As part of my Overseas Institutional Visit in Cape Town, I gave a public seminar at PLAAS about my research. The seminar, titled “Progressing Community-Based Natural Resource Management in Southern Africa“, presented my initial research findings and argued that it is a new era of research and understanding of community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) in southern Africa.
During the question and answer session someone raised the concern that CBNRM was an old and tired approach no longer usable, and that my thesis should not be considering it. Rather he argued that there are now numerous other types of projects that have community involvement in natural resource management but are just not known as CBNRM.
For most people in the room this did not ring true – CBNRM is a concept based on the ideas of community participation in the management of a natural resource(s) through democratic decentralisation that would lead to development and poverty alleviation whilst also resulting in the sustainable use and conservation of the natural resources in question. What his point did highlight, however, was the ease with which CBNRM has been coopted in the southern African region. I even wrote in the description of my seminar that the face of CBNRM is changing from one focused on wildlife to one focused on forests and other natural resources, yet that has always been the aim. That wildlife was the most famous is not the same point.
We have since begun a collaborative project to ascertain as wide a picture of possible of the different types of community-based natural resource management projects (whether defined as such, or utilising the same principles as the general concept) implemented across the region. Not only will this be interesting to see just how far the concept has been subsumed within discussions of wildlife, but from here we will then be in a better position to establish more realistic forward looking lessons about successful community involvement from the many different forms and types of community-based natural resource management initiatives in southern Africa, following with more understanding as the approach evolves, develops and is used in even more different ways. We argue…
That local rural communities should play a central and integral role in the sustainable management of natural resources in their areas/or their natural resource base has long been established (Adams and Hulme, 2001; Larson and Ribot, 2004; Ribot, 2003). There are many different names for approaches to conservation and development that try to adhere to this principle. Examples include co-management, community-based natural resource management, community-based conservation, etc.
In southern Africa, the term community-based natural resource management has been somewhat coopted by the reverence of wildlife focused projects such as CAMPFIRE in Zimbabwe and ADMADE in Zambia. Debates about the successes, failures and the future of approaches to natural resource management that centrally involve communities in the region are thus dominated by examples and experiences of projects related to wildlife management.
In this respect it could be argued that the term CBNRM, as an acronym, has become an entity/approach in itself, referring to the widlife focused projects in southern Africa specifically. When the term is used more widely or outside of the region, this co-option or narrow definition causes/can cause confusion and differing perceptions of CBNRM success. By paying attention solely to those projects related to wildlife, the CBNRM debate and discourse has been significantly compromised, with a lack of examples and experiences from non-wildlife natural resource management projects that are deemed to be community-based.
The term community-based natural resource management, when taken in its more literal and initial sense, simply involves community empowerment and participation in decision-making and management activities for natural resource management, and the decentralisation of ownership to the communities and local institutions integrally involved in the resource use (Armitage, 2005; Gandiwa et al., 2013; Turner, 2004).
It is thus our view that community-based natural resource management is a broad concept used to describe the approach undertaken when designing a natural resource management project rather than a type of project in itself. But, there is overall limited understandings of the multitude of different projects utilising this approach in the southern African region.
We have recently released a Call for Case Studies requesting information on projects and initiatives that align with this broader concept even if not using the term community-based natural resource management or CBNRM. Overall, it is hoped to establish a more thorough and up-to-date understanding of the roles communities play in natural resource management in southern Africa and how this can be improved.
Let’s see where this goes!
Please share if you know anyone who works or studies in relevant areas. Thank you!
Adams, W. M. & Hulme, D. 2001. If community conservation is the answer in Africa, what is the question? Oryx, 35, 193-200.
Armitage, D. 2005. Adaptive Capacity and Community-Based Natural Resource Management. Environmental Management, 35, 703-715.
Gandiwa, E., Heitkonig, I. M. A., Lokhorst, A. M., Prins, H. H. T. & Leeuwis, C. 2013. CAMPFIRE and Human-Wildlife Conflicts in Local Communities Bordering Northern Gonarezhou National Park, Zimbabwe. Ecology and Society, 18.
Larson, A. & Ribot, J. 2004. Democratic decentralisation through a natural resource lens: an introduction. The European Journal of Development Research,, 1-25.
Ribot, J. C. 2003. Democratic decentralisation of natural resources: Institutional choice and discretionary power transfers in sub-Saharan Africa. Public Administration and Development, 23, 53-65.
Turner, S. 2004. A crisis in CBNRM? Affirming the commons in southern Africa. 10th IASCP Conference. Oaxaca.