Open Journal of Forestry, 2014, 4, 1-9
Published Online October 2014 in SciRes.
How to cite this paper: Islam, K. K., Kimihiko, H., Tani, M., Krott, M., & Sato, N. (2014). Actors’ Power, Livelihood Assets and
Participatory Forestry in Bangladesh: Evidence from the Sal Forests Area. Open Journal of Forestry, 4, 1-9.
Actors’ Power, Livelihood Assets and
Participatory Forestry in Bangladesh:
Evidence from the Sal Forests Area
K. K. Islam1, Hyakumura Kimihiko2, Masakazu Tani3, Max Krott4, Noriko Sato1
1Forest Policy Laboratory, Kyushu University, Hakozaki, Higashi, Fukuoka, Japan
2Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Kyushu University, Hakozaki, Higashi, Fukuoka, Japan
3Faculty of Design, Kyushu University, Shiobaru, Minami, Fukuoka, Japan
4Chair of Forest and Nature Conservation Policy, Georg-August University Gottingen, Buesgenweg 3, Germany
Email: kamrulbau@gmail.c om
Received August 2014
Decentralize in forest management policies towards more people-oriented approaches has be-
come major policy trends in many of the world’s developing countries during the last decade.
However, the power of important actors to misuse the participatory forestry (PF) approach for
their self-interests has been stated as a main problem to success. So, this study attempted to iden-
tify the most powerful actors and the extent at which they influence the outcomes of PF, and also
to measure the impact of PF on livelihood assets of participants. The empirical data were collected
from the well-established PF programs at Madhupur Sal forests area of Bangladesh. The results
showed that the forest department (FD) proved itself as the most powerful and influential actor in
every element of power analysis in PF. Regarding to livelihood analysis, the results revealed that
the overall value of participants’ livelihood assets was 0.85 and it was significantly differed from
the non-participants value of 0.66. However, the development of human, physical and financial
assets was not indicating a decent improvement like as natural and social assets of participants. So,
it is necessary to pay more attention to boost up participants’ human and financial assets through
intensive training and adopting proper tree-crop production techniques, and also ensuring alter-
native livelihoods approaches to the local people. In addition, the local government will need to
pay more emphasis on constructing village roads and infrastructure so as to enhance physical as-
sets of the local people. Finally, the study would recommend promot in g PF with apposite govern-
ment facilities and also empowering local participants in order to balance the power among dif-
ferent actors, and this will facilitate the participants in governing all of their development activi-
ties efficiently.
Participatory Forestry, Actor, Power, Livelihood Assets, Sal Forests, Bangladesh
K. K. Islam et al.
1. Introduction
Forest resources and its management are increasingly observed to play a role in rural development, providing the
resources necessary to drive local poor livelihoods improvement and poverty alleviation strategies (Islam & Sato,
2012a; Islam et al., 2012, 2013). So, the decentralization of traditional forest management strategies towards
more people-oriented approaches have become popular in many of the world’s developing countries in recent
decades (Brown, 2009). The experiences of people-oriented forest management throughout the world have evi-
dence that decentralize and devolution policies yield benefits fo r local people, but in realities there are also lots
of limiting factors (Larson & Ribot, 2007; Ribot, 2004). Moreover, this approach is characterized by many ac-
tors due to the economic, ecological and social functions and values that forests delivers. Besides the local
communities, other groups at regional, national and international levels also have an impact on local communi-
ties’ access to forests (Peluso et al., 1994). However, all actors are important in forest management and their
cooperation are needed for sustainable forest management; often the state showed the most dominant and strong
role over ot her actors (Krott, 2005; Devkota, 2010; Barrow et al., 2002).
Bangladesh, with a forest cover of 17.08% land surface area, has experienced severe degradation of its forest
resources and a considerable change in its land cover (Islam & Sato, 2012b; FD, 2014). It was recognized in
Bangladesh that social factors affect forest degradation, and combating poverty is a prerequisite for forest re-
source management. Therefore, the government of Bangladesh has set utmost priority on people-oriented forest
management approach starting since 1980s, and this approach (Participatory Forestry) was commenced in the
degraded Sal forests areas in 1989 (Islam & Sato, 2012 a, 2012b). Sal forests are consid ered the most important
forests in Bangladesh due its economic and ecological importance (Muhammad et al., 2008; Islam et al., 2012;
Safa, 2004). However, the PF program at Sal forests area is considered as government control and donor funded
project in Bangladesh. PF program has also been treated political in nature due to its contestant type of access
and control over forests in social and power relations. So, the PF created an emblematic struggle between vari-
ous kinds of actors in term of dominance and power relations. Nevertheless, power has played a progressively
important role in forest policy analysis since the execution of PF approaches in Sal forests as well as in whole
Bangladesh. So, there is an immediate need to find out the main issues relating to power, interests and outcomes
in PF activities and their influen ce to po licy cycle in Bang ladesh.
Forest resources and its proper management systems have the potential to contribute positively to the im-
provem ent of rura l liveli hoods a nd povert y reducti on (Br own et al., 2002; Fometer & Vermaak, 2001). It is true in
Bangladesh that the forest cover is shrinking but still a number of poor people depend on forest for their livelih-
oods (Islam & Sato, 2012a). There are many forest management approaches having been launched by the gov-
ernment of Bangladesh in order to conserve the forest and also improve the livelihoods of poor forest dependent
people. Of them, participatory forestry is a better approach that has been effective to s ustain l i velihood a nd resource
conservation. PF is considered as people oriented, community based, resource focused and partnership based
management approach (Chen et al., 2012; Bond et al., 2006). The evidences of PF in Bangladesh have revealed
that decentralization and devolution of power among the PF actors often yield benefit to local participants (Islam
& Sato, 2012a). So, there is a strong relationship b e twe e n actors power and livelihood development in PF.
Analysis of livelihood in particularly the quantitative aspect is critical and for this, most of the studies fol-
lowed qualitative analysis of livelihood. Moreover, the changes of livelihood through the impact of PF are
another challenges in Bangladesh due to very limited available data and previous studies. Thus, the study first
identify the most powerful actors and the extent at which they influence the outcomes of PF, and secondly, to
measure the impacts of PF on the livelihood assets of participants.
2. Theoretical Frameworks
The study has based on actor centered power and livelihood theories. Power is a social relationship where actor
A alters the behavior of actor B without recognizing B’s will (Maryudi, 2011). Socia l scientist’ s Webbe r (1964)
already discussed the theory of power against resistance, and according to his discussion the power against re-
sistance can broke hardly (called coercion) and softly (called incentives) in social relations. In addition with
Webber perception there is possibility that power relation can be presented without resistance, i.e. trust. So,
the study’s elements of actor concentered power consists of coercion, incentives and trust (Webber, 1964; Ma-
ryudi, 2011) (Figure 1).
Simply trust is a power element through which the subordinate changes his behavior by accepting the poten-
K. K. Islam et al.
Figure 1. Elements of actor centered power.
tate’s information (Devkota, 2010; Itubo, 2011). Power is exercised by use of information. The practice where
an individual or a group of person is force by a different party to involuntarily behave in a certain manner is
coercion. This made possible by either action or inaction (Krott, 2005; Krott et al., 2013; Itub o, 2011). However,
incentives are financial or non-financial factors that alternate a subordinate’s behavior by motivation. Here mo-
tivation is the initiation of goal-oriented attitude, and also the expectation of benefits that encourages people to
change their behavior. So, the actor centered power conception is regarded as more useful for the analysis of
power in the case of forest management and policy issues.
The study also explore the livelihood theories and the Sustainable Livelihood Analysis (SLA) framework de-
veloped by the DFID was the main basis of this study. SLA framework looks at the basic dynamics of livelih-
oods and how people are represented on a set of assets as a basis for their livelihoods (Carney, 1998 ; Hussein &
Nelson, 1998). So, SLA firsts look for identify the important assets such as physical, human, social, natural and
financial related to livelihood. The livelihood assets also called livelihood capitals are represented as human
capital (knowledge, skill, la bor, good health), physical c apital (infrastructure, trans port, shelter and communica-
tion), social capital (relationship of trust and reciprocity, networks and membership of groups), natural capital
(land, forests, water, wildlife and biodiversity) and financial capital (monetary resources—savings, credit and
remittances). Improvements of five livelihood assets could be termed as strong SLA, whereas improvement in
only some of the assets that compensate for any decline in other assets could be termed as weak or poor SLA
(Islam & Sato, 2012a). Participatory forestry is people oriented, community based, resource focused and part-
nership-based resources model which focused on community and emphasized natural resource management and
livelihood development (Bond et al., 2006; Chen at al., 2013; Islam & Sato, 2012a). Therefore, the study have
attempt to measure livelihood assets of participants influenced by PF programs.
3. Methodology
3.1. Study Area
The moist deciduou s Sal forests cover an area of 120,000 ha and these forests owned by the Bangladesh Forest
Department (FD, 2014; Islam & Sato, 2012a). Sal forests are distributed over the relatively drier central and
north-western part of the country consists of mainly Tangail, My mensingh, Gazipur and Dhaka districts. Majo r-
ity of the Bangladesh Sal forests are located at the Tangail and Mymensing districts which is called Madhupur
Sal forests and considered one of the most significance PF areas in Bangladesh (Islam & Sato, 2012a; Islam et
al., 2013). The study was conducted at the whole Madhupur Sal forests area of Bangladesh.
3.2. Description of Participatory Forestry Program
In this program, each participant (local people who is a member of participatory forestry program called Partic-
ipant) was allocated 1 ha of degraded forest land for PF plantation duration of 10 year rotation cycle. Each par-
ticipant can continue up to three rotation cycles (30 years) if he/she maintain the program criteria properly. The
fast growing firewood producing tree species (e.g. Acacia spp., Bokain, Gamar) were selected for plantation
with a spacing of 2 m × 2 m (total 2500 tree/ha). After 4 years, 50% of the standing trees were thinned out (1st
Powe r
Power agai nst
resistance Power without
broke n ha rdResistance
softly broken
IncentiveCoercio n
K. K. Islam et al.
thinning) and this technique was repeated after 7 years (2nd thinning). The remaining 625 (approx imately) trees
were finally harvested at the end of the 10-year cycle. The FD and participants shared the benefit of the 2nd thin-
ning and final tree harvest outputs at a ratio of 45%:45% and the remaining 10% benefit will store for future tree
plantation called TFF (Tree Farming Fund). The participant can cultivate annual crops in association with trees
at any time of the 10-year rotation cycle and the crops together with 1st thinning benefits were granted solely to
the member. This type of participatory forest management approaches were gaining popularity in all over the
3.3. Sampling, Data Collection and Analytical Techniques
Both qualitative and quantitative data were collected to visualize the impacts of PF on participants’ livelihoods
assets and identify the actors’ power dynamics in this study. Quantitative data were collect through a semi-
structured questionna ire survey, and for qualitative data this study used interview of forest department staff , lo-
cal people, jo ur nalists, non-government organizations staff, leaders and donor agencies key staff. This study also
conducted focus group discussion, personal observation and literature review to collect data. The study random-
ly selected 60 participants for interview and 30 non-participants who were possessing similar socioeconomic
conditions with participant before stated PF program. A total of 3327 PF participants were involved in Madhu-
pur Sal forests area (Islam & Sato, 2012 a). During f ield visit a ctors wer e asked abou t their views on o ther actors
and this study tried to cover all PF actors listed in the result section. Interview questionnaire were pretested and
improved before conducting the final interview and a research team consisting of 5 members were involving in
data collection at Madhupur area during different months of 2012 to 2014.
For the actor power analysis, the study covered every actors and also asked each actor their judgment on the
power elements of coercion, incentives and trust for the other actors. To measure the different element s of power,
the study used a simple scaling systems of 2 for powerful actors and 1 for non-powerful actors (Table 1) and f i-
nally the average round numerical figure were tabulated. On the other hand, various scaling and indexing me-
Table 1. Summary of power analysis.
Actor category Power elements
Actors in the networks
Trust Incentive Coercion
Forest department (local to
regional level) (3)
1 2 1
Divisional Forest Officer
1 2 1
Range Officer
2 2 2
Beat Officer
Donor (4)
1 1 1
Forestry Sector Project
1 1 1
Nishorgo Support Project
1 1 1
Upazilla Afforestation and Nursery Development Project
1 2 1
Community Forestry Project
State ministry 1 (central level) 2 1 1
Ministry of Forests and Environment
State ministry 2 (central level) 1 1 1
Ministry of Roads and Highway
Forest department (central level) 1 1 1
Wildlife Management and Nature Conservation Division
2 1 1
Madhupur National Park Management
Private sector 1 1 1
Saw miller
1 1 1
Brick field
Leader 1 1 1
Local Political Leader
Union Parishad Leader
Social forest association 1 1 2
Local Social Forest Committee
Development organizations 1 2 1
BRAC, Christian Missionary
Individual 1 1 1
State ministry 1 1 1
Bangladesh Air Force
Print media 1 1 1
K. K. Islam et al.
thods was adopted to measure human, physical, social, natural and financial capitals so that it was possible to
make them comparable and to allow meaningful interpretation. Most of the indicators are determined by using
rating scale methods in terms of different weight: 0.33, 0.66 and 1.0 interpreted as poor, medium/average and
good. The questions that have three answer choices measured as: I = Good% × 1 + Medium% × 0.66 + Poor% ×
0.33. The two answer questions, Yes or No were interpreted as: I = Yes% × 1 + No% × 0. The economic benefit
questions related to money was measured in different ways. Less than the mean value was classified as poor
with the weight of 0.33; more than the mean but less than 1.5 × mean treated as medium/average with the weight
of 0.66; and more than 1.5 × mean was classified as good with the weight of 1.0. Similar types of calculation
procedure were followed for participants’ tree stocks and livestock indicators. After weight calculation of each
indicator, we calculated the value of each type of livelihood asset and finally the over a ll liv elihood asset value.
4. Results
4.1. Actor Power Analysis
The study identified the actors involved in PF networks and ultimately observed who are considered to be the
most powerful using the simple 1 and 2 scaling systems (Table 1). A total of 20 actors were identified in Mad-
hupur Sal forests area who were directly or indirectly involved in PF program. In each PF networks, the indi-
vidual value 2 represents the powerful actors while the actors having point 1 categorized as less or no-powerful.
The results showed that the forest department in particularly the beat officer occurred the most powerful actors
in all three elements (trust, incentives and coercion) of power analysis (Table 1).
Table 1 also represents that the government actors (i.e. Ministry of Forest and Environment, Madhupur Na-
tional Park Management) have some sorts of power in PF networks and eventually dominated the PF programs.
Other than FD, local social forestry committee has occurred power in coercion domain and in some cases the
local NGOs have provide incentives to the participants.
4.2. Livelihood Analysis
In case of physical asset, the study was select some common indicators which were household fixed and durable
assets and livestock asset. In addition, the study was select the dependency on forests for firewood uses, alterna-
tive sources of firewood uses and collective action for common infrastructure development indicators to meas-
ure the physical asset. Firewood is the main energy sources of Madhupur Sal forests as well as in whole Ban-
gladesh and in study area, most of the firewood came from the local forests (Islam & Sato, 2012 a) area. There-
fore, the study was like to see how PF programs have changed the household energy structure and whether al-
ternative energy sources were used to sustain livelihood improvement. The results showed that the overall phys-
ical asset value was 0.77 and at the same time the value was 0.64 for non -participants (Ta ble 2). The difference
between the participants and non-participants overall physical assets showed a considerable improvements
(Figure 2) of livelihood asset due to implement of PF in the study area.
Regarding to participants human asset, the study was selected the leadership indicator to judge the member’s
leadership ability together with other general indicators such as skill and knowledge, education and health con-
dition. The result observed that the human asset values were 0.83 and 0.60 for participant and non-participant
(Table 2). The improvement of human asset was remarkable in the study area compare to non-members values
(Figure 2).
In case of natural asset, the study was select perceptions on biodiversity conservation, required activities for
forest protection and conservation and member’s dependency of natural forest together with member own tree
stock as important indicators, and these types of indicators were also used by Chen et al. (2012) in their livelih-
ood measurement study. The results revealed that the natural capital of the study area had positively improved
(0.93) compare to non-partici pants (0.68 ) (Table 2).
To measure the social asset the study gave the highest priority on participants’ relationship to the community
and involve in social organizations indicators. Because of training and participation in PF programs, participants
have many more opportunities to access outside information and communication with other member of the
community. Overall social asset value of the particip ant was 0.91 which showed a substantial positive improve-
ments in c omparing with non-members ’ value of 0.69 (Table 2 and Figure 2).
In case of financial asset, the study argue that the household income and expenditure were treated as the two
K. K. Islam et al.
Figure 2. Overall livelihood assets pentagon.
Table 2. Evaluation of overall livelihood assets.
SF participants Non-participants
Indicator wt. Capital val. Indicator wt. Capital value.
Skill and knowledge due to trainings
leadership ability
Education level/status
Children education status
Health condition/status
Household durable assets
Household fixed assets
Livestock assets
Dependency on forests for firewood
Alternative sources of firewood uses
Collective action for common road structures
Perception of biodiversity conservation
Necessary for forest protection
Forest protection activities
Dependencies on natural forests
Tree stocks
Relationship to the community
Involvement in social organizations
Total household income
SF income
Easy loan facilities
Annual expenditure (% of annual income)
Livelihood assets 0.85 0.66
main indicators. The main sources of household incomes were farming, day labor, working outside, small busi-
ness, and collecting NTFPs (Non Timber Forest products), so, the study included all of their income as house-
hold total income indicator. For expenditure, this study considered living expenditure and production expendi-
ture of every household and finally calculated the percent of annual expenditure in line with their total annual
income. The study revealed that the overall financial asset value was 0.84 and 0.67 for the participants and
non-participants (Table 2). The results also proved that participants’ had significantly improved their income
level compare to non-participants’ (Figure 2).
Financial Human
Social Natural
K. K. Islam et al.
5. Discussion
In actor power analysis, the main focuses refer to the all identified actors and in particularly on how the power-
ful actors shape and accumulated their power (Maryudi, 2011). The results clearly identified that in every aspect
the forest department s howed the strongest preferences which is presenting in Table 2. Fo rest department espe-
cially the beat officer appeared the most powerful actor in trust, incentives and coercion elements of power
analysis. It was due to fact that the beat officer has officially responsible for the selection of PF members, evalu-
ation of the PF programs and benefit sharing process (Islam & Sato, 2012a). However, the local NGOs have
provided the incentiv es supports to the particip ants and the local so cial forestry committee was also indicated to
have a certain degree of coercion of power, although the results suggested that their power appears to have been
limited to only coercion elements of power. In a community forestry study of Nepal, Devkota (2011) found that
forest department have gained the highest level of power in trust, incentives and coercion elements of actor
power analysis. Similarly, the forest department remains one of the most powerful actor not only in coercion
strategies but also provides incentives as well as being trusted in the actor dynamics analysis network of com-
munity forestry in Indon esia, Namibia, Albania, China, Philipp ines and Cameroon (Krott et al., 2013; Maryud i,
2011; Itubo, 2011; Devkota, 2011).
On the other, the livelihood analysis clearly showed that the PF programs indeed have a positive impact on
livelihood assets improvements of participants. In case of physical assets, the dependency on natural forests for
firewood indicators had greatly improved, while the participants’ household fixed and durable assets had not
improved a lot. The FD had supplied environmental friendly burner through a forestry project and all most all
PF members received the benefit (Islam & Sato, 2012a) at the study area. So, the adjustment of energy structure
or alternative sources led to increase in indicator weight. Due to PF training, a sense of collective action had
arisen among the PF members and all of those indicators showed the improvement of physical assets. In regards
to human assets, the study found out that training on social forestry have had a significance impacts to the par-
ticipants total inco me. Similarly, Islam & Sato (2012a) and Ch en et al. (2013) observed that tr aining had signif-
icantly improved participants’ capacity building towards human asset development. The natural asset indicators
observed that the majority of the participants were willing to protect forests resources and biodiversity. The
overall value of natural asset was significan tly different between PF members and non-members. The social as-
set is an attribute of an individual in a social aspect (Sobel, 2002), the development of social asset depends on
the relationship, institutions, attitudes and values that govern interactions among the peoples and contribute to
the economic and social development and are therefore difficult to measure. In general, the PF programs have
created a better social networks among the participants and other peoples’ of the communities in some extent.
Lastly, the financial asset of the study showed some positive increases, and a considerable differences was also
detected between PF participants and non-participants. In addition, the easy loan system (such as micro credit) is
well developed in Madhup ur forests area. Many NGOs and private institution s are already starting micro credit
facilities in Madhupur forests area, and due to their intensive activities participants can easily involve in loaning
systems. All most ev ery participants have invested their PF income to achieve their childr en education and fam-
ily health care systems and also to cover the household expenditure that partly sustain their livelihoods.
It has already established that there is a strong link between the actor s’ power and livelihood development of
local people in all over the world (Mariyudi, 2011). The Madhupur area’s PF programs have experienced some
negative impacts due to the imbalance of actors’ power. The possible negative effects includes: powerful actors
(e.g. FD) capture and various conflicts, creation of new form of exclusion of poor from natural resource man-
agement, parallel hierarchies of traditional leadership and unique decision making. These types of negative im-
pacts were also mentioned by Shackleton et al. (2002); Ribot (2004); Shahbaz (2009) in their studies in different
contexts. In other hand, the experiences of PF throughout the world have evident that balancing of power among
PF actors’ and decentralization policies often yield benefits to the local communities (Malla, 2000; Agrawal &
Gupta, 2005; Shahbaz, 2009). Although the PF in Bangladesh has outward some negative impacts due to the
imbalanced power among the actors but the overall results found lot of impressive results to the development of
livelihood assets of particip ants. Positive outcomes includes: improving relationship betwe e n F D (most powe r f ul
actor) and local communities, capacity building through intensive training, improvements of livelihood assets,
increased household incomes and also government revenues, active involvement of marginal and disadvantaged
groups in forest management, common roads and infrastructure development, increased awareness and percep-
tion towards forest conservation etc. So, the overall discussions argue that PF has impacted the local level and
K. K. Islam et al.
livelihood of the local communities have been augmented; however, the powerful actors are highly relevant for
the sustainable livelihood development in Bangladesh.
6. Conclusion
Participatory forest management in Bangladesh has not dough tily introduced new und erstanding of forests with
an approach to social, economic and conservation outcomes. These outcomes have depended on associated ac-
tors, their power and interest as well. The actors’ power analysis of this study found out that the forest depart-
ment proved itself as the most powerful and influential actors in PF. However, it is superficial to claim that
through the PF programs, th e forest department aspires control over the forests and other actors in recent years;
the forest policy of Bangladesh and its execution have untied the opportunities to forest department. In order to
change this, the forest department as well the state actors must become a facilitator to empower local level par-
ticipants. Nevertheless, the PF programs have had a positive impact on the livelihood assets of the participants
and all of their five livelihood assets showed increasing trends compared to non-participants. Therefore, it may
say that participatory forestry has an effective management program that provided certain insights regarding the
microcosm of livelihood capitals development. Finally, the study recommends that a strong commitment from
important actors together with effective forest policy and management plan could make participatory forestry
programs more sustainable.
The study has greatly acknowledged the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) for their financial
support towards conducting this field study at Bangladesh and also attending the conference at Wuhan, China
during 26 to 28 October 2014.
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