1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Environment, Sustainable Development and Social Change

Sustaining the Forests: The Community-Based Approach in South and South-East Asia



The concept of sustainability as developed by the World Commission on Environment and Development emphasizes three basic principles when applied to rural communities - meeting basic needs, local control over resources and that communities have a decisive voice in planning. Popular movements add a fourth principle, that local communities should represent themselves through their own institutions. To varying degrees, these principles have been notionally accepted by development planners and conservationists, at all levels.

Yet, throughout the tropical forest belt, these principles are being systematically overridden by international and national policies and development programmes. This is leading to increasing poverty, social conflict and rapid deforestation.

Traditional systems of land use and traditional knowledge have proved far more environmentally appropriate, resilient and complex that initially supposed by outsiders. Forest peoples, struggling to assert their rights, have successfully opposed many socially and environmentally destructive development schemes proposed for their lands.

However, these societies are not resisting all change. Population increase and the internal dynamic for development has also created, sometimes serious, social and environmental problems. A review of community-based initiatives in South and South-East Asia shows how they have dealt with these challenges. In some countries, positive initiatives have been taken by local and national governments to promote a community-based approach.

Notable successes have been achieved but many other initiatives have failed, not only as a result of outside intervention. An analysis of the examples shows that, besides the four principles noted above, environmentally successful management depends on innovative political organization at the community level, to ensure equity, accountability and openness in decision-making.
  • Publication and ordering details
  • Pub. Date: 1 May 1992
    Pub. Place: Geneva
    ISSN: 1012-6511
    From: UNRISD