Participatory Involvement of Forest Fringed Communities in Environmental Policy Development

Local communities, properly referred to as forest-fringed communities that live in the threshold of the forests in many parts of the world are often sidelined in decisions and policies regarding the forest, its biodiversity and the environment as a whole. Cleverly, policy makers and leading members of government delegations claim to involve the local residents living in the territories of the forest tracts in policies that affect the use and/or management of the resources. How they attend to the participatory involvement lays bare the question on what participatory involvement actually means.

Usually, foresters and conservationists in government institutions usually conclude their plans on the management of the forestry resources and draft them into policies before they send the prepared draft to the traditional authorities. They just forward the document to the bridled traditional authorities for them to know what they have already decided rather than soliciting for their time-tested and viable views regarding the sustainable use and management of the biodiversity resources in their environment. They prepare the music and force these traditional authorities to dance to the tune. This is not what participatory involvement in decision-making means.

Sometimes, policy makers invite only a small fraction of some paramount chiefs to sit in seminars and forums where policies regarding the forest and the environment are discussed. This mostly results in under-presentation at such functions resulting in low or no hearing of the voice of the local people who legitimately own these forestry resources that serve as life support. Thus, governmental policies void of their consent and opinions have repeatedly failed in its implementation process.

Therefore, for a true participatory involvement, policy makers and conservationists must organized village seminars and forums that would allow for a universal expression of opinions by all sections of persons in the community, particularly, the often marginalized in the society such as women and children as well as the poor farmers, hunters and fisher folks. Their consent must be sought at every stage of the policy development. Their views must be thoroughly analyzed, weighed and factored into the plans and strategies in the environmental or forestry policies that are formulated. At the regional and national discursive forum of environmental policies, a larger population of fair representation of the various groups in the forest-fringed communities must be represented before any major decision regarding the sustainable use and management of the environment and its resources are taken. This would ensure effective implementation process of the planned policies.

Admittedly, the local people living in the forest-fringed communities may not be literates, but they have time-tested and experiential knowledge in environmental management that could provide a breakthrough for the modern administration of the environment and its resources. This traditional ecological knowledge is cheaper and would not go through the bureaucratic time wastage like the scientific processes.

Of course, environmental policies would be accepted by the forest-fringed communities because they would feel that they are a part, their views are respected, and as such would massively support and see to the full promulgation of the implementation of the formulated environmental policies. This would help in curtailing environmental resource abuse that is prevalent among the forest-fringed communities due to the standing block between them and government policy makers and environmentalists. Ultimately, it would motivate the local people to police the environmental resources while ensuring that they are sustainably used to cater for the needs of the present and future generations.