Perspectives on forest conservation: building evidence at the frontier between policy and conservation science
Many studies have recommended more conscious consideration of informal local norms in the pursuit of officially-recognized local forest management. The justification is that management systems grounded in local norms are well suited to local realities and correspond better with the interests and capacities of local forest users than expert-knowledge systems, which generally require a lot of external support to function. In Ghana, as in many other postcolonial countries, informal local norms were effective in regulating forest resource use before they were pushed into the background following the centralization and formalization of forest management by the colonial administrations. It is however unclear if and to what extent the local norms have retained their legitimacy in the face of massive institutional changes and breath-taking land use dynamics. Based on empirical study of five Ghanaian local forest contexts, this paper explores the role of informal local norms in contemporary local forest management, building theoretically on the concept of institutional legitimacy. Two forms of informal local forestry norms were identified: taboo norms and non-taboo norms. While the non-taboo norms had legitimacy in the present day local communities, some of the taboo norms no longer had legitimacy. The findings indicate that due to modernization, including adoption of Christianity, formal education and commercialization, sacred myths alone do not provide legitimacy for the taboo norms any longer. It is inferable from the findings that to have legitimacy and be useful in contemporary local forest management, both the taboo and non-taboo norms require legitimacy from process and output justifications such as their presumed fairness or instrumental relevance for achieving what local people want to do with their forests.