From Collaboration To Conservation In Wildlife Areas


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Ethnographic research in wildlife areas of Botswana describes how local communities are collaborating with government, safari companies, and conservationists to manage wildlife through the Community-Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) programme. CBNRM channels social and economic benefits to communities in exchange for their participation in wildlife conservation. Benefits include secured access to land, institutional support, employment, and share of profits from wildlife tourism.

By some accounts, CBNRM has effectively achieved co-management and wildlife conservation; by others, the programme has achieved only rhetorical success. I will therefore highlight collaboration between social actors at various levels—community, government, tourism industry, international non-governmental organizations (NGOs)—these are indicators of success. Experiences from wildlife areas in Botswana may provide insights for co-management and conservation in other places where the fate of biodiversity and local livelihoods are entwined.

National parks and game reserves in northern Botswana or state-led ‘‘park models’’ that exclude local and indigenous peoples are largely inadequate for ensuring wildlife conservation. The CBNRM programme therefore provides one example of how state and local actors can collaborate to manage wildlife in areas adjacent to national parks and game reserves. CBNRM recognizes the relevance of local knowledge, support, and institutions for conservation by transferring at least some management responsibility and benefits to communities.

As a result, CBNRM lays the foundation for co-managing wildlife between government resource managers and local peoples. This is exemplified by current collaborations to establish and monitor hunting quotas and photographic tourism in wildlife areas. Though the foundations for co-management are in place in wildlife areas of Botswana, several challenges remain. These include a lack of management capacity, relatively little attention to disparities within communities, and a narrow focus on conservation. Here I am offering three recommendations for advancing from collaboration to co-management.

1.             First, I recommend that the CBRNM programme should place more emphasis on capacity building for communities so that they can run their own tourism enterprises. This will require a greater infusion of capital as well as skill building. Currently, it is too easy for safari tourism companies to pay license fees to communities and make relatively few efforts to employ people in either entry-level or decision-making positions. Without building these managerial skills, Blaikie (2006:1952) has argued, local communities become ‘‘little more then rentiers with no opportunity for widening livelihood options and associated skills’’.

2.             A second recommendation is to build CBNRM projects on more realistic and representative understandings of local communities and the peoples who live in them. Rather than gauging the success of CBNRM based solely on what scientists, international funders, or government wildlife workers perceive as viable or sustainable, we need to incorporate the views of local residents. These perspectives will not be unified or foolproof; indeed, they will likely be as diverse as the individuals who comprise the community. Nevertheless, more than lip service must be given to the process of sharing knowledge and co-managing resources. This means that we should ensure that natural resource management goals and objectives are truly community designed, rather than simply labelled as such.

3.             Third, I recommend expanding the range of benefits to focus not solely on conservation, but also on community development more broadly. This acknowledges real connections between livelihoods and conservation. Beyond offering financial incentives that may be short-lived, a focus on enhancing all aspects of quality of life will lead to greater chances of sustained collaboration over time.


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