Community land and resources in most of post-colonial Africa are ‘owned and managed’ by State machinery, a setup that has generally been ineffective at conserving natural resources or ensuring that local communities benefit from resource exploitation.
In southern Africa, as on the rest of the continent, the duality of State authority over land and customary tenure bestowed to the local community members through chiefs and other traditional authorities creates confusion and ambiguity that is often exploited by investors when negotiating deals for investments.
The stark reality of the challenges inherent in this duality led to a paradigm shift in the late 1980s when the Government of Zimbabwe, through the Department of National Parks, took the bold step of devolving management rights over wildlife resources to local communities by granting ‘Appropriate Authority’ to rural district councils in the now famed Communal Areas Management Program for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE) program.
Communal Areas Management Program for Indigenous Resource
CAMPFIRE became one of several signature Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) initiatives in southern Africa. Others include the Administrative Management Design (ADMADE) in Zambia, the Tchuma Tchatu (Our Wealth) and Chipande Chetu programs in Mozambique, and the Living in a Finite Environment (LIFE) program in Namibia. Spanning the last 30 years, these programs have evolved differently, and yield important lessons for community conservation and development.
The CAMPFIRE program is meant to be a pathway for sustainable management of natural resources, both through incentivizing local communities via a benefit sharing mechanism and by facilitating community involvement that bolsters resource management. This is meant to cover for chronically challenged and failing top-down management by the State.
Under the program, resident communities can legitimately manage and exploit their natural resources through the local institutions. These institutions have authority to market access to wildlife in their districts to safari operators, who in turn pay dividends to district councils. The profits from these enterprises may be used for communal benefits or distributed to individual households at the discretion of the community. Guidelines stipulate the benefit sharing mechanism between the local community, rural district council, and the State.
Although Zimbabwe’s CAMPFIRE program has achieved some success, it also has its problems. One issue is that the co-management regime is only explicit for wildlife, and unclear for other resources like water, fisheries, forests, and non-timber forest products (NTFPs). Wildlife safari hunting, including sport fishing, has long been the program’s primary source of revenue, along with small contributions from non-consumptive photographic safaris and ecotourism. The latter, as well as NTFPs, were only recently assessed to ensure equitable investments and to broaden the revenue base. To date, there is a reluctance to invest beyond the seemingly lucrative hunting revenue. This narrow focus has diminished the breadth and diversity of benefits that can accrue to local communities and inspire meaningful behavior change.
Facing other challenges
The program has also faced other challenges. CAMPFIRE’s devolution of power to the local government at district level was not perfect, as the district councils still kept decision-making power in government. Donor support waned before institutions to fully sustain the program could be well established. The program also suffers from an inconsistent approach to benefit sharing, as the district councils were themselves so dogged with financial needs that they ended up not disbursing timely or in full the portions for the communities.
The LIFE program in Namibia, established in 1993, provides a contrasting CBNRM model. Like CAMPFIRE, it was started on the argument that when wildlife becomes an asset to local communities, it becomes something worth conserving and sustaining into the future. But, unlike the Zimbabwean case, the LIFE program devolved management rights over natural resources to grassroots institutions—newly established community conservancies. The program also diversified the portfolio of natural resource businesses beyond those focused on hunting. In addition, a critical component of the program’s success is that it enjoyed sustained donor support for at least 10 years, during which time local community governance structures through the conservancies were tried and tested.
As a result, LIFE has benefited both people and wildlife populations. Wildlife populations have seen a marked increase; for example, in some northwest conservancies the elephant population more than doubled between 1982 and 2000, while populations of some species, like zebras, increased 10-fold. And LIFE’s 77 conservancies have benefitted over 230,000 people. In 2011, estimates indicate they generated over N$ 40 million (US $ 3.9 million) in net income.
Key lessons learned
Key lessons have emerged from the range of CBNRM experiences. Experience has shown that piecemeal devolution of power, and short-term one-project type of investments, do not result in sustainable improvements to livelihoods and biodiversity. In addition, program leaders need training in entrepreneurship skills for initiatives to gain impact at scale. At the same time, well-executed CBNRM programs have had a positive effect on wildlife populations, overall environmental conservation and local livelihoods.
Prior experience with benefit-sharing programs that endeavor to apportion equitable dividends have affirmed that the CBNRM approach can create life changing impacts that will in turn provide lasting incentives for leveraging conservation.
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