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Centre for Applied Social Sciences (CASS) Programme for Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS)

CBNRM, poverty reduction and sustainable livelihoods:
Developing criteria for evaluating the contribution of CBNRM to poverty reduction and alleviation in southern Africa

Brian TB Jones

Centre for Applied Social Sciences (CASS) & Programme for Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS)

March 2004

SARPN acknowledges permission from PLAAS and CASS for the posting of this document.
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This research paper has been prepared as part of the Centre for Social Studies (CASS), University of Zimbabwe/ Programme for Land and Agrarian Studies, University of the Western Cape (PLAAS) programme ‘Breaking New Ground: People-Centred Approaches to Natural Resources Management in Southern Africa’. It explores the relationships between community-based natural resource management (CBNRM), poverty reduction/alleviation and rural livelihoods.

CBNRM is often promoted by governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and donors as a means of addressing poverty issues in rural communities, particularly in terms of generating income from various natural resource-based activities. For example, in Namibia, the goal of the US Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Living in a Finite Environment (LIFE) Project during Phases I and II was to improve the quality of life for rural Namibians through sustainable natural resource management (LIFE 2002). CBNRM is increasingly being adopted as a means of poverty reduction in the national development strategies of southern African countries (Jones 2004a).

Considerable attention has been focused on activities such as trophy hunting and eco-tourism within the wildlife sector (see for example, the Admade – Administrative Management Design for Game Management Areas – project in Zambia, the Natural Resources Management Project in Botswana, the Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (Campfire) project in Zimbabwe, and the LIFE Project in Namibia). Several studies show that often the income generated from these activities is very small when divided up amongst households and question whether this income has much impact on poverty reduction or improved natural resource management (for example, Bond 2001; DFID 2002; Long 2004a; Turner 2003). Some donors (for example, the UK Department for International Development – DFID) that have supported CBNRM in the past are beginning to question the contribution that CBNRM can make to addressing issues of poverty in rural areas and are withdrawing their support (DFID 2002).

However, there has been little attention focused on some key issues concerning the links between CBNRM and poverty reduction/ alleviation and sustainable rural livelihoods. Firstly, little work has been done on exploring the ways in which CBNRM can realistically contribute to addressing poverty and supporting rural livelihoods. Expectations have been set high by many stakeholders, but have not necessarily been realistic or appropriate. Most work has focused almost entirely on income generation and has not tried to analyse CBNRM impacts against a broader understanding of poverty that also considers other factors. Turner (2004) suggests that the dominant sense in which the concept ‘development’ is used in CBNRM discourse is in terms of improved material and economic well-being only. Yet there are other dimensions to poverty that need exploring in the context of CBNRM.

There is a clear need to analyse CBNRM against a modern understanding of the symptoms and root causes of poverty and the various factors that have been identified as a means to reduce and/or alleviate poverty. Only with such an analysis can we start to develop some criteria against which to evaluate CBNRM in terms of its ability to reduce or alleviate poverty.

Secondly, CBNRM needs to be placed in the specific context of rural livelihoods in southern Africa and evaluated within this context. Thus much of southern Africa, and particularly the communal areas of the region, falls within areas classified as semi-arid. Typically, these areas are characterised by low and erratic rainfall, frequent droughts and poor soils. Many such areas are unsuitable for rain-fed crop growing and suitable only for extensive livestock farming. In countries such as Namibia and Botswana, people are trying to survive on the desert margins. In order to better understand the contribution that CBNRM can make to poverty reduction/alleviation it needs to be evaluated against an understanding of how people sustain their livelihoods in semi-arid areas or ‘drylands’1 and an understanding of how their livelihoods are located within broader economic contexts. It then becomes possible to suggest how CBNRM does or does not support sustainable livelihoods in these areas and to identify ways in which it might be able to.

Lastly, in order to understand the relationship between CBNRM and poverty reduction/ alleviation it is useful to identify the goals and objectives that it sets for itself and the goals set for it by various stakeholders such as governments and donors. This can help us understand the potential links that can realistically be made between CBNRM and poverty reduction/alleviation and sustainable livelihoods. From this understanding a set of criteria can be developed that can guide an evaluation of CBNRM’s impact on poverty reduction/alleviation.

The objectives of this paper are as follows:

  • to explore the current understanding of the nature and root causes of poverty as well as the actions and activities needed to address poverty

  • to explore the nature of the constraints and challenges to developing sustainable livelihoods in southern Africa

  • to explore the aims and objectives of CBNRM and the nature of its impacts in southern Africa

  • to analyse the impacts of CBNRM in the region from a poverty reduction and/ or alleviation perspective

  • to develop a set of realistic expectations of how CBNRM can contribute to poverty reduction and alleviation

  • to suggest some criteria that can be used to evaluate the contribution of CBNRM to poverty reduction and alleviation in southern Africa.

  1. ‘Drylands’ is the term used to describe areas receiving about 100–1 000mm rainfall annually which falls on a highly seasonal basis so that there is a prolonged dry season during which plant production is severely curtailed. Evaporation rates are usually high in such areas. (Based on Anderson et al. 2004). A further characteristic of drylands is the temporal and spatial variation in rainfall which increases in the more arid regions. Thus even the areas of southern Africa with the highest rainfall can be subject to considerable annual variation in rainfall and to periodic droughts, leading to uncertainty and risk for livelihood strategies.

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