Community Resource Management and Political-Economic Restructuring in Mainland Southeast Asia

Article excerpt

Recent concern for more sustainable and participatory approaches to development has encouraged a renewed focus on community resource management. This article outlines a framework and research agenda for broadening investigation of community management of land, forest, water, and other resources on which people depend for their livelihoods in rural Southeast Asia. The main task addressed is the linking of local parameters of culture and ecology to wider determinants, opportunities, and constraints set by political-economic structures.

The importance of linking local and wider processes is twofold. First, it is clear that with regional integration of rural economies at a number of scales, it is unrealistic to limit our consideration of community resource management to local parameters. Second, having acknowledged the need to account for broader political-economic influences, we need to address the contexts of political-economic restructuring occurring throughout the region. In doing so we will better be able to understand - and perhaps develop a basis for acting upon - the multiple conflicts evident in resource and environment issues in Southeast Asia today.

The discussion begins by considering the background to community resource management in the region. The principal contexts of political-economic restructuring are discussed with reference to mainland Southeast Asia.(2) Case study material from recently initiated research in Laos illustrates the key themes, and some parallel research in Vietnam and Thailand is also presented in summary. A case is made for investigating community resource management as part of a wider project that considers processes operating at a number of scales. Finally, strategic responses are considered in light of this framework.

Community Resource Management

Background and Scope

In rural Southeast Asia, land, water, and forest resources held and managed both collectively and individually are of critical importance to local livelihoods and the maintenance of environmental quality. Community resource management is concerned with local common property resources (in particular, forests, grazing and fallow land, fishing rights, and water) and with the rules regarding allocation and use of individually managed resources that are not held as permanent, fully transferable private property.(3)

Community resource management is crucial in developing strategies toward sustainable development in Southeast Asia.(4) Concern over top-down, technocratic approaches to development has encouraged interest in, and study of, local cultural and ecological parameters that help determine the use and management of land, water, and forest resources in different local settings.(5) Many aid and other development projects now include community forestry and other components addressing community resource management potentials. Sensitive and participatory intervention in community resource management clearly needs to build on pre-existing mechanisms, both those influenced by local culture and ecology and those that have arisen as a result of various development paths.

Contingent Influences

Locally and historically specific manifestations of community resource management can be understood with reference to local ecology and settlement history, but also to wider determinants. Broadly there are three intersecting historical influences on community resource management in rural Southeast Asia that help determine structures and processes of collective and individual control and use of resources [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED!.

Traditional arrangements, locally sanctioned and often but not exclusively subsistence-oriented, include common grazing land, irrigation associations, and village forests, as well as socially determined patterns of individual inheritance and usufruct. The subak irrigation societies of Bali are well known,(6) and similar arrangements can be found in the muang-fai systems of northern Thailand and Laos. …