Since the 1970s, Community forestry (CF) initiatives have sought to combine sustainable forestry, community participation and poverty alleviation. Like other community-based forms of natural resource management (CBNRM), CF has been lauded for its potential to involve local people in conservation while opening new opportunities for economic development. However, CF programmes are not always successful, economically or ecologically, and, by devolving new powers and responsibilities to an abstractly defined “community,” they risk exacerbating existing patterns of social exclusion, and creating new conflicts. In this paper we mobilise a relational concept of negotiation within a political ecology framework to explore how the power relations of CF are addressed and transformed in a region where issues of conflict and tenure security have long shaped the social forest. Specifically, we focus on the emergence and consolidation of ACOFOP [Asociación de Comunidades Forestales de Petén], a Forest Based Association in the Maya Biosphere Reserve in the Petén region of Guatemala, where CF has been practised for 25 years. Emphasising the importance of longer histories of social movements and organisations to local capacities for CF, we explore the conditions of possibility that enabled ACOFOP to emerge, as well as the strategies it has adopted to make national regulatory frameworks work for local communities. Through qualitative analysis derived from participatory research, interviews and ethnographic data, we trace four key areas of ACOFOP's model of accompaniment (participatory decision-making; conflict resolution; advocacy and capacity-building) that have been developed in response to the negotiation of political issues pertaining to, and stemming from, the practice of CF. Highlighting ongoing challenges, and key strategies for CBNRM in other contexts, we conclude by emphasising that systems of community management cannot be “equitable,” or indeed sustainable, if political issues of access and tenure are not kept central to questions of participation.
- Community forestry