Author(s): Jon Anderson , Shreya Mehta

Publication Date: 2013


The purpose of this report is to assess the state of community-based natural resource management. It focuses on the CBNRM principles that apply across a broad range of sub-sectors and landscapes, which could be used to guide program design and implementation, particularly in climate change and food security initiatives. CBNRM principles are in essence the principles found in the Nature, Wealth, and Power (NWP) document (USAID, 2002).

Rural development issues are critical not only for the rural areas themselves but also for addressing pressing global concerns of food security (FS), climate change, biodiversity conservation, poverty reduction, provision of environmental goods and services, and good governance. Community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) has been a rural development strategy for over 30 years. This paper has a two-fold objective: to assess the CBNRM experience in order to improve the performance of CBNRM itself, and to evaluate the lessons learned from CBNRM for critical issues – especially food security and climate change.

CBNRM involves defined groups of local people collaborating on utilization and regulating use of natural resources. CBNRM is an approach to empowering rural communities with the knowledge, skills, and authority to sustainably manage natural resources (e.g., wildlife, rangelands, forests, fish, water, etc.). Successful CBNRM initiatives require sustainable natural resource management; benefit streams (financial, social, and economic) that exceed costs; and good governance.

Although it is difficult to identify predictable sequences and blueprints for success, many principles of “good” CBNRM have been identified. Each program has its own historical and cultural context and that influence success. Adaptive management and a systems approach, to accommodate the interplay between the realities of the field and the application of principles, are needed. The principles, when applied in a rigorous, integrated, and systematic fashion, greatly improve the chances of successful CBNRM. The paper enumerates a range of these principles and cases where they have been applied with good results. A typology, from transformational to extractive, is presented as an informal tool to assist in the analysis of cases.

There are many constraints – technical, economic, cultural, and governance-related – that impede success. A number are presented here with suggestions for overcoming them. Not all constraints are equal, however. A major common constraint is the lack of an appropriate rights framework, often combined with institutional arrangements that are complex, time consuming and costly for rural people. Communities are often put at a disadvantage because they are assigned management “rights” over low value resources that have no other claimants. The ability of CBNRM programs to have significant impacts on the economic growth of rural communities depends to a large extent on the value of the resource base, the distribution of rights over those resources, and the functioning of markets. These are not always aligned in the favor of local communities. CBNRM programs need to systematically analyze these elements along with transaction costs and opportunity costs, in order to understand the incentives and viability of CBNRM programs. Unfortunately, because they involve vested interests and politics, governance and rights constraints may be easier to identify than to change.

The assessment revealed interesting examples of “collateral success,” the sometimes hidden improvements in livelihoods and the environment that occur in parallel or tangentially to the main objective of the CBNRM initiative. Collateral success, sometimes as important to local people as success at achieving the initial objective, stems from communities and groups applying the tools, institutions, and methods of CBNRM (such as mechanisms for coordination, planning, rulemaking and sanctions, economies of scale, partnerships, capacity building, advocacy and marketing, etc.) to other resource activities – particularly ones where communities have secure rights, such as livestock and agriculture. The West Gate Conservancy in Kenya, for example, has used the tools and capacity built for wildlife and ecotourism to better manage livestock through group herding, rotational grazing, range improvement, and better marketing. Local communities can be ingenious in their use of the CBNRM tools made
available to them. Innovative and adaptive, monitoring and evaluation systems are needed to capture this creativity. Collateral success shows the importance of the CBNRM principles and best practices for the pressing challenges of food security and climate change.

The critical threats of food shortages, insecurity, and climate change underline the urgency of improving agriculture and natural resources management. The principles, and the mechanisms, institutions, and tools of CBNRM can improve the performance of other rural sub-sectors and will be key to climate-smart agriculture, community-based adaptation, and rural resilience.

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