The management of three small forests within a proximity of about 10 kms in the district of Eza, Gurage zone, Southern Ethiopia was studied. While the social and ecological profile of the three forests are similar, they have been under differing management systems at one time or another. The main aim of the study was to compare and contrast the varying management systems and draw inference for policy in the realm of natural resource management to increase the stock, improve the quality and enhance the livelihood of the population. Participatory Rapid Appraisal (PRA) and a stratified sampled survey of 300 households (100 from each) were used as instrument of data collection.
Given a synergy between the objectives of conservation and utilization of natural resources in a win win context, the comparative study of the three forests suggests the construction of a policy making social space which interfaces and builds on the comparative advantages of the state, the market and rural institutions. In the case of the latter, success is more probable where the community is small, has blood relation and/or strong ties to the place. The state is best positioned to lay down an enabling environment such as the construction of infrastructure, and to introduce and disseminate better inputs and practices for more efficiency in production and marketing to maximize welfare.
By expanding the space and social horizon of the products from natural resources, in this case forest products, the market can be an important instrument to augment the livelihood of the farmers but social policy ensuring that there is no negative trade off between involvement in markets and the sustainable use of the resource and its role as a base for other economic activities. Attuning the institutional framework to the existing rural ones can ensure a sense of ownership, care and cheaper modes of management compared to bureaucratic lethargy, cost and poor drive and motivation.