Ethiopia's forest resource base, which is mostly found in the southwestern highlands,\ud supports a multitude of agricultural production systems. However, similar to the trend in other\ud parts of the developing world, deforestation has taken a heavy toll in this part of Ethiopia.\ud Cognisant of this, recently policies and strategies have been devised that emphasise the\ud need for citizens' participation in natural forest management. Yet, in Ethiopia there is little\ud field-based analytical literature that throws light on the stake that villagers have in forest\ud resources and the workings of local level forest access channels.\ud \ud \ud Against this backdrop, the research examines state-community and intra-community\ud relationships in the course of accessing forest resources under governments of widely\ud differing political persuasions, and investigates the current importance of forests to the local\ud household economy. This is achieved through a case study of six forest communities in a\ud rural district of highland Kafa, southwest Ethiopia. The study employs a time line approach to\ud trace the evolution of state-community interactions in the provision and administration of\ud forest tenure at the local level. To this end, the research has examined the political history of\ud Kafa and the land management policies of successive Ethiopian governments that had a\ud bearing on local forest access and use. The broader themes of the research are informed by\ud the literature on natural resource tenure establishment and household level forest use in\ud agrarian systems and the discourse on management regimes in common pool resources.\ud \ud \ud The research has established that throughout much of Kafa's history forests were accessed\ud through customary tenure principles. However, following Kafa's incorporation into the\ud Ethiopian State the central government became an important organ of forest allocation, and\ud this situation favoured outsiders and local notables in acquiring private forest rights. The\ud 1975 Land Reform decree extinguished all such claims, bestowed the State with exclusive\ud land ownership rights, and created grassroots Peasant Associations (PAs) with a wide range\ud of land administration roles. The PAs in some localities allocated village forests to rural\ud households. Crucially, though, the State used its land ownership prerogatives to impose a\ud range of measures that went contrary to the forest access interests of the local people.\ud \ud \ud Formal state tenure notwithstanding, traditional principles and channels of forest access such\ud as territoriality, patrilineal descent, and share cropping continue to play critical roles in the\ud local tenure scene. These locally tailored mechanisms also command the protection and\ud enforcement to which other formally recognised forest access channels have been accorded.\ud The factors that permitted the co-existence of formal and informal means of access have also\ud called for the involvement of traditional community-based organisations (CBOs) alongside\ud state sponsored ones in the mediation of local access provision and dispute settlement.\ud \ud \ud The empirical analysis underscores that local people stake forest resources with the view to\ud producing forest goods, which are found to be important livelihood resources. Forest\ud dependency, however, reflects the socio-economic differentiation existing in the study\ud communities. The operational implications which the research draws are based primarily on\ud the observed high degree of dependence of local people on the forest for their livelihoods and\ud the communal ethos that characterise forest access provision and tenure enforcement.\ud \ud \ud Finally, the influence of past patterns of access principles on the current situation; the\ud divergent outcomes of the forest use process; and the local importance of forest goods has\ud enabled the research to identify issues that would enrich the discourse on common property\ud theory. These centre on the relevance of 'stewardship' in the study of resource access; the\ud utility of examining inter-CBO interactions in the analysis of CPR access and management;\ud the need to look beyond the 'tragedyTcomedy' dichotomy in the conceptualisation of resource\ud management outcomes; and the desirability of re-orienting the discourse on CPR analysis\ud towards development ideals contained in the notion of'the sustainable community'
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