Dissecting multi-stakeholder forums and how they shape forest governance

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Participants in the multi-stakeholder forum, Amarakaeri communal reserve, Peru. CIFOR / Pavel Martiarena

Bringing together a diverse group of people – with various special interests – to discuss how best to manage a specific landscape has gained traction in recent times as the primary means of ensuring that voices are heard and issues are addressed. fair manner.

But how fair and effective are these multi-stakeholder forums?

This is what a group of researchers led by scientists from the Center for International Forestry Research and Global Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF) set out to find out. The results of a project they carried out in Brazil, Ethiopia, Indonesia and Peru from 2018 to 2020 were recently published in a series of seven journal articles in the International forestry journal.

“We wanted to determine whether multi-stakeholder forums are really designed – or even intended – to promote equity, or just tick a box on ‘participation’ without really addressing the differences in power and voice for people living in and around them. forests, ”said Anne Larson, who led the team. “That is to say, given the past experience on this subject, are people doing things better now?” Has anything changed? ”

The forums studied were designed as ‘guest spaces’ to bring different people and interests to the table, but they often did not reflect on how best to tackle the inequalities people face, according to one of the experts. research papers, which gathered evidence from various countries. They also often failed to take into account unsustainable local development and political priorities.

Despite these problems, participants generally found them useful. The collection of studies in the International forestry journal offers a variety of information influenced by history and context, aimed at improving multi-stakeholder processes and outcomes.

In Ethiopia, researchers learned from two case studies that gender inequality challenged actual outcomes and that quotas were not particularly helpful. The cases also suggested the importance of bottom-up and top-down strategies, with careful government engagement being essential to ensure the success of community-based forest management.

A survey of three multi-stakeholder forums in Indonesia found that the historical relationships between participants strongly influenced what was needed in terms of leadership. While conflicting stakeholder interests can hinder trust building, a leadership strategy based on understanding and strengthening past relationships can help improve collaboration.

In Peru, a study envisioned a multi-stakeholder forum – a roundtable – designed to address long delays in the creation of five reserves contributing to the “Protection of Indigenous Peoples in Isolation and Initial Contact”. The research revealed a key lesson for multi-stakeholder forums seeking to responsibly engage with the rights of vulnerable populations, recognizing that rights are not negotiable. It also demonstrated that forums should be designed in such a way that participants collaborate to identify challenges to rights at different levels, stakeholders and discourses, learn from these challenges and design solutions and recommendations to address them.

Another article explored the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve in Peru, a protected natural area in the Amazon that includes a hard-earned multi-stakeholder forum in its governance structure, representing significant rights gains for indigenous peoples. Yet the forum, currently made up of indigenous communities, the state and NGO allies, excludes Andean migrants. Not only does this raise concerns about the role of multi-stakeholder forums in relation to protected areas, but it also highlights the challenges of accessing participation.

In the Amazonian state of Pará, in eastern Brazil, the Green Municipalities Program multi-stakeholder forum – designed to tackle deforestation – failed to meet its goals. The researchers learned that the forum favored more powerful participants, which meant that the social injustices driving deforestation were ignored. Instead of prioritizing the drivers of deforestation, participants focused on the effects, which left the socio-political institutions responsible for both deforestation and social injustice unchallenged.

Territorial planning research in the Brazilian states of Acre and Mato Grosso examined ecological zoning processes showing how networks, relationships, and historical and social contexts can affect multi-stakeholder forums. He demonstrated that multi-stakeholder forums and land use planning must be recognized in theory and practice as political processes that must negotiate context, power relations and community diversity, rather than as technical tools for implementation. .

“We are aware that multi-stakeholder forums are here to stay and will continue to be promoted at different levels,” said Juan Pablo Sarmiento Barletti, who coordinated the global study. “This collection of articles is proof that to move closer to transformational change, we need forums that do more than just bring people to the table.”

Responding to this challenge, the seven articles provide important lessons for fairer and more effective forums. To support these lessons, the research team and local partners developed a toolkit to support multi-stakeholder landscape management.

The research supported by this work was undertaken as part of CGIAR’s Policy, Institutions and Markets (PIM) research programs led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and Forests, trees and agroforestry (FTA) led by CIFOR. Both are supported by donors to the CGIAR Fund. It was carried out as part of a comparative study of subnational MSF in Brazil, Ethiopia, Indonesia and Peru, as part of the CIFOR Global Benchmarking Study on REDD +.

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