Communities, Livelihoods and Natural Resources: Action Research and Policy Change in Asia

Communities, Livelihoods and Natural Resources: Action Research and Policy Change in Asia

Communities, Livelihoods and Natural Resources: Action Research and Policy Change in Asia

Communities, Livelihoods and Natural Resources: Action Research and Policy Change in Asia


This book presents cases from some of the poorest parts of Asia to illustrate how local innovations in participatory natural resource management can strengthen livelihoods, build capacity for local governance, and spark policy change. The book synthesizes results from a seven-year programme of applied research on community-based approaches to natural resource management in Asia. By presenting field reports of innovative approaches to poverty reduction and sustainable resource use, it provides practitioners with models of 'good practice' in participatory, community-based resource management, and it demonstrates how site-based research contributes to broader learning in the field of natural resource management and policy. The book features a foreword by Dr David Kaimowitz (a well known authority in the forestry field and former Director-General of CIFOR) and 11 case studies from some of the most marginal areas of rural China, Mongolia, Laos, Viet Nam, Cambodia, the Philippines, and Bhutan. The cases (each one authored by local researchers) illustrate lessons derived from the application of a participatory action research framework that engaged resource users, local governments, and researchers in collaborative learning. They illustrate practical innovations to strengthen livelihoods through improved collective resource management practices and broader technology choices. These experiences point to changes in well-being and empowerment for the rural poor. The comparative assessment and syntheses across cases demonstrate how local successes have led to reconsideration of policy assumptions, and to new ways of approaching rural poverty reduction, resource management, and local governance. The volume concludes that positive outcomes demonstrated in the participatory research cases come largely from practices of shared, adaptive learning through field-based assessment and action. Stephen R. Tyler is President, Adaptive Resource Management Ltd. He directed a program of action research for Community-Based NRM in Asia for 7 years, as program team leader with the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and has worked with partners throughout Asia on applied research in the field of environment and development for 16 years. He served as consultant to Asian Development Bank, World Bank, CIDA, and other international organizations and has a PhD in City and Regional Planning from University of California, Berkeley.'...brings together an impressive set of action research studies [that] are clearly written and understandable. Both researchers and practitioners concerned with rural development will find the book to be a valuable source of lessons and inspiration.'Ruth Meinzen-Dick, Senior Research Fellow, International Food Policy Research Institute.'This book is a timely contribution...[It] is particularly valuable since it contains a synthesis of actual field experiences derived from over 75 research projects...and should be widely read and used both by professional scholars and policy makers.'Professor M. S. Swaminathan, Chairman, National Commission on Farmers, Government of India.


Despite what you see on MTV, there is more to Asia than shopping malls, cell phones and Kentucky Fried Chicken. If you are willing to scratch the surface and follow dirt roads into the hills and forests, it is quickly apparent that many people still cannot enjoy the region's famous prosperity.

These are women who wake up in the morning to fetch water and fuelwood; children who help their parents in the fields and forests; grandparents who wait for their relatives to send money from town. These are people who fish and farm, hunt and harvest, sell a bit, sew a bit, get sick too often and talk to make the day go by. You can list all their belongings on a single page. Often the only real productive assets they have are their knowledge, creativity and willingness to work, a small parcel of borrowed or rented land, and access to places where they can fish and collect wild products – and even much of that is being lost, exhausted or eroded.

No high-yielding crop variety, mosquito net or new well is going to solve all these people's problems. The situations in the various remote and inhospitable places they live in are so diverse that no shoe fits all. The families typically need to do small amounts of many different things to get by; so just improving one of them usually won't help them that much. Although some people may be able to earn more money by moving to town or growing vegetables, for many others those are not real options.

A more promising approach is to provide these people with skills and information, and help them get organized. That can build their self-confidence and give them tools to solve their various problems. Much of this needs to centre on their natural resources, since that is one of the few things they have. Government agencies and NGOs also have to change their policies and the way they do business to support villagers' efforts, instead of making life harder for them. That is particularly true when it comes to policies and practices that affect peoples' access to land, forests, grasslands and fish.

Research can play a very important role in making those things happen, but it cannot be just any old research. It has to be research that is deliberately designed to help local people, government officials, NGOs and other groups think through issues, reflect on their own experiences, support positions that favour poorer and less powerful people, and provide relevant information about markets and technologies. The researchers themselves must be committed to achieving real change and seeing things through. They must also be savvy . . .

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