Academic journal article Journal of Social Development in Africa

Interface between Research, Development and Local Actors in Enhancing Sustainable Forest Resources Management: Lessons from Chimanimani District, Zimbabwe

Academic journal article Journal of Social Development in Africa

Interface between Research, Development and Local Actors in Enhancing Sustainable Forest Resources Management: Lessons from Chimanimani District, Zimbabwe

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Environmental sustainability is a key area of focus in academic and development circles mainly because of the role that the environment plays in sustaining livelihoods. For sustainable environmental stewardship to occur in areas such as forest, land and water management, it is generally accepted that different actors must interface. This paper analyses the interface that took place between academic researchers, development practitioners, district institutional actors and local communities in a project that aimed at enhancing forest resources management in Chimanimani district of Zimbabwe. The paper notes that in order to involve and accommodate the interests of the various actors, methodologies used included quantitative and qualitative action research strategies as well as participatory geographic information systems approach. The project analysed the state of forest resources, impact of human migrations on forests, contribution of forest resources to livelihoods, and related governance systems. This enabled all the actors involved to devise strategies aimed at enhancing sustainable forest resources management through the formation and strengthening of appropriate local institutions, legislation awareness, and enhancement of livelihood activities based on exploitation of forest resources. The paper concludes by stressing that the social interface of different actors, though complex, is not only necessary but crucial in enhancing sustainable forest management.

KEYWORDS:

Forest resources, management, environment, sustainable, Chimanimani, Zimbabwe, actors, social interface.

Introduction

Environmental sustainability5 is a key area of focus within academic and development circles essentially because of the role that the environment plays in sustaining livelihoods (Sutton, 2004). For sustainable environmental management to be realised in fields such as forest, land and water management, it is important that a number of different actors interact and contribute to the attainment of this important goal. This process is referred to as social interface6, and in development circles this process calls for analyses that focus on the relationships between the actors involved. These may include researchers, policy makers and implementers. There has been a tendency to conceptualise such relationships as essentially linear in nature, implying a kind of step-by-step deterministic process whereby research is done, informs policy which is then implemented and certain specific results follow (Long, 1989). The interface concept implies face-to-face encounters between individuals or social units representing different interests backed by different resources. In development projects such as forest resources management, where actors from different backgrounds come together, the process involves a much more complicated set of encounters involving continuous interpretation and reinterpretation or transformation of activities both at the point of manufacture and at the "frontline" by those responsible for its implementation (Heijdra, 1989).

In the search for effective environmental management, both local and external actors can come together despite the social differences that might exist among them. The differences that usually define social interfaces include the technical expertise as well as material and financial resources possessed by external actors. In most cases external actors, despite their technical and financial resources, lack knowledge about the local area. Local actors who include officials from local authorities, government departments, quasi-government organisations and local communities might lack certain technical, financial and material resources, but have enormous knowledge about their areas, and should not be taken as passive recipients of the packages that come with external actors (Long and van der Ploeg, 1994; Magadlela, 2000). These groups do not constitute homogenous entities, hence the need to separately capture their interests. …

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