Constraints and Options in Local Forest Management in Cambodia: Is Decentralization a Solution?
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In Cambodia there is an urgent need to ensure the livelihood of the forest-dependent rural poor while at the same time sustaining valuable forest resources. As past centralized forest management regimes have failed, international scholars and development practitioners increasingly recommend the decentralization of power in favor of granting authority over forest management to commune councils. Drawing on experience from community forestry and commune councils, this article argues that in Cambodia democratic decentralization, understood as a transfer of significant domains of discretionary power and authority to downwards accountable local institutions, is unlikely to work unless: (a) the communities get access to substantial benefits from the forests, and (b) they are enabled to deal with strong external and internal actors and conflicting interests. This requires support from the state, but the national government in Cambodia is weak and represents a major constraint in itself. Hence, this article calls for increased focus on the role of the state in theory about decentralized forest management.