Academic journal article Journal of Sustainable Development

Has Decentralisation of Forest Resources to Local Governments Really Taken off on the Ground? Experiences from Chongwe District in Central Zambia

Academic journal article Journal of Sustainable Development

Has Decentralisation of Forest Resources to Local Governments Really Taken off on the Ground? Experiences from Chongwe District in Central Zambia

Article excerpt


This paper questions the extent to which decentralisation of forest resources to local governments has really taken offon the ground in Zambia. Using the experiences of Chongwe District in Central Zambia, the paper examines the nature of powers over forest resources devolved to local governments, how this power is used, the outcomes of the use of this power and the challenges faced in the devolution process. Interviews were conducted with policy makers, district administration officials and members of two selected forest dependent communities in Chongwe. The results of the study show that decentralisation largely remains at policy rhetorical level and has hardly impacted on actual natural resources management practice on the ground. It shows that progress in decentralising forest resources to local governments is conditional on a number of factors including the prevailing political will of the authority devolving power, the capacity of local governments and the institutional context within which it is being implemented.

Keywords: decentralisation, devolution, local government, decision making, natural resources

1. Introduction

The past two decades have seen a shiftin natural resources management thinking with many scholars and conservation practitioners advocating the involvement of local governments and other local level actors in the management of forests and other resources. This shiftis in line with the ascendancy of a global discourse of participatory resource governance which has challenged governments and conservationists to adopt new resource management strategies that allow the active participation of local communities in resource governance. This participation is envisioned in the fonn of decentralized resource management in which local governments, assumed to be the governance level closest to the people, are empowered to make natural resource management decisions. The Brundtland Commission, for example, notes that sustainable development requires a political system that secures effective participation in decision making and strengthening of local democracy (WCED, 1987). In Agenda 21, local governments are identified as the most appropriate local level institution to represent the collective in sustainable development (UN, 1991). This is premised on the understanding that local governments better understand local conditions and make decisions that reflect local needs and result in equitable, efficient, accountable and participatory governance which gives marginalised groups greater access to power and resources (CIFOR, 2006; Anderson et a!., 2004; Anderson & Ostrom, 2007; Barrow et a!., 2003; Larson et aI., 2010). In this regard, decentralization is seen as a way of empowering local communities and fostering equity, transparency and accountability in resource management (Ribot et a!., 2010; Benjamin, 2004).

While in theory, the merits of devolving forest resources management to local governments are compelling, a lot of questions remain about the process of transferring power over forests to local governments. As Kothari et aI. (2013) aptly note, with the winds of change sweeping through global natural resource policy towards more inclusive and participatory processes, it is necessary to assess how these changes are impacting actual practice on the ground. In Zambia, in particular, while the 1990s saw major policy changes aimed at devolving forest management to local governments there is little documentation on how these changes are being translated into practice and whether decentralization policies have increased local governments' control over forest management decisions. Further, the nature of powers devolved to local governments and how this power is used remains to be understood. This paper examines the question of how natural resources decentralization is being translated into practice in Zambia. It examines the extent to which decentralization has resulted into genuine devolution of power and control over these resources and how this power is used by its recipients. …

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