Participatory forest management (PFM) discourse in South Africa : ecological modernisation in the developing world.
Brown, Fiona P.
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There is growing recognition internationally of the shift in natural resource management away from top-down, technocratic management towards participatory approaches that incorporate local communities and other stakeholders in decision-making. Natural resources and their management are also increasingly seen to play a role in development, providing the resources necessary to drive local economic development and poverty alleviation schemes. These shifts are evident in both forestry and fisheries literature and co-management policies. Co-management is a mature theory of participatory environmental governance. Participatory Forest Management (PFM), which is a co-management approach to governance in forest management, comprises a major shift in government policy in terms of managing the people-forest interface in South Africa. Democratic approaches such as comanagement are commendable; however, the reality surrounding the lack of capacity for decisionmaking by local people and the complex scientific nature of forest management makes the implementation of this approach difficult. This study adopts a critical approach to participatory practices in forestry, and questions whether participation is occurring or whether it is merely rhetoric - a disguise for an eco-modernist, technocratic problem solving approach that still employs top down management. Ecological modernisation is a policy-orientated discourse, which is used to construct environmental problems in a particular way, and so influence the manner in which they are addressed. The mainstream ecological modernisation approach, which is a weak ecological modernisation approach (Christoff, 1996), is arguably the prevailing mainstream environmental management approach in the developed and also latterly, the developing world (Christoff, 1996; Blowers and Pain, 1999; Murphy, 2000; Scott and Oelofse, 2005). According to Oelofse et al. (2006), Laros (2004) and Scott and Oelofse (2005) this weak mainstream approach has been transferred from the developed countries, where it has been institutionalised for over two decades, to developing countries such as South Africa, and has become the “rationale for environmental management” (Oelofse et al. 2006:61) in these countries also. However, within the ecological modernisation approach, shifts are taking place towards what Christoff (1996) refers to as ‘strong’ and Beck (1995) as ‘reflexive’ ecological modernisation, which acknowledge the use of more participatory, communicative and deliberative approaches to addressing environmental problems (Christoff, 1996; Blowers and Pain, 1999; Scott and Oelofse, 2005). The southern Cape PFM case study in South Africa is presented as an opportunity to explore these ideas. This thesis explores the relationship between PFM and ecological modernisation through an analysis of PFM discourse, and expands the conceptualisation of ecological modernisation by applying it to an environmental policy process in a developing world context. Through an analysis of the implementation of PFM using Hajer’s (1995; 2003) argumentative approach to discourse analysis, the appropriateness of the form of co-management, typified by PFM to the South African context, is challenged. Research findings reveal that the manner in which PFM is implemented in the southern Cape comprises a weak ecological modernisation approach to environmental management because the participatory element of PFM was found to be problematic. The nature of participation occurring at a local level differs greatly from the policy being advocated at a national level. The discourse of PFM has been institutionalised nationally as a policy and an approach to indigenous forest management, which resonates with strong ecological modernisation. Locally, however, although a degree of discourse structuration has occurred, it appears that the co-management approach being implemented is a weak form, which is more consistent with weak ecological modernisation. South Africa’s context as country in transition places it in an awkward position with regard to the application of ecological modernisation as an environmental problem-solving approach. A strong ecological modernisation approach would seem to be the most appropriate given South Africa’s context; however, there are limitations that indicate why a strong ecological modernisation discourse becomes weak at the level of implementation. Even if weak ecological modernisation were pursued, it would appear that South Africa might not yet be ready to apply such a programme effectively.