Access to Power or Genuine Empowerment? An Analysis of Three Community Forest Groups in Nepal

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Society for Human Ecology


The introduction of community forestry in Nepal represents an attempt to decentralize control and instill democratic reform in the management of forest resources through the direct involvement of individuals in decision making and benefit sharing. Detailed analyses of community forest outcomes, specifically an understanding of the process of self-governance and the exercise of power, remains a critical gap. Using a purposive sampling methodology, we identified 38 forest users representing a diversity of interests in three communities of the middle hills of Nepal and conducted in-depth interviews focusing on perceptions of an ability to exercise power in forest management. Power in this context is defined as the ability to create rules, make decisions, enforce compliance and adjudicate disputes. Our results identify inferiority, vulnerability, and a lack of transparency as factors that keep forest users from exercising power. We conclude that while community forestry offers tremendous potential to practice self-governance, the behavior of individuals based on complex informal institutional arrangements, such as caste and gender, must be accounted for in such formalized policy initiatives. Opportunities to influence power through mandated processes alone fail to fully explain or affect the potential for community forestry. Instead, we note that genuine empowerment is related to capacities involving the skills and confidence necessary to exercise power.



Environmental management, Organizational behavior


Lachapelle, P.R., P.D. Smith and S.F. McCool. 2004. Access to power or genuine empowerment? An analysis of three community forest groups in Nepal. Human Ecology Review. 11(1):1-12.
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