Hesperian Health Guides

Forest Conflicts

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HealthWiki > A Community Guide to Environmental Health > Chapter 10: Forests > Forest Conflicts

Because forest resources are limited, conflicts often arise among people who need to use the forest resources in different ways. Conflicts also arise between local communities that depend on the forest and industries from outside the community that want the resources the forest can provide.


A sociodrama is a way to use theater to help think about conflicts and the causes of those conflicts. Sociodramas can also help people explore possibilities for action and change. (See “Sociodrama” and “Role play”; also see the Hesperian book Helping Health Workers Learn.)

  1. Divide into groups of about 5 people each and give each group a short description of a situation that might lead to conflict over forest resources. Make up situations that are believable to people, but avoid local situations that might shame or anger the people involved in them. The plays will be more realistic if the participants use a few simple costumes and props to show the parts they are playing.
  2. A group of people sit and discuss.
  3. Ask each group to spend 15 to 20 minutes to prepare a 5 minute sociodrama. Encourage everyone to play a part. Each group presents their play for the other participants. After each sociodrama is over, a discussion about community conflicts can lead to solutions. Or you can wait until all groups have presented and discuss them all together.
  4. How did you feel? After presenting the sociodramas and before the discussion, ask each participant how it felt to play their part. Ask the people who watched how they felt during each sociodrama, and how the actors made them feel about the conflict.
    A woman speaks.
    A facilitator should be aware of conflicts in the community and be sensitive to the ways different community members may react to the discussion. During sociodramas, be careful to create a safe and open environment where people are not afraid to speak.

    Choose some of the stories below to make sociodramas about forest conflicts. Or make up sociodramas based on real conflicts in your community.

    A woman speaks to a man who stands by a cow.

    Situation 1. Characters: man with cattle; herbal medicine collectors; community meeting participants.

    After years away from the community, a man returns with 10 head of cattle and begins to graze them on community forest land. When other community members go to the forest to collect medicines and thatch, they find that the cattle have eaten so much there is little left for them. They call a meeting to discuss the problem. The man with the cattle insists he has a right to graze his cattle, no matter how much they eat. Others in the community disagree. What happens next?

    Situation 2. Characters: young men cutting trees; government workers; women collecting firewood.

    A woman yells and gestures to another woman and a man.

    Several young men are cutting down trees on communal land without permission, and selling the lumber to local government workers, who take the lumber away on a truck. A woman goes to the place where she usually collects firewood and finds the young men cutting down trees. One of the men is her son. She returns to the community and tells the mothers of the other young men. The next day, the women go to the forest to tell the young men to stop cutting down trees. The first woman’s son says he needs the money from selling trees to buy medicine for his baby daughter, her granddaughter. What happens next?

    Situation 3. Characters: community members with axes and oxen; government men with chainsaws and trucks; village council officials.

    A big truck hauls lumber.
    For generations, people cut down trees using axes and hauled them out with oxen. Now, men from the local government have been coming with chainsaws, cutting down trees and saying the forest is state property. One day the government men show up with bulldozers and heavy equipment. They want to build a road into the forest to take out the biggest trees. A group of men from the community goes to the forest to confront them. What happens next?
  5. A woman speaks.
    Having the actors "step out" of their roles before beginning the discussion prevents people from labeling one of the participants as a villain or victim. It's important not to confuse the person with the roles he or she plays.
  6. Discuss each sociodrama Ask the actors to leave their props or costumes in a pile at the front of the room and return to the group. Then ask questions that help the whole group to:
    • tell what happened in the sociodrama.
    • identify the actions that led to conflict.
    • identify the different needs that were the root causes for the conflict.
    • suggest ways the conflict could be resolved in the long term.

    Repeat this process with each sociodrama. The facilitator may want to write the important ideas on a large piece of paper or a chalkboard.

Q: What caused the conflict? A: One man wanted to keep cattle, but they damaged the forest.
Q: Why did the man feel he had a right
to graze his cattle in the forest?
A: There was no agreement about who could use the forest, and for what purposes.
Q: How did the forest damage affect the community? A: No more medicine and thatch.
Q: So what needs are in conflict? A: The need to have forest products and the need to graze cattle.

Q: Is there a way for both needs to be met?

A group of people sit and discuss.
A: The cattle could graze in areas with no plants that the community needs.

A: The cattle owner could build a fence.

A: The owner of the cattle could give up his right to collect forest products in exchange for the right to graze his cattle, and then trade for the forest products when he needs them.
Q: Will solving this conflict lead to more
or less equality in the community?
If the discussion creates a lot of disagreement, it is important to end in a way that brings everyone together. Singing a song together or doing a cooperation activity can help people leave with a better feeling.