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Publication - Dr Naomi Millner

    The politics of participation

    Negotiating power relations through community forestry in the Maya Biosphere Reserve, Guatemala


    Millner, N, Fernandez, M, Penagaricano, I & Snook, L, 2019, ‘The politics of participation: Negotiating power relations through community forestry in the Maya Biosphere Reserve, Guatemala’. World Development.


    Since the 1970s, Community forestry (CF) initiatives have sought sustainable forestry, community participation and poverty alleviation. Interest in such initiatives increased after the 1990s, when the decentralisation of conservation responsibilities was viewed as a cost-effective solution to widespread deforestation. However, CF programmes are not always successful, economically or ecologically, and can reproduce existing forms of social exclusion. Recent scholarship, drawing on the work of Elinor Ostrom and theorists of Commons Based Resource Management (CBRM), has therefore turned to examine the role of social institutions in enabling sustained collective action. However, this work tends to emphasise what development actors can do to foster enabling conditions, rather than how community organisations and social movements act to secure better conditions, in the face of fluctuating governmental will and longer histories of struggle. This paper meets this need by focusing on the institutional arrangements in play in the Maya Biosphere Reserve (MBR) in the Petén region of Guatemala, where CF has been practised for 25 years. Through qualitative analysis derived from participatory research, interviews and ethnographic data, we unpack the practices of “accompaniment” devised through a longer process of contestation, revealing the importance of an intermediary organisation, ACOFOP [Asociación de Comunidades Forestales de Petén] to what are now termed the “successes” of CF in the MBR. “Accompaniment” includes specific approaches to advocacy, networking, capacity-building, awareness-raising and managing power relations, which have been devised as responses to the demands placed on communities by new regulatory frameworks. We emphasise that rethinking development through accompaniment offers crucial learning for CBRM programmes in other contexts.

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