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Rural livelihoods, poverty reduction, and food security in Southern Africa: Is CBNRM the answer?

Jaap Arntzen, Tshepo Setlhogile and Jon Barnes

FRAME, IUCN, Centre for Applied Research, International Resources Group

March 2007

SARPN acknowledges FRAME as the source of this document:
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Community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) was launched in the 1980s as an approach to conserve natural resources, particularly wildlife outside protected areas (PAs) by increasing the resource benefits for the local population. This was done by granting communities conditional resource use rights. Martin (1986) and NASCO (2004) have described the nature of the early initiatives in Zimbabwe and Namibia respectively. Wildlife management had proven to be very difficult outside PAs and private land. The rationale was that people living with wildlife and other resources needed to appreciate the resource value by receiving net benefits. Until then, natural resources, especially wildlife, posed a significant cost to the local population in the form of competition for resources, predation, crop damage, injuries, and even fatalities. Furthermore, CBNRM was an implicit recognition of the failure of governments and parastatals to establish effective resource management in communal areas. Many communal resources suffered from overutilization, and open access and illegal use was rife.

Initially CBNRM was seen primarily as a conservation approach but later on, the rural development side of CBNRM became more prominent. Botswana launched in 1997 its community-based rural development strategy (GOB 1997) and the World Bank (2000) established the concept of community-driven development or CDD (Jones 2004).

The typical CBNRM tools have been to establish village-based institutions with legal recognition, a constitution, and conditional resource use rights.1 Such rights had an economic value for subsistence and commercial use. Communities and their institutions were granted exclusive and transferable resource use rights, which they could exploit themselves, lease out, or exploit through joint venture partnerships. Such community resource rights initially mostly referred to wildlife and tourism as well as forestry. Recently, a broader range of natural resources are covered such as veld products, water, and fisheries.

CBNRM programs have mushroomed throughout southern Africa, in part because of lack of alternative development and conservation models and in part stimulated by donors and subsequently governments. It must be stressed that perspectives on CBNRM may differ among stakeholders. Most communities first consider CBNRM as a development approach that should provide tangible benefits and empower communities, whereas many government institutions view it primarily as a conservation model. Such different expectations have led to recent criticism (Turner 2004) on either side of the conservation-development debate that CBNRM has failed as a resource conservation model or that CBNRM has been a ploy by conservationists to protect wildlife resources under the pretext of boosting development.

This paper focuses on three economic aspects of CBNRM approaches in southern Africa:

  • Socioeconomic benefits of CBNRM and contributions to rural livelihoods (section 2)
  • Impact on poverty and food security (section 3)
  • Comparison of CBNRM with other land use and development options such as agriculture (section 4).
This paper is primarily based on a review of the CBNRM literature in southern Africa. Economic aspects have received limited attention in this literature. In the absence of monitoring data and statistics, many gaps emerged from the literature review that need to be filled in order to assess the economic impacts of CBNRM systematically and comprehensively.

  1. Resource ownership usually remains with government.

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