Local political agency and environment-livelihood synergies in forest and landscape interventions

Authors: Harry W Fischer*, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Syed Shoaib Ali, Ambedkar University, New Delhi, Ashwini Chhatre, Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, Forrest Fleischman, University of Minnesota, Vijay Ramprasad, University of Minnesota, Pushpendra Rana, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Claudia Rodriguez-Solorzano, University of Minnesota
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Development, Political Geography
Keywords: forests, participation, restoration, governance, local democracy
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Senate Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


As global environmental objectives reshape how forests are managed around the world — through REDD+, Forest Landscape Restoration, and other initiatives — there is a broad consensus of the need to incorporate communities into local governance processes. Such engagement is perceived as necessary both to mitigate against negative livelihood impacts and to facilitate more effective and locally-tailored management interventions. To date, policy has focused on institutional strategies to promote participatory management, yet evidence suggests that outcomes are highly uneven. We argue that the ability of citizens to achieve meaningful influence on governance processes is not simply a question of institutional design, but of political power. We analyze the creative interplay between local political agency and landscape management interventions in shaping longterm human and environmental outcomes through two case studies in Himachal Pradesh, India. In the first case, bureaucratic control and local elite capture produced patterns of landscape change with negative impacts on the poor; in the second case, ongoing political action for the interests of a broad cross-section of society gave rise to interventions that protect multiple environmental and livelihood benefits simultaneously. Our analysis highlights the importance of three factors: (a) historical trajectories of political change; (b) the nature of local institutions; and (c) interaction with a broader set of state institutions across scales — in enabling more substantive local influence to emerge. A better understanding of subnational architectures of political practice holds the potential to expand the horizon of policy interventions to better advance livelihood and environmental outcomes simultaneously.

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