Community-based natural resource management

Treue T;. Community-based natural resource management.; 2007.


This technical note gives a brief introduction to community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) and how this concept may be used as a development strategy. CBNRM has the triple objective of poverty reduction, natural resource conservation and good governance. The opportunity and challenge is to pursue these objectives simultaneously, as they are not, by default, mutually supportive. Lessons learnt from CBNRM will be useful when designing community-based climate adaptation strategies. Thus, this note is a contribution to an ongoing debate as well as a product of the long-standing experiences of Danida’s environmental portfolio. The note has been produced in cooperation with the Department for Forest, Landscape and Planning, Faculty of Life Sciences at the University of Copenhagen. Many practitioners have contributed through a fruitful peer review process. Dr. Thorsten Treue together with Iben Nathan have been the main contributors to the final note. Involving local communities and securing the rights of poor and marginalised groups in sustainable management of natural resources is a central theme in international development assistance. The poverty-governance-environment link has been further highlighted in recent years through interventions aimed at building capacity for resilience (disaster preparedness) as well as adapting to climate change. A successful implementation of CBNRM often requires changes at three different levels of society: 1) the national level, 2) the local level and the link between these, and 3) the intermediate level. At the national level, policies and the legislative framework normally needs adjustment and revision to establish an enabling environment that makes CBNRM attractive to local communities. At the intermediate level, it is important to promote the model of decentralised natural resource management that is most likely to work under the given political circumstances. In particular, this involves a choice between: (i) devolution of natural resource management authority to elected local governments, and (ii) deconcentration of line agencies, authorising district-level officers to delegate management authority to local communities. At the local level, it is crucial that CBNRM establishes significant economic incentives for managing and conserving the resource, which is closely related to clearly defined and officially supported tenure systems, as well as to revenue-sharing mechanisms. Furthermore, CBNRM should result in a coordination of resource use by numerous individuals, thus establishing an ‘optimal’ rate of production and consumption at the local level as well as for society at large. In practical terms, it is the elaboration, implementation and experience-based revision of resource management plans at local levels that determine the actual performance of CBNRM on the ground. The poverty reduction rationale of CBNRM, as an alternative to open access resource use, is that the total resource value can be maintained or enhanced, and that the costs and benefits of management can be distributed equitably, so that all community members, within a reasonable time horizon, experience a net gain, or at least a zero loss. Resource conservation requires harvest not to exceed increment over the long term. This calls for reasonably accurate knowledge about the extent and growth of the resource, as well as reliable recording of harvest volumes. Even so, CBNRM could still fail at the local level if inefficient rule enforcement allows free-riders to over-harvest the resource, and/or if inequitable distribution of costs and benefits leads to a breakdown of management rules and subsequent over-harvesting or permanent marginalisation of certain groups. Therefore, the establishment and maintenance of good governance or “appropriate decision-making iii arrangements” is the only feasible way to prevent the failure (or ensure the success) of CBNRM. Decision-making arrangements specify who decides what in relation to whom. Good governance at local level can be promoted through CBNRM legislation that establishes democratic conditions of collective choice, so that all members of a community (including women and other potentially vulnerable groups) get the opportunity to participate in defining: (i) the purpose of resource management, and (ii) the resulting management plan, including how it is enforced, and how products and benefits from the common resource are distributed. Furthermore, communities must hold authority to control free-riding by punishing defaulters, and community leaders must be downwards accountable to the people they represent. It would be naïve to assume that, once initiated, CBNRM is a guaranteed self-sustaining success, which needs no monitoring or adjustment. Regular monitoring of CBNRM processes should be conducted to adjust associated policies, legislative framework and implementation strategies, so that failures may be corrected and positive effects enhanced. Monitoring the progress of planned CBNRM activities should be simple and embedded within existing official monitoring systems to ensure sustainability. However, assessment of the degree to which CBNRM is achieving its triple objective should probably be carried out by independent research centres, NGOs and university departments that are not directly engaged in the implementation as such. CBNRM is not a stand-alone solution to poverty, resource degradation and bad governance. Rather it is a development process and constant power struggle. Thus, even after years of implementation, donors are still likely to have a mission in promoting CBNRM. Lessons learnt will feed into the new agenda of community-based adaptation to climate change. Donor support may be channelled as programme-based or as earmarked support for monitoring and research that deliver credible and easily accessible information. Checks and balances can be supported through civil society as well as the media. An informed public debate based on the results of sound monitoring is, in all likelihood, the key to the long-term success of CBNRM.


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