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Expansive approaches to inclusivity and participation are key for good governance in Rwanda – interview with Bernadette Arakwiye

This interview is part of the ‘Forest Governance Unpacked’ series with key experts in forest governance. It was developed in the context of the NewGo! project which aims to provide scientific knowledge on lessons learned from initiatives related to zero deforestation, forest restoration, and sustainable forest finance. The project sets the ground for the EFI Governance Programme.

Tell us a bit about who you are.

Bernadette Arakwiye collecting data in the Gishwati Forest.

I am a conservation scientist, specializing in the use of earth observation for monitoring terrestrial ecosystems . My research has focused on understanding dynamics, drivers, and outcomes of forest cover changes in densely populated regions in Africa. At my job at the World Resources Institute, I continue to rely on earth observations for planning and monitoring of forest and landscape restoration across many countries that are part of the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative. Therefore, I explore how the types and qualities of forest governance influence forest extent and forest types across space and time. The research is particularly important in my work, as we seek to document the types of forest governance that have the potential to influence environmentally sound and socially just forest restoration outcomes.

What is forest governance?

To me, forest governance is a set of formal and informal rules made by multiple stakeholders to determine how forests are managed and/or used.

Why is governance needed?

Given the definition I give above, governance is needed to provide general guidance and a check on stakeholder’s interactions with forests. There is a mounting evidence on the benefits forests provide at various scales and on the risk of natural forest depletion. There is a need to safeguard the sustainable supply of these services, and this is something functioning and representative rules – effective governance – can address. Without such governance, I would expect chaos and conflicts in the ways forests and their products are accessed. So, I see governance as a mechanism to avoid those unfortunate conditions.

What makes governance “good”?

Good forest governance should involve quality participation and inclusivity of all stakeholders. Good governance also understands that rules and norms are not set in stone, and should allow flexibility to continuously take the needs and rights of multiple stakeholders into account. Stakeholders’ needs and priorities change over time; therefore the rules and norms governing forests should be regularly revisited to check for their relevance and potential for improvement.

How can it achieve the well-being of both the forests concerned and the communities depending upon them?

As a researcher, the first question that comes to my mind is what is meant by well-being of forests and well-being of the communities. Having a set of agreed-upon definitions and indicators of success can help stakeholders explore possible rules for forest management and use that have the best outcomes for both forests and communities. Social science research has demonstrated that governance approaches that are inclusive and participatory can lead to the best outcomes. There are also on-the- ground realities we should not ignore. For instance, communities are faced with having to wait for the time it takes between planting and harvesting mature trees, to access economic and other direct benefits while others may be content with the benefits provided from the forest’s supporting and regulating services. Good types of forest governance should also recognize these potential tradeoffs across space and/or time and should provide venues for stakeholders to discuss those realities and identify alternative solutions.

How should governance function?

As I mentioned before, inclusivity and participation of all stakeholders is very important. It is also important for stakeholders to understand the boundaries of the forest resources being governed so that they know where they have rights of use, access, etc., and where they do not.

Who needs to be involved?

It depends, although generally the diversity of stakeholders depends on who has formal and informal rights to forests and their resources, it is important to avoid approaches that see these stakeholders as a homogenous group. Evidence shows that even within a household, men, women, and youth often have different rights and/or access to forests and their products. Therefore, expansive approaches to inclusivity and participation are key for good governance.

Where is governance most needed?

Forest governance is needed in all forests. However, the degree of formality may vary depending on types and extent of forests. Forest governance is particularly needed for forest resources that contribute diverse services to diverse stakeholders, so that forests can persist and the supply of services is sustainable.

Vegetation in the Gishwati Forest. Photo: Bernadette Arakwiye

What are the challenges with governance today in the light of what you said in the previous question?

The challenges are the degree of inclusivity and participation of stakeholders in forest governance. Evidence points to cases where powerful actors become responsible for developing and enforcing forest governance rules that may exclude less powerful actors. This leads to the marginalization of some communities and often has negative impacts on both forests and communities

What are the positive changes that you have seen happening in the context of forest governance?

There is now an increasing recognition that stakeholders’ involvement in forest governance is key to ensuring sustainable forest management and the supply of goods and services. There is more acceptance and documentation of community rules and management approaches that have led to sustainable governance of many forests. There is also more data, to provide evidence on the outcomes of different approaches of governance on the well-being of forests and of the communities. Information is increasingly shared in public platforms and fora. These advances, particularly on the data and knowledge sharing are bringing more transparency and accountability and may encourage continuous adoption of inclusive and participatory forest governance approaches.

Please provide an example of a success story/case study

There are multiple examples to share about forest governance success in Rwanda. New forest policies have been established to guide the use and management of forests and their resources at the national level. There is adequate conservation of natural forests to protect biodiversity habitats and provide diverse ecosystem services at scales ranging from local to global. There are also innovative approaches to governing smallholder forests and woodlots across the country that are part of the forests and landscape restoration initiatives. For example, Private Forest Management Units was launched in four districts in Rwanda, to boost the productivity of private forests while providing other supporting and regulating services to smallholder forest owners grouped into cooperatives. Each member of the cooperative keeps their individual land titles, and all members develop a long-term forest management plan that guides how forests are managed, the harvesting rotation, how to ultilise the harvest, and how benefits will be shared among cooperative members. The aggregated smallholder forests that are managed as large unit become more attractive to business investment opportunities that improve the livelihoods of cooperative members. The cooperatives also explore other livelihood activities, such as beekeeping, that provide a source of income while waiting for forests to mature. There are plans to scale-up this forest management and governance model to other parts of the country so that it can benefit more smallholder forest owners.

Read the other interviews of the ‘Forest Governance Unpacked’ series:

We need to align the different interests related to forests to regulate conflicts and maximise synergies – interview with Georg Winkel

Stakeholder participation in forest governance is key for sustainable forest management – interview with Eva Müller

Community participation makes for better forest governance in Ethiopia – interview with Tefera Mengistu

Curbing forest loss with and for the local communities in Uganda – interview with Rose Kobusinge

Projects in Sub-Saharan Africa provide evidence of a successful circular bioeconomy – interview with Darren Lapp

Involving and remunerating local communities to save the Amazon – Interview with Johan Wittkamper


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