Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Re: Most powerful learning experience

(Posted in on 4 October 2004)

Dear all:

I would like to apologise for coming late in this discussion. Our e-mail system has been 'dead' for the past several weeks and therefore I could not access my e-mails. Firstly, my name is Tendayi - I am a Zimbabwean lady who is currently working for the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) under the Adaptive Collaborative Management (ACM) research project. The ACM research project was introduced in 1999 to add value to an already existing co-management scheme where the State and communities are managing a protected forest, the Mafungautsi State Forest - the initial scheme had failed to improve collaboration between the communities as was intended at the start of the program in 1994.

The ACM research project aims to facilitate a shift away from blanket prescriptions for solving problems towards locally based management that has freedom to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances in a manner that is in accordance to sustainable forest management. This is an adaptive management research project that is centred on 'learning whilst doing' in which phases of action are followed by phases of reflection on how things can be done better or improved. At the beginning of the research project, we facilitated the creation of resource user groups - these groups consisted of people with an interest in a similar resource e.g honey. We later facilitated processes for the groups to go through the participatory action research process of problem identification, action planning, collective action, collaborative monitoring and reflection, learning and improvement. An example to illustrate how stakeholders learnt together in order to improve their resource management strategies is outlined below (I also have several cases to share if anyone is interested):

A joint experiment by stakeholders before the ACM research project

In an effort to enhance learning together about sustainable methods of harvesting broom grass (Aristida Junciformis- one of the resource found in the forest), community members in one of the communities around Mafungautsi Forest, with an initiative from the Forestry Commission (the government department responsible for managing state forests), decided to conduct an experiment in the area where they harvest broom grass to find out the sustainable method of harvesting broom grass. The experiment was conducted in two small plots in the wetland area. In one of the plots, resource users harvested grass by digging. In the other plot they harvested the grass by cutting using sickles. These plots were then monitored to see how the grass would grow in each of the plots. In the seasons that followed no new broom grass germinated in the plot where grass was harvested by digging. Instead a new grass variety, which could not be used for making brooms, emerged. Stakeholders concluded that the best method to harvest their grass without depleting it was that of cutting. For two years after the experiment, there was a remarkable reduction in the digging of broom grass. However, after the two years, some people resumed digging despite the fact that they knew its adverse impact on the resource. Unfortunately, no opportunities were created for stakeholders to come together and discuss this undesirable change in behaviour by resource users.

Creation of learning platforms after the ACM research project

In trying to build up on the stakeholder learning processes, we therefore organized platforms (such as informal discussions, meetings, workshops) for resource users to discuss the new developments and problem they were facing in their broom grass resource. During these platforms, stakeholders got opportunities to discussions the new developments, reflect on them and come up with solutions or action plans to address the situation.

Key lessons

Group learning processes are important in enhancing stakeholders’ capacity to adapt and improve their management strategies. And it is important that these (group learning) are not just one-time events, but should be continuously facilitated so that stakeholders can continue to learn in order to adapt and improve their management strategies given the rapidly changing environments.

That's all I have to share for now.


Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)


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