed themselves into an appropriate village-based organisation with the specific intention of regenerating degraded forests.[Arora, D., 1994] The work undertaken, it was stressed, should be strictly supervised by the Forest Department, as should the villagers' access to forest products. NGOs, the circular suggested, should be encouraged to play an intermediate role between the Forest Department and the villagers. Sixteen states have now responded by promulgating facilitating rules (particularly changes to state forestry laws) to enable such "joint forest management" to be implemented.[Feeney, T., 1997]

Although, as Dolly Arora, an Indian political commentator, points out, "successful experiments carried out in several local settings [undoubtedly] increased the openness of the state in adopting participatory approaches", the embracing of JFM by so many states in such a short space of time cannot be explained by this factor alone. Perhaps more to the point is the increased bargaining power achieved by local movements as a result of strategic alliances not only with sympathetic foresters but also with urban-based environmental groups and international NGOs. "With powerful national or international NGOs entering the scene and extending support to local organisations of people to assert their rights on forest resources, the capacity of states to overlook the claims of people without worsening the crisis of their own legitimacy weakened considerably - it seemed better to relate to the programme of these organisations than to alienate them." [Arora, D., 1997]

Significantly, in Orissa and West Bengal, the two states which led the way in adopting JFM, the promulgation of formal provisions for participation only took place after numerous village groups had already taken matters into their hands and set up their own organisations to protect local forests. In Orissa, for instance, "a survey ... revealed that as many as 1,181 blocks of forest patches ranging from 9 to 1,000 hectares ... were already under the protection of adjoining villages at the time of the promotion of new JFM regulations." [Arora, D., 1997]. Likewise, in West Bengal, "a very large number of villages were already engaged in protection work when the JFM rules were promoted." In effect, "people's participation and people's power preceded, rather than resulted from, policy change in these areas."

The Western Ghats Forestry Project

In a number of states, however, JFM came to India not so much as a result of domestic institutions responding to popular pressure as from international agencies doing so. In Karnataka, for example, peoples' movements were extremely active throughout the 1980s (and indeed for decades beforehand) in defending and regenerating forests: resistance to social forestry programmes in the state, funded by the World bank and Britain's Overseas Development Administration, were particularly widespread. Whilst the Karnataka Forest Department (KFD) all but ignored the national shift towards JFM, however, it took the opportunity to cash in on national and international concerns over forest degradation by drawing up a funding proposal for an extensive tree planting programme and submitting it to the Overseas Development Administration for funding.

Entirely lacking from the proposal was any element of peoples' participation. Instead, local people featured largely as a source of cheap labour for replanting schemes. Nonetheless, eager to redress the failures of the previous Social Forestry project - but principally (some have argued) because the British government had publicly committed itself to spending £100 million on "international forest conservation" and was looking for a "home" for the money - the ODA agreed to consider the project provided that peoples' participation and poverty alleviation were incorporated as central concerns. A series of workshops with the KFD and local NGOs followed, as a result of which the project was substantially modified, although NGOs still expressed considerable concern, particularly over plans to divide the forest up into zones, with people being excluded from "core" conservation areas, and over the weakness of measures to address social justice issues. Intense lobbying by NGOs, both in Karnataka and in Britain, forced the ODA to postpone signing the agreement and undertake a further appraisal. In April 1991, a final project document was drawn up by the KFD incorporating "off-the-shelf" participation plans (largely based on proposals drawn up by UK forestry experts) that would bring Joint Forest Planning and Management to the Western Ghats. Subsequently, the UK government agreed to commit £24 million to the project which became the flagship of UK overseas development aid under the Conservative administrations of Margaret Thatcher and, later, John Major. A condition of the ODA funding was that the Karnataka State Government should issue government orders facilitating JFPM in Karnataka. The orders, however, were only issued in April 1993 - a year after the start of the project - and JFPM was explicitly to focus on degraded forest areas: elsewhere, villagers would have no rights to participate in the decisions affecting forest use.

The Stake Goes There!

The project highlights many of the failings of JFM in general and JFPM in particular and is worth considering in some detail. Its main aim, as laid down in the final project documents, is to enhance and improve the management capacity of the Karnataka State Forest Department (KFD), and in particular to enable it to respond to the conflicting demands from different users for access to the forest. Under the scheme, the forest has been divided into five zones. Zone 1 consists of ecologically important areas: Zone 2, of uninhabited forest areas with a potential for commercial exploitation; Zone 3 of areas with pockets of forest dwellers; Zone 4 of boundary-edge forests near settlements (mostly degraded land); and Zone 5 of common land outside the forest. Villagers are only permitted to "participate" in the management of those lands in Zone 4.

The tool for resolving such conflicts is Joint Forest Planning and Management, villagers being encouraged to form Village Forest Committees (VFCs) with responsibility for conserving and restoring specified areas of forest and sharing the benefits (sales of timber from plantations, for example) with the Forest Department. Any change of access or use which has an impact on local communities would be arrived at through consultation. Information from local people would be used to identify conservation zones and villagers would have a say in the way that such areas are managed. Although NGOs played a key role in modifying the project - and in pushing the KFD, through the ODA, to incorporate greater involvement of villagers and a poverty oriented focus - they did so within a framework that was already cast in stone and in which they were decidedly junior partners to the ODA and the KFD. Indeed, NGOs were only consulted on how the project, whose overall goals were already decided by the KFD and ODA, might best be implemented. Had NGOs (let alone villagers) been approached and asked to draw up their own project - rather than modify someone else's - it might have taken a very different shape. Rather than seeking to conserve the forests by dividing them into zones and encouraging the planting of degraded land, for example, many villagers might have pressed for stiff career penalties - and enforcement mechanisms - to be introduced within the KFD against officials who accept bribes for handing out logging concessions. They might have argued for money to be spent on elephant ditches and electric fences to safeguard crops from forest animals, thus increasing farm incomes and helping to overcome some of the hostility with which many farmers regard the forests. They might have demanded village roads to be upgraded (or built) in order to improve access to markets, or for mining activities within the forest to be halted, or for the ban on green felling to be effectively enforced. They might have pointed to local institutions that were already managing local commons or tending for local sacred groves as better forums for managing the forests than imposed VFCs. They might have pressed for land reform or measures to secure tenure for poorer villagers. They might have argued forcefully against planting as the best way of restoring degraded lands, pointing to the many instances in the region where natural regeneration has proved highly effective without the need to fence off lands against cattle, thus depriving villages of a source of grazing land. They might have warned that plantations would encourage the gradual commercialisation of the forests to the detriment of poorer villagers and they might have pressed for full legal control over much larger areas of forests (not just Zone 4 forests) rather than the ersatz participation offered through JFPM.

Many of these points were raised by NGOs, either during the various workshops that preceded the project, or subsequently. In some cases, the project authorities have simply ignored them: in others, there have been serious efforts by the project authorities to tackle what the KFD and the ODA interpret as the underlying concerns. Rather than forming the bedrock on which the project was built, however, these efforts have inevitably largely involved additional, tack-on projects or programmes being added to the original project, the basic framework of which has remained largely unaltered. Not surprisingly, many of the problems which NGOs (in the absence of actual villagers) warned would arise have arisen. The Village Forest Committees (VFCs), for example, have proved highly problematic. In many cases, particularly at the start of the project, the KFD proceeded with plantations even though no VFC had actually been formed. As Patricia Feeney of Oxfam reports, "Although public meetings were held ... to tell the local community about the project and to listen nominally to their suggestions about planting, nurseries had already been raised and pits dug before any consultation occurred. Planting was pre-determined by the KFD." [Feeney, P., 1997] Where VFCs were formed, the meetings were often held at short notice at the convenience of the KFD, officials of which kept the minutes of meetings held and managed the funds, leading to suspicions that the VFCs were little more than outreach arms of the KFD set up solely to satisfy the ODA's conditions of funding. Indeed, many VFCs appeared to exist on paper only.

Although supposed to ensure the participation of all sections of the village in deciding planting regimes, many VFCs are dominated by more powerful social groups and by men. In half the villages where VFCs had been formed by 1997, for example, many households are not members. In the majority of these cases, the non-members tend to be from the poorest families in the village. As Feeney notes: "Non-membership not only excludes them from information about income deriving from plantations but it also excludes them from information about JFPM and the decision-making process. [Moreover] those villagers who become members acquire the responsibility and authority to compel the non-members to confirm to the VFCs decisions regarding areas of forest to be protected and to respect new rules about access to and use of forest produce. This can have a dramatic impact on the rights of the poorest villagers to collect non-timber forest products (NTFPs) on a day-to-day basis to meet their subsistence needs. The Karnataka Government Order fails to specify whether non-members continue to enjoy their customary rights and privileges in JFPM areas. Denial of such rights has serious equity implications and may become a future source of conflict." [Feeney, P., 1997]

In effect, the VFCs directly or indirectly re-order access to and rights over the environment, generally (though not exclusively) in favour of the landed elites who dominate the VFCs even in villages which have full membership. [Saxena, N.C., et al., 1997] As an ODA-sponsored Independent Review of the project, initiated in response to NGO lobbying, comments, such elite-dominated VFC leadership, carries with it "the very real danger that the wealthier members of the VFC may use JFPM as a means of gaining control over additional forest resources (thereby increasing their own political and economic power), while further reducing the access of marginalised groups who depend on forest resources to meet their basic needs". [Saxena, N.C., et al. 1997]

One reason for the dominance of elites on the VFCs is the old boy network that the KFD brings into play when initiating new VFCs. Generally, forest officers tend to contact those whom they consider to be the most important people in the village, who also happen, in many cases, to be those with whom they have had previous contact: sometimes a forest contractor, sometimes a former KFD official, or sometimes a relative of such a contact. Usually, it is these village bigwigs who wind up being the President of the VFC or becoming its members. Understandably, many are suspicious of the VFCs impartiality. A recent Oxfam appraisal of the project quotes a villager from Honnavar: "What difference does this JFPM make? Our president has worked in the KFD for many years. Do you think he is any different from them? They suggested his name as the president. And we had to agree. It's not that they forced us but you know what will happen if we don't agree to what the KFD says. We have to live in this village for the rest of our lives."[Mitra, A., 1997]

Women, in particular low caste women, have found their voices marginalised by the project, this despite genuine efforts by the ODA to include participation of women. Originally, the Government Order, as laid down by the KFD, prescribed one representative to the VFC per household, which, as Patricia Feeney of Oxfam reports, "had the effect of systematically excluding women from the VFCs and from active participation in JFPM." [Feeney, P., 1997] Subsequently, at the insistence of the ODA, the Order was amended to make "spouses" automatic members of VFCs. Even so, this still leaves many marginalised women (and men) within households excluded - for example, single women and men, women whose partners have left them, second wives, and widowed elders.

Almost five years after the start of the project, many remain unaware of even the existence of VFCs, let alone their intention. Although the ODA has now insisted that VFC management committees include at least two women, the places often go to higher caste women who generally have little or no contact with poor and landless women. Where women attend the VFC meetings, they generally "sit quietly and serve tea and snacks", whilst some "fail to attend VFC meetings altogether because there is no discussion of problems affecting them."[Feeney, P., 1997] Even where such discussion does take place, the voices of women are frequently ignored. In one village, for example, women complained that the scarcity of fuelwood meant that they had to spend up to three hours a day collecting a headload of leaves and twigs for cooking fuel. Only six of the 97 VFC members in the village are women, however, "so there was little objection when the VFC decided to sell off all the firewood from their 30 hectare JFPM plantation instead of using it to meet local consumption needs." [Feeney, P., 1997] In such circumstances, women often have no option but to violate the rules of the VFC rather than let their families starve. "When this happens", reports Mariette Correa in a study commissioned for the Dhaward-base India Development Service, "they are considered offenders liable for fines and are beaten by their husbands." [Correa, M., 1995] Indeed, Correa argues, far from improving the position of women, the project may, in important respects have undermined it further: "Earlier, when forest management was under the control of the Forest Department, women offenders at least had the support of the men in their families. Now the policing role of the government has been taken on at village level by male dominated VFCs and may have succeeded in further exacerbating gender inequalities within the household." Unsurprisingly, some NGOs have responded by creating all women VFCs, which have, to a considerable degree, managed to overcome the silencing of women's voices.

Although the project was intended to ensure that poorer people, women, tribals, and other disadvantaged groups who are dependent on the forest "are not worse, and preferably better off", it has in many cases caused considerable hardship to local villagers. The ODA funded plantations have been mainly on village commons, from which villagers (particularly poorer villagers) derive pasture for animals, fuel, manure, medicinal plants, and other products to fulfil their basic needs. Women have been particularly affected by the planting of common lands, since they now need to travel longer distances to obtain firewood which, increasingly, they must take from forest lands. The result is often further forest destruction.

In some villages, landless families who have encroached common land for lack of land to grow food have been evicted to make way for the plantations, depriving them of their livelihood, without any compensation (although it should be said that some richer villagers who have encroached land have also been evicted). However, as the Independent Review team notes, such evictions provide only the most visible examples of how the project has undermined the security of poorer villagers: "A disturbing feature [of the project] is either the continuing irrelevance of JFPM to the livelihood related needs of marginalised but highly resource dependent communities ... or the evident danger of marginalised groups within more differentiated and heterogeneous communities being systematically further marginalised through reduction, rather than an increase, in their access to forest resources through the present JFPM implementation process. In [some] villages, it is not through dramatic interventions of poor encroachers being evicted from forest land, for which the project has been criticised by some NGOs, but through the more invisible and subtle processes of exclusion, delegitimisation of their traditional resource use patterns, use of monetary and wage incentives from plantations instead of making existing forest dependent livelihoods more sustainable, that the project and the current implementation of JFPM, are subtly, but systematically further disempowering the already marginalised and resource poor." [Saxena, N.C., et al,, 1997]

The project has brought particular problems for poorer groups who rely on herding or raising cattle, such as the Gowlis, a local tribal group, have also been badly hit by the decline in grazing land, as have many sharecroppers whose ability to engage successfully in a tenancy is often dependent on ownership of livestock, particularly draught animals. [Feeney, P., 1997] According to one study, undertaken for the ODA as part of the project, some 86 per cent of landless livestock keepers rely on the forests for grazing: many have now been forced to reduce their livestock holdings, often placing their livelihoods in jeopardy. Indeed, as Patricia Feeney of Oxfam notes, "For these people, livestock makes the difference between self-employment and dependence on wage labour."

NGOs also warned that, despite a commitment to allow villagers to plant trees of their choice, the project would encourage the further conversion of natural forest to monoculture plantations. Under to the WGFP, gaps in the forest are to be planted with 'valuable timber species', with an aim of restoring the natural mix of the forest. Shortly after the project began, such practices led an ODA review to warn that "the project is open to the criticism of promoting of monoculture at the cost of biodiversity".[Khare, A., undated] Indeed, a recent study by one local NGO reveals that, in the majority of the villages surveyed, such gaps had been planted with Acacia auriculiformis (an exotic imported from Australia): in some cases, 90 per cent of the trees planted were acacia. During meetings with the KFD, villagers have repeatedly asked for a reduction of the number of Acacia plants.

In 1997, after NGOs had raised these and other problems with the project authorities, the ODA and KFD commissioned an independent review of the project. Although the Independent Review noted that the project had brought "substantial gains" in terms of "greater interaction between [the] KFD and local communities", it confirmed the majority of the NGOs concerns, recommending a number of important changes to the project - for example that all forests, not just degraded forests, should be managed to meet environmental and livelihood needs; that natural regeneration rather than plantations should be relied on to meet villagers' basic needs for fuelwood, fodder and leaf manure; and that "management of non-degraded forests needs to be reoriented from timber production to optimising the production of non-timber forest products for strengthening [the] livelihoods of local communities" [Saxena, N.C., et al., 1997: 194, 196]

Arguing that "VFCs can meaningfully participate as partners of the Forest Department only if they grow into robust, self-governing, autonomous peoples' organisations", the Review team also recommends that the obligations placed on communities through JFPM should be balanced by clearly defined rights - not least of which is the right of VFCs to govern themselves and to exercise authority over a wider range of areas. A number of conditions, the Review argues, must be met if the VFCs are to succeed: a) communities must have a full understanding of the agreement with the forest department; b) the agreement must be worthwhile; c) the community must be able to devise easy and practical ways of ensuring that each member adheres to the agreement; d) the community must be able to impose graduated sanctions in case of non-compliance; and e) structures and processes for self-governing must be firmly in place.[Saxena, N.C., et al., 1997: 220]

Opening Political Space

In highlighting the failures of JFPM in the Western Ghats, it would be wrong to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The Independent Review is right when it states that "VFCs in Uttara Kannada have a long way to go". But, for all their failings, there is no doubt that, in some instances, villagers have been able to use the VFCs and the Western Ghats project in general to open up a political space that might otherwise not have been available. In one village, for example, villagers were able to use the authority which the VFC nominally gave them to close a polluting mine: in another, to secure a long promised road. More generally, by providing "a sharp focus on questions of equity and local livelihood systems", the project has provided some villages the opportunity to challenge the power exercised by dominant and powerful village groups over the forest. It has also "opened up the door for redefining the relationship between [the field staff of the KFD] and communities." [Khare, A., undated]

The key point, however, is that few of these gains have come about as a result of the project per se. Almost all have been won only as a result of villagers taking the project and using it to create their own futures. Moreover, the procedural changes that have been introduced in the project - for example through the Independent Review - have almost all come about only as a result of intense NGO lobbying.

A second key point is that NGOs and villagers are not the only actors to have found political space within the project. By rightly highlighting the inefficiency and corruption of the Forest Department, for example, the project has also proved useful to those seeking to privatise forestry in India. Whose agenda gets heard, and implemented, will not depend on rational debate but on the relative bargaining power of those now seeking to push the project in their various chosen directions. Failing to be aware of the different agendas being pursued is thus a potentially dangerous game - one that could end up marginalising those for whom political struggle is not just another campaign but a defence of livelihood.

Box 1: Management of forest by user groups: a case study

The forest management system evolved by villagers in Halikar, a village on the coast of Karnataka in India's Western Ghats, illustrates the point. The village's forests are run by a Village Forest Committee, originally set up in 1924 after villagers took advantage of a measure introduced by the British under the 1924 India Forest Act which granted local communities management and user rights over forest adjacent to villages. The committee is constituted by villagers, who are elected to represent their own, respective, castes. The committee is chaired by an elected president. It's main responsibility is the management and preservation of Halikar Forest, an area of 225 acres of forest.

Many of the rules laid down by the original committee still hold. However, reflecting the responsiveness of the commons-based regimes to changing circumstances, many rules have been relaxed or tightened as new threats to the forest have emerged and others receded. For example, in 1977, the villagers made a collective decision to stop making jaggery (a sugar cane syrup) whose production requires the use of large amounts of firewood) in order to decrease the pressure on the forest and to avoid the high transportation costs of acquiring fuelwood from outside. Similarly, with the arrival of a rice mill in a nearby village, which enabled the villagers to obtain semi-boiled rice, the inhabitants of Halikar have also stopped boiling rice, a process which consumed large quantities of firewood.

Similarly, the VFC agreed on far reaching restrictions on the grazing of cattle in the forest in order to secure the survival of tree seedlings. CONVGEGEVENS

The conservation and sound management of Halikar forest has been and still is highly dependent upon the vigilance of the local VFC. The VFC is, however, highly susceptible to internal social and economic changes which may undermine its authority. Moreover, remains VFC to a large extent dependent upon the state authorities. It is the Tashildar's (government adminis-trator at the lowest administrative level: the Taluk, or sub-district) responsibility to call for elections and to be present as observer). It is also his duty to check the fincial records of the VFC at regular intervals. Failure of Tashildar to perform these official roles puts the legitimacy of the VFC and hence the continuity of this unique management tradi-tion in jeopardy.

Part 4: Power And Participation

Indeed, a participation which fails to engage with the distribution and operations of power within local communities and the wider society in which they live is likely to offer little to marginalised groups.

Many participatory projects rest on the dubious assumption that simply identifying different "stakeholders" and getting them around the table will result in a consensus being reached that is "fair" to all. Such an assumption only holds, however, if all the actors involved are deemed to have equal bargaining power (which they do not) or if the inequalities between stakeholders is viewed as a purely technical matter, the only challenge being to ensure that correct procedures are formulated for bringing the parties into contact, changing the behaviour and attitudes of those who are used to dominating, and giving "primary stakeholders" more chance of voicing their view of the world. [Wright, N. and Nelson, S., 1995: 6] As Wright and Nelson note, however, society is not made up of "free-floating actors, each with different interests which they pursue by bargaining with each other in interactional space". Facilitating measures may be important in negotiations but they are not enough to grant marginal groups the bargaining power they require to overcome the structural dominance enjoyed by more powerful groups. On this view, participation requires wider processes of social transformation and structural change to the system of social relations through which inequalities are reproduced. Behavioural changes, though necessary, are not enough.

Talking Truth to Power4

Addressing the structural causes of inequality not only demands policy changes - for example agrarian reform - but, arguably, rethinking the means by which such change is achieved. Many NGOs, for example, are drawn to participate in projects whose framework neither they nor the communities with whom they work have any substantive role in designing because their conception of power as something which a small minority (the "powerful") "have" and that others (the "powerless") "lack" dictates that participation in such projects is the only way that they will exert influence.

On this view, politics consists of the comings and goings of "the powerful" and has little or nothing to do with the everyday actions and interactions of ordinary people. What goes on in the household or in the workplace is of relevance only if it prompts discussion within the "corridors of power" where the "real world" is to be found. And it is only by entering into that "real world" that social movements have any real hope of achieving change. Within that framework, "ordinary" people seeking to address an injustice have a limited number of options available to them.

For those who believe that the institutional landscape of contemporary politics is essentially benign but misguided, the most urgent task is to open the eyes of the "powerful" to the problems that current policies and programmes are causing. Once made aware of those problems, the "powerful" will, it is assumed, take corrective action. Campaigning thus becomes a process whereby groups lobby for the opportunity to "speak truth to power", to present the facts and to outline the remedies. The aim is not to replace the powerful or to dismantle the current machinery of government, but to "reprogramme" the machine - be it through introducing ethical codes of conduct for development banks, or market-led initiatives to encourage changes in shopping patterns or new legislation to strengthen the state's own "struggle for social justice". For those more cynical about the willingness of the "powerful" to respond to "the truth" when they are exposed to it - or, rather, to respond positively - a more pro-active strategy is called for. Here the aim is not simply to replace "their" policies by "ours", but to replace "them" by "us". One option is to seek incremental change by working "in and against" the system, gradually attaining a position of influence as, along with like-minded colleagues, one works one's way up the establishment hierarchy. Another is to "capture power", either through the ballot box or through force. Whichever way is chosen, once "in power", the newly-"powerful" consider themselves to be in a better position to ensure that their programme for the machine is not ignored or disrupted by disgruntled elements of an old guard.

Unfortunately, such strategies rarely achieve more than small incremental change, generally in the direction that society was already headed. They also run the risk of reproducing the very structures of power that it is intended to change. Talking "truth to power" may convert the odd individual to a radical viewpoint but it is in the nature of bureaucracies - whether corporations or government departments - that individual sentiments have little influence on the operations of the institution itself. For a bureaucracy to function, it is not necessary that its staff consent to its operations, simply that they follow the rules irrespective of the content of the work they are asked to perform. Individuals who threaten the direction of the institution, or its raison d'être, however, quickly find themselves excluded, co-opted or "ghettoised". Ironically, the very presence of such radicals, albeit relatively "powerless" to effect change within the institution, may legitimise the progressive image an institution is seeking.

The ability of dissenters to effect change through the "powerful" is hampered still further by the fact that the "real world" of the "powerful" bears little resemblance to the real world the dissenters know. Planners sit about discussing countries where people exist only as numbers, where government structures are assumed to act as politically-impartial conduits for implementing projects, where local landscapes are mapped not in terms of forests or fields but in terms of cubic feet of lumber or yields per hectare, and where people are assumed to behave in strict accordance with sociological theory. Activists should not therefore be surprised that the planners' programmes, however carefully prepared, generally flounder the moment they leave the drawing board. By the time they are implemented, they are frequently unrecognisable even to their authors. Projects aimed at increasing public participation or "decentralising power" end up excluding "target populations" and strengthening elites and local power relationships that the planners may not even have known existed.

Despite such failures, however, the "have/have not" conception of power and the strategies that flow from it exert a powerful influence over activists. It is not difficult to see why. The power enjoyed by corporations, the military, the state and international institutions - their ability to exert control over others - is an undeniable reality. Logically, it would seem to follow that the rest of us are what these bodies are not: that is, powerless.

Herein lies a great irony. For the "have/lack" picture of power, regarded as so "realistic" by its acolytes, is one to which the "powerful" have never subscribed. Industry and governments, for example, reveal a persistent and pragmatic preoccupation with grassroots resistance and the opinions of ordinary people. While they are also concerned to win over members of the public, fear of the irate crowd is never far from its collective mind. Never taking its power for granted, the last thing that they assume is that the rest of us are "powerless". On the contrary, they are acutely aware of having to act against a constant background of opposition and of the need to manage that opposition.

Working on One's Own Terms

At the very least, the above analysis (if correct) suggests that embracing projects simply because they are "there", or because an involvement offers the opportunity to put one's case to those in power, may be misguided. Rather than participating in projects which fail to reflect the political demands of marginalised groups, a better route to genuine structural change may well be to eschew involvement in them.

This is not an argument for non-engagement: rather, it is an argument for alternative forms of engagement - an engagement that learns from the successes of those movements at the grassroots which, historically, have been most effective in forcing political change. Rather than participating in alliances and programmes that have been mapped out by institutions with little or no commitment to structural change, NGOs and others whose co-operation such agencies need if their projects are to be implemented might be better off forming alliances in support of genuine allies whose politics they share. Such alliances might well include sympathetic individuals within government departments and industry, just as they may include a wide range of other NGOs. Critically, however, it is their own agenda that such alliances seek to press rather than someone else's.

Such a view argues for NGOs and others to take a more political-committed approach to participatory projects - and to press donors and governments to do likewise. If international and national development agencies are serious about addressing issues of equity, sustainability and poverty reduction, they should give primacy to the needs and political demands of marginalised and oppressed groups. Not only may this require them to take measures that actively disempower dominant groups (for example through the implementation of agrarian reform or, as in the Western Ghats project, promoting women-only VFCs), it also calls for funds and other forms of support to be offered in the spirit of active solidarity - not in order to co-opt stakeholders to a preconceived agenda or with a view to empowering from outside.

Box 2: Suggestions for enhancing "well-being of people" and "ecosy-stem integrity" (C.J. Pierce Colfer cs, 1995) by furthering an enabling environment for community based forest management.

Progress through national forest and land-use plans:

  • Community forest managament systems should be an integral part of national forest plans.

Addressing the underlying causes of deforestation:

  • Reestablishing community control over forest access may be instrumental in many contexts to stabilize resources, given that the legal disenfranchiment of local communities from many of the world's forest lands has been an underlying cause of deforestation. Strenghtening community forest-use rights and responsibilities through supportive policies and programs would enhance community initiatives to protect forests against degra-dation.
  • Ground-level management activities are often best imple-men-ted by communities living in or near the forest. Effective con-trols over felling, grazing, hunting, and fires are funda-men-tal elements for continuing productive use. Such use regu-lati-ons are often best applied by primary users living in the area.

Building on traditional forest related knowledge:

  • Traditional and forest related knowledge should be broadly defined to include institutional, authority, and governance structures, cultural belief and value systems, land and re-sour-ce systems, and conflict resolution and mediation poces-ses.
  • Traditional resource use systems deserve government recogni-tion and support in their own right as critical ele-ments in sustaining the livelihood of hundreds of millions of people, not only in partnership with public or private sector initia-tives.
  • Natural regeneration under community protection should be recognized as a low cost, higher success rate alternative to plantation establishment. Natural regeneration also allows for a more diverse range of forest product flows, often of greater value to local community groups.
  • Social fencing based on community mnagement agreements is often effective in halting forest disturbance.

Donor assistance and technology transfer:

  • Supporting community-sourced financing as a fundamental process of policy and procedural reform, rather than as isola-ted projects, should be incorporated into donor strategies. Donors should place greater emphasis on assisting government agencies to build new communication channels with communi-ties, and also create processes to facilitate the negotiation of new collaborative management agreements.
  • Flexible funding should be provided by donors to support social and institutional change. Donors should establish flexible budgets to engage community groups, NGOs, university researchers, and local consultants for diagnostic studies and regional and sectoral background assessments.
  • Improved national and regional exchange mechanisms should be developed to facilitate and accelerate learning among donors assisting community forest management programs.

Trade and environment referring to forest products and services.

  • External trade polcies should not be at the expense of community rights over state forest lands.

Source: Mark Poffenberger, editor, IUCN, 1996: "Recommendati-ons of the IUCN working group on communi-ty involvement in forest management to the intergovernmental panel on forests": in: "Communities and forest management".

Such active solidarity may take many forms. At a minimum, however, it would seem to demand that development agencies make hard choices as to whom they work with. Blaming client governments or their departments when a project stifles participation of local people in resource management, for example, should have no place in agencies that are committed to fostering genuine participation and local control. It should be the responsibility of agency staff to evaluate in advance whether or not a partner government is likely to support local participation and not to become involved if this evaluation is negative.[Lohmann, L., 1993]5 If a positive evaluation turns out to be incorrect, then at the very least it should have an effect on the career prospects of the relevant staff members. It would also seem to demand that staff members themselves take seriously their commitments to the marginalised groups they seek to support. Nici Nelson and Susan Wright [1995] cite an example: "[One] anthropologist refused to continue a project run by a large agency on the grounds that it was unacceptably top-down and inegalitarian. He convinced the team to pull out with him. If more individuals had this commitment to ideals of egalitarian and locally-directed development it would be an additional pressure for agencies to close the gap between their participatory rhetoric and their practice. They cannot "give" empowerment to their "beneficiaries", "targets of development" or "clients": to be "participants", people have to be able to use their "power to" to negotiate and transform those hopefully willing partners who have institutional and structural "power over"."

Indeed, perhaps the first step that agencies which are serious about participation and pluralism might take is not to reach for the latest handbook on participatory techniques, but to put their own house in order: to consider how their own internal hierarchies, training techniques and office cultures discourage the receptivity, flexibility, patience, open-mindedness, non-defensiveness, humour, curiosity and respect for the opinions of others that active solidarity demands. Dictate and PR techniques may "get things done" - but they inevitably end up reinforcing the problem that, in theory, the done things are intending to solve. Wrong Train. And probably wrong platform.


1 This section relies heavily on the writings of Larry Lohmann, a colleague at The Corner House, and on discussions with both Larry Lohmann and Sarah Sexton, another Corner House colleague.

2 Of the failure to translate the projects documents, Lohmann comments: "Let's put this in perspective. Imagine that a government official arrives at your house and announces that certain modifications are going to have to be made in its structure which will make it impossible for you to live there. He hastens to add that you are encouraged to participate in this renovation, and explains that you are free to ask for the documents which describe in detail what is to be done. unfortunately, however, these documents are in Chinese. He is sorry about this, but the fact is that he has insufficient staff to translate them for you right now. He invites you to sympathise with his plight. The bright spot is that the documents, for those who can read them, describe how you will be "empowered" in a way which will enable you to seek a better life once you have been moved out of your house."

3 The Minister may well find that "telling people what to do" does not always bring the desired effects. "Stakeholders" at the receiving end of imposed participation are adept at defecting or otherwise subtly resisting the obligations placed on them. Even so, the sense of anger at being treated as passive know-nothings is acute. The Catholic Institute for International Relations, for example, recounts the outcome of one "participatory" project in Southern India, which involved 19 village women being given a Bank Loan to buy a dairy cow: "The loans were guaranteed by a local development project and given on condition that the women attended a two-week training course in dairy management organised by the development project. To the project's staff, this seemed like a very sensible scheme. There was a large market for milk in a nearby city and the scheme appeared to have the support of the beneficiaries. But 90 per cent of the women didn't use the money to buy a dairy animal: some of them kept the money, some of them used it to retrieve mortgaged jewellery, one woman's husband gambled it. When questioned by the project's staff the women claimed that they had brought dairy animals and they showed a friend's or relative's animal to prove it. However, when the staff of the project performed a role-play of what happened in the villages where the women lived the effect was instantaneous: there was arguing and shouting, women admitting that they had no cows, men laughing at wives and friends who had been exposed. But there were also accusations from the women that shocked the project staff: "You did not ask us if we wanted dairy animals", "I would rather have had a loan to start a tea business", "I wanted to retrieve my mortgaged coconut trees."[CIIR, 1995]. Happily, in this instance, the outcome was not detrimental to those local people who were participating in the project, which, as CIRR points out, had broad local support. [CIIR, 1995] In many other projects, however, local people become effectively "trapped" into projects whose ends may be far from beneficial to the majority of the local community. In some cases, "participatory" "self-help" schemes or "food-for-work" programmes have been used to secure cheap, corvée labour for infrastructure projects [Chambers, 1995: Nelson, N. and Wright, S., 1995, Peters, P., 1997]; in others to soften the social and economic consequences of policies, such as structural adjustment programmes, which have exacerbated social and economic inequalities and eroded still further the position of poorer sections of the community. In still others, the nature of the participation and the design of the programmes have resulted in state and commercial interests extending their influence into villages and households [Hirsch, P: 1993] - or in more subtle forms of control. For a discussion of one such project in the Philippines, which mainly served to institute sophisticated mechanisms to manage women, see: St. Clair, H., 1995.

4 This section is drawn from "Who are the Realists?", The Ecologist, Vol.25 No.4, July/August 1995.

5 At this point, it might also be pointed out that, although many NGOs are deeply committed to the grassroots, that commitment does not in itself make them accountable to, or representative of, the communities in which they work. Many NGOs apparently see their role not so much as in supporting plans and programmes which villagers have formulated for themselves but in "bringing development to the villagers". We make this point not to belittle the hard work of NGOs, or to cast doubts on their commitment, but in recognition of the often unremarked fact that they, like other outside agencies, have their own institutional agendas, their own widely differing institutional cultures and their own versions of politics. Although important "stakeholders", many NGOs have an all too common tendency to insist on being the one's telling those holding the stakes where the stakes should be placed: and they are rarely obliged to live with the fences created once the stakes have been driven in.


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