The System Dynamics of Forest Cover in the Developing World: Researcher Versus Community Perspectives
Efforts to increase forest cover in the developing world will only succeed if the root causes of deforestation are addressed. Researchers designing reforestation initiatives tend to emphasize macro-level drivers of deforestation, about which they have extensive data and knowledge. On the other hand, local people have contextually based knowledge of forest cover dynamics in their region—about which external researchers may be largely ignorant. This type of perception gap between researchers and community members has led to many failed or insufficiently implemented projects. An emerging tool—group model-building with system dynamics—shows promise in its ability to integrate different perspectives on a complex problem such as forest cover loss. In this study, I use system dynamics modeling methodology to compare causal loop diagrams of forest cover dynamics on Negros Island, Philippines generated by researchers working for the World Wildlife Fund with causal loop diagrams generated by community members in upland Negros. The diagrams were significantly different, with very few variables in common, but both illuminate critical aspects of the deforestation problem on the island. I conclude that reforestation initiatives in the Philippines would benefit from incorporating all relevant information into a single, coherent model.
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