Decentralisation through local councils in Chehel-Chay: From theory to practice
For participatory forest management to happen, organizations need to exist at a local level, preferably existing local organizations. Rural councils play this role in Iran, supported by a legal and organizational framework. In the Constitution Law, councils are one of the pillars governing decision-making, independent of the national executive, with legislative and judicial powers to direct and supervise local affairs. Rural councils are often seen as local parliaments with local decision-making and oversight powers. Given this apparently supportive context, I questioned why forest governance in Iran in practice remains top-down and centralized, with real decentralized forest governance not happening.
By: Ahmad Iran (Associate Prof. of Agricultural Extension and Education, Gorgan University of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, Gorgan, Iran)
I contacted Dr. Verina Ingram about this issue as a research problem. After a period of correspondence and arrangements, a sabbatical one month stay in Wageningen then enabled us to develop a line of research and frame the practice in terms of participatory forest governance. Being in the Netherlands was a valuable experience for me and my trip to the Netherlands was welcomed by my university, the Gorgan University of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources. I was interested in seeing the Netherlands and Wageningen University, a leading university in agriculture and natural resources, and getting acquainted with the work of its faculty members to gain valuable insights into natural resource governance and different approaches to analyze the research findings.
This led to our joint, recently published study on the Perceptions and practices of rural council participatory forest governance in Chehel-Chay, We found that council members did not have a strong desire to engage in participatory forest management. Rural councils prefer closed co-management in which government and non-governmental actors work together to govern forests. Explanatory factors might include the ownership system of forests in Iran, as most resources are publicly owned and the government is responsible for governing and managing most natural resources. Traditional, the government is seen as responsible for managing affairs even by the democratically elected rural council members, despite their mandate for decentralization.
Therefore, we see that the mere creation of rules and regulations alone does not guarantee the movement towards local forest governance, with a conducive social and political context being needed. To successfully decentralize and have participatory governance of forests, the forest ownership system as well as societal and individual attitudes need to be aligned.