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Revisiting Collaborative Forest Management in Kyrgyzstan: What happened to bottomup decision-making?

Over the past 15 years, the Swiss government, through the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, has collaborated with the Kyrgyz government in developing its forestry sector. The Kyrgyz-Swiss Forestry Support Programme (KIRFOR) covered a wide range of activities, including collaborative forest management (CFM). This was introduced in 1998 as a pilot approach, promoting the involvement of local people in managing and deriving sustainable income from the walnut-fruit forests in the south of the country. As Swiss support has now come to an end, this paper focuses on the experiences and outcomes, and the challenges of introducing a participatory approach in a post-Soviet regime.

Twelve years on, CFM leases have become widely accepted as a means of enabling local people to have a greater role in forest management; over 1,000 have now been signed, covering an area of over 8,300 ha. These leases are supported by an appropriate policy and legislative framework, built on field experience, as well as by the necessary institutional structures. Local CFM boards have been set up as a forum for discussion among all main stakeholders, and have become strong arbitration bodies in the case of conflicts—promoting good local governance.

The impact of CFM on poverty, gender awareness and sustainable forest management has been mixed. Those working with the project have a greater awareness of gender issues, although gender stereotypes are difficult to break. Tenants, some of them poor, have improved their livelihoods through CFM plots, yet on the whole it is difficult for the extreme poor to benefit from the system. CFM plots are generally well maintained, although it has not been possible to bring about major innovations in sustainable forest management.

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