Conflict over natural resources such as forests, water and land can be found all around the world (Anderson etal 1996). These conflicts in turn can have severe negative impacts on natural resource availability and its management. Competition for natural resources has always existed between people everywhere, a constant struggle to take control over resources they want or need to enhance or ensure their livelihoods. Conflicts over these natural resources can occur at a multitude of levels, that being as small as a household to local, regional and global scales.
The seriousness of the conflicts can also vary greatly, from frustration and confusion among local members of a community resulting from poorly communication, poor resource management and development policies (Kant and Cooke), to full blown violence between groups, fighting over rights to resource responsibilities and ownership (Chenier). Many natural resource management decisions have increasingly been influenced by the local users of the resource, including indigenous peoples, farmers, ranchers, large-scale landowners and private cooperation’s who deal with natural resource extraction such as forestry’s, which usually leads them to butt heads with government bodies. Hence, resources have the potential to be used in the great benefit of some, however at the cost of undermining the livelihood of others.
The resulting conflicts that ensue lead to wasteful and chaotic use of human capacities, resulting in the lose of the natural resources over which economies, livelihoods and societies are based on. Therefore, conflict management is of critical importance when looking at constructive means of observing natural resource problems. Conflict management involves two steps: conflict analysis, and planned multiparty intervention. Conflict analysis is the study of various levels, dimensions, and consequences of conflict, and its causes. Multiparty interventions, when centred on the studies of conflicts, involves using a multitude of techniques, such as negotiation via mediation, resulting in changes in the way natural resources are managed.
Natural resources and their use can be susceptible to conflict for a multitude of reasons; therefore, conflict analysis is pivotal in helping to understand the primary causes of these conflicts. Firstly, natural resources are usually found in linked environments or shared spaces in which the actions by some individuals, or groups of individuals can generate a plethora of effects far off-site. Water use for irrigation is a perfect example of this. In the case of the Calico River, Nicaragua, irrigation of the upper reaches of the river pitted downstream communities in desperate need for water against upstream landowners and communities for domestic consumption and use of the river’s resources (Vernooy and Ashby). This is as disturbances in ecological or biological processes in specific environments can result in long-range, accumulate impacts such as pollution and erosion, this leading to loss of plant and animal life, as well as habitat destruction.
As ecological relationships are usually poorly understood the nature of these problems may not be so apparent and readily connected to these conflicts. Better understanding these relationships via communication and research may very well establish a much more coherent connection between conflicts and their rise from cascade effects arising from the miss use of natural resources. This can in turn lead to greater understanding and social learning of how to better manage natural resources to prevent these conflicts.
An example of this can be seen when scientists showed the connection between the increased use and number of fish cages and pens for aquaculture leading to decreased flow and dissolved oxygen levels of the water within in Bolinao’s Caquiputan Channel in the Philippines. The research done, and information communicated helped the Caquiputan Channel users to better understand the situation diffusing the growing conflict between them and providing a foundation for the development of plans for more a more optimal and sustainable use of the resource (Talaue-McManus et al)
Second, as mentioned previously, natural resources are usually found in linked environments or shared spaces. This includes shared social spaces, in which there can be many actors with complex and usually unequal relationships to the resource itself. These actors can include indigenous and ethnic minorities, farmers, large-scale landowners, government agencies etc. As with many other social systems, those with the greatest access to power, either via political standing or financial assets, are generally those who will best be able to influence and control the natural resource’s for their own benefits at the determent of others (Peet and Watts 1996).
This can be seen north Sudan in which Jellaba land-lords levied their connections and strong standing with the State Agricultural Bank in order to obtain international funds for their farming operations in the Nuba Mountains of Kordofan (Suliman). Their standing with the government also helped them keep their hold on the best farming lands within the area taking it away from the traditional land owners and farms inflaming conflict.
Third, natural resources are facing an ever growing increase in scarcity and demand, all the while being unequally distrusted (Homer-Dixon and Blitt 1998 ). Increasing pressure and changes to the environment including water and land degradation, extensive forest and land clearing, over use of aqua and wildlife resources and climate change have all contributed to rapid increase on scarcity of many essential natural resources such as water and food.
This coupled with growing populations, increased consumption and use of resources, as well as developments and changes in trade and land use in recent years have all contributed to the dramatic increase in demand. Resource scarcity is compounded when taking into consideration its unequal distribution amongst different people and social groups, as well as from ambiguous rights to common property resources leading to “the tragedy of the commons” with the over use and depletion of publicly available natural resources.
Scarcity of environmental resources has been noted to produce or increase conflict amongst groups of people, further increasing the scarcity of the resource as it becomes miss managed and miss used (Homer-Dixon and Blitt, 1998). This can be seen when diverse pressures lead to interethnic and intercommunity conflicts in the Nam Ngum water shed in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, resulting in greater scarcity of their natural resources (Hirsch et al.,). Migration of different ethnic groups was forced, moving them into already occupied parts of the watershed.
This in turn increased pressure on available resources such as forested land and increased conflict between the two ethnic groups now sharing one space. Government reforms of traditional economy and land distribution also lead to some villages having their administrative boundaries redrawn, leading to the creation of a ‘no mans land’ in which tenure rights were now vaguely defined leading to confusion and frustration as to what resources were now available for use and to who. These issues were compounded by the fact that hydropower developments were now greatly reducing the resources available to flood affected villages (Hirsch et al.)
Fourth, natural resources aren’t just used for material and food resources but are in many cases are defined and used symbolically. Environmental resources are to many people their way of life, and part of their ethnic identity. In many cases natural resources and the symbolic dimensions and practises that surround them can shape political and social struggles associated with resource management, and potentially have immense practical importance when considering natural resource and conflict management.
However, these traditional and symbolic practises are usually pushed to the side in most cases, with the diverse perspectives and knowledge of local and indigenous peoples ignored or not taken into consideration when planning for resource management Chevalier and Buckles 1995. The suggestions and viewpoints of locals of Chortis in Coan, Honduras were ignored and suppressed by the elite landowners, denying their indigenous heritage and rights to the land causing a lot of tension and conflict between the two groups; the elites misusing and managing the land and its natural resources, compared to the locals who had practised sustainability for millennia Chenier et al.
As such there and many dimensions and causes of conflict arising from natural resource use and management. Some are much more prevalent and direct, with other contributing to or being the underlying cause of conflict and natural resources misuse. A pluralistic approach is therefore needed in which the many perspectives held by stakeholders are recognised while simultaneously taking into consideration the multifaceted causes of natural resource conflict. This is required to allow for a better understanding of conflict situations that arise from natural resource use and help identify strategies to help manage and direct this conflict in a manner that will help natural resource conversation efforts.
Probably the most difficult to manage yet most critical challenge in this pursuit is planned multipart intervention for natural resource management. This involves the difficult task of engaging the most powerful and influential stockholders in the analysis of the multidimensional causes and possible alternatives to conflict surrounding natural resource management. Even though in many cases the empowering marginalised groups in order to allow them to analyse problems and formulate strategies for negotiation is important, change will only occur when the powerful are pushed to act upon the causes of mismanagement, inequality and marginalisation. The conditions and associated pressures required to achieve this pursuit are poorly understood and seldom studied. To put it bluntly, how does one get a tiger to sit on the table with a sheep.
Research has suggested that power and its sources are almost always obtainable to marginalised stakeholders (Scott 1987,1990). The barrier that needs to be overcome in this case is for marginalised groups to know how to muster this power available to them, and to learn how to use it effectively in order to engage with those already in power to allow for purposeful negotiation. This however is a lot easier said than done, this being one of the main barriers limiting true collaborative approaches towards achieving meaningful natural resource management.
Along with the empowerment of marginalised groups, environments need to established in which conflict over natural resources can be dealt with in a productive manner. New processes and structures for the governing and managing of natural resources will be also be required (Agarwal 1997; Kothari et al. 1998). If administrative, financial factors and polices at governmental levels contradict or block natural recourse management decisions made locally, negotiation for change can possibly be a wasted effort (Tyler). Hence changes to legal frameworks and national policies are required to assist in the positive development of relations between informal and formal institutions at many levels. This is as the issue isn’t the availability of informal initiations but the availability of platforms for them to effectively comminute with government bodies (Eberlee 1999, p. 4).
Past experiences from India suggest that governing bodies that involve previously excluded and neglected groups into decision making processes provide new and alternative opportunities in the improvement of natural resource management decisions. This also provides an opportunity for improved methods in revolving, avoiding or managing conflict to arise. An example of this can be seen with Joint forest management systems (JFM).
A joint forest management (JFM) system involves local communities and forestry departments both sharing the responsibilities and benefits resulting form and related to forest management. Local forest communities are generally always in close proximity and have a strong dependence on these forests, making them especially suited to tackling the management and conservation of forest resources.
The most important aspect of this systems success however is resolving the possible variety of conflicts between local communities and the forest managers (the state) to better improve forest management and sustainability for long-term use and benefits. Sharing the responsibilities and benefits resulting form and related to forest management would allow for better distribution of the natural resource, as well as reduce the gap in power between stockholders, reducing conflict between them. The effectiveness of this approach when done right can be seen in India, as it is one of the few countries that has actually adopted a community-based natural resource management system nationally.
For millennia, India’s forests have played an integral role in sustaining its people. Not only are they crucial in providing medical, nutritional, and subsistence goods, the wilderness areas are heavily intertwined with the cultural and spiritual expressions of the Indian people, hence the proper conservation and management of the forests is integral to their society and its continued functioning. However, conflict between local communities and the forest managers (the state) was leading to a misuse of the resource with very little in the way of proper management.
As a result, India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests issued the request for all states to adopt the JFM on the 1st June, 1990 (SPWD 1993). A case study was performed on four JFM institutions across four villages Kundwara, Tikaria, Roriya, and Jamuniya located in Madhya Pradesh, in the Jabalpur district, to determine the effectiveness of the JFM in minimizing conflicts between locals and forest managers and increasing the success of forest conservation efforts as a result.
The implementation of the JFM system required and called for the participation of a wide variety of stakeholders, woman included, in natural resource management decisions. This empowered marginalised stockholder giving them a platform to communicate with those in power. This resulted in new local systems and procedure for reaching agreements on how local forests should be managed, how the power should be shared, and disputes resolved (Kant and Cooke).
As a result, within a relatively short period of time, the quality of the forests surrounding these 4 villages had improved significantly because of the conflict free creation and implementation of forest protection activities. These activities included the afforestation efforts within the forests surrounding these villages leading to the reclamation of several wasteland areas. Several areas of the forest also had their water retention capacity increase, with several streams and ponds that had previously dried up now being refilled with water. There was also a marked reduction in illegal harvesting of wood with the rate of deforestation decreasing as a result. The greatly reduced pressure on forest resources, resulting from the implantation of JFM within these villages, resulted in a remarkable increase in ecological processes, including the natural regeneration of the forest.
Therefore, it was quite clear that the four villages that participated in the JFM had great success in achieving drastically improved health of their local forests, this strongly illustrating the ability for local populaces to be partners in conservation, possibly being a great asset when tackling environmental conservation challenges and reducing conflict in other parts of the world.
However, this policy is still in many ways incomplete and inflexible. The success of this system heavily relies on the reduced conflict in order to optimise conservation efforts. Many potential sources of conflict were identified during this study. First, the success of JFM heavily relied upon the cooperation and compatibility of both formal and informal institutions.
When informal and formal institutions are incompatible, it can often lead to contradictions occurring between decision making processes and conflict would arise as a result. This is as at times new formal forest management institutions were being established by the JFM rather than complimenting existing local ones. This would lead to formal and informal forest management regimes in some cases being incompatible and contradictive, leading to conflict between locals and forest managers as there was a differing of opinion on how the forest should be managed.
An example of this can be seen in the case of the four villages studied, with regulations by formal institutions banning the harvesting and sale of fuelwood under the JFM undermined the livelihoods of poorer caste groups, this policy taking away their main source of income as many would sell firewood for a living and are heavily dependant on this resource. Even though the decision making processes of the village leaders could have accommodated for these needs by basing it on locally accepted behaviours and customary laws, the local informal JFM committees just lack the power to adapt the policy to fit the local norms and circumstances, this leading to a conflict of interests.
Second, a lack of full transparency between these institutions could also lead to conflict. It is paramount that lines of communication stay open between the institutions in order to minimize conflict as a lack of transparency could lead to varied signals being sent to different members of the communities as well as the state, leading to mistrust between all stockholders. The importance of a transparent relationship can be clearly seen in the early establishment of JFM in Tikaria. Essential details and orders from the 1995 JFM policy were not disclosed to the locals.
The program was put on hiatus as this caused the locals to have a lack of trust and understanding towards the state forest managers. Only after the officials disclosed the information and clearly shared their views and thoughts with the locals was trust renewed and an understanding achieved. An increase in communication and openness, as well as open access to information of all stockholders, greatly reduced conflict in this case and positively impacted the JFM program. Other issues noted that lead to conflict were a lack of accountability of certain agents who would bend the rules to fit their personal goals as well as gender inequality causing tension between the locals themselves.
The success of the JFM system, therefore, heavily relies on reducing and managing these conflicts in turn benefiting the conservation efforts. The study suggested the most effective method to ensure long-term sustainability of this JFM system involves not only minimizing conflicts between forest managers and local people, but amongst the local people themselves; with conflict resolution mechanisms needing to be built in to specifically address them.
Independently, many communities would struggle to manage large areas of forests. This is as a lack of resources and guidance would severely impede their efforts. Thus, collaborations and partnerships like JFM can be critical when aiming for large scale forest management. The success achieved in relation to the significant improvement of forest quality across the four villages as well as the improved welfare of the local people was remarkable. It is therefore evident that there is great potential for JFM and its possible large-scale establishment in tackling forest management worldwide, as it has been shown to be an effective means of managing conflict by allowing for collaboration and understanding between powerful and marginalised stockholders, driving locals and the state’s efforts towards a common goal of natural resource management via their forests.
However, JFMs long-term sustainability will heavily rely on conflict resolution, with mechanisms for this needing to be build into its processes and institutions. This is as conflicts and their continuation over extended periods of time may eventually lead to the program’s failure due to eventual lack of cooperation and urgency in management efforts. Hence, potential sources of conflict should to be recognised and managed.
Conflict over natural resources is a current worldwide issue that can have severe negative impacts on natural resource availability and its management. Conflicts lead to wasteful and chaotic use of human capacities, resulting in the lose of natural resources over which economies, livelihoods and societies are based on. The scale and seriousness of these conflicts can vary greatly, the cause of these conflicts being multidimensional. Conflict management therefore pivotal and involves two steps: conflict analysis, and planned multiparty intervention. Conflict analysis is the study of various levels, dimensions, and consequences of conflict, and its causes. Causes of conflict include imbalances in power between stockholders leading to the uneven distribution and provision of natural resources.
Resources in shared spaces being misused for the benefit of some at the detriment to others, coupled with an increasing scarcity of these resources, resulting form environmental change, and increased demand, have only worked to increase conflict over these resources. Resource use also has a social and cultural importance for many marginalised stakeholder, however indigenous and local knowledge which many help with resource management and sustainability is usually ignored by those in power. A pluralistic approach is therefore needed in which the many perspectives held by stakeholders are recognised while simultaneously taking into consideration the multifaceted causes of natural resource conflict.
Multiparty interventions is one such approach which centres on the studies of conflicts, involves using a multitude of techniques, such as negotiation via mediation, resulting in changes in the way natural resources are managed. Past experiences from India suggest that governing bodies that involve previously excluded and neglected groups into decision making processes provide new and alternative opportunities in the improvement of natural resource management decisions. This also provides an opportunity for improved methods in revolving, avoiding or managing conflict to arise. An example of this can be seen with Joint forest management systems (JFM).
The success achieved in relation to the significant improvement of forest quality across the four villages as well as the improved welfare of the local people was remarkable. It is therefore evident that there is great potential for JFM and its possible large-scale establishment in tackling forest management worldwide, as it has been shown to be an effective means of managing conflict by allowing for collaboration and understanding between powerful and marginalised stockholders, driving locals and the state’s efforts towards a common goal of natural resource management via their forests. However, JFMs long-term sustainability will heavily rely on conflict resolution, with mechanisms for this needing to be build into its processes and institutions. Hence, potential sources of conflict should to be recognised and managed.
Natural resource conflict doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. However, efforts towards managing these inevitable natural resource conflicts via conflict analysis and planned multiparty intervention must be made, as it is paramount for there long term sustainability.