Royal danish ministry of foreign affairs

1 Introduction and background

1.1 Purpose and target groups

The purpose of this technical note is to provide guidance for Danida support for programmes and components focusing on community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) as well as inspiration for efforts to promote community-based adaptation to climate change. This paper is one among several to be used during appraisals and reviews. The target group is Embassy staff and their partners in national and local governments, as well as other professionals involved in CBNRM in Danida programme countries. The paper focuses on national-level and bilateral support, including support through non-governmental organisations, and draws on CBNRM literature as well as experiences from Danida-supported components and past projects.

CBNRM is broad in scope and overlaps with a number of sectors. The reader is recommended to supplement this technical note with other Danida publications, including GPP 2006: Environmental Sector Programming; NRM monitoring paper; as well as the forthcoming Governance Strategy, and Technical Note on Natural Resource Management and Indigenous Peoples’ Rights.

1.2 CBNRM within the international and Danish development agenda

Involvement of 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 for adapting to climate change.

Danish and international development policy sets store on donor harmonisation, in this case through cooperation with other donors who agree that local communities, including indigenous peoples, have fundamental rights to participate meaningfully in managing the natural resources they depend on. The Strategy for Denmark’s Environmental Assistance to Developing Countries explicitly identifies the need for strengthening CBNRM as a means to achieve sustainable development in terms of poverty reduction, improved equity, and resource conservation.

Danida finances numerous bilateral activities within the field of CBNRM through environmental assistance as well as support for natural resource management and agriculture in Africa, Asia and Latin America, In addition, Danida provides multilateral support for a large number of NGO projects and for UN agencies which promote and implement CBNRM activities. Moreover, Danida has funded international research institutions such as IUCN, IIED, WRI and universities, which contribute by developing the theoretical foundation for CBNRM and analysing it in practice. This has made an impact on concrete modes of action, moving CBNRM from the periphery into mainstream environmental and development assistance.

Danida acknowledges the value of multiple approaches to CBNRM. The choice of approach is naturally influenced by a number of factors, including country-specific considerations, sub-sector issues, interventions by other partners, etc. The common denominators for Danida-supported activities is that local communities’ development needs are considered part of nature conservation, and that conservation and management of natural resources should adhere to principles of good governance, including community empowerment, social justice, gender equity and democratisation.

1.3 What is CBNRM?

The concept of CBNRM is related to a variety of terms, including participatory, community, community-based, collaborative, joint and popular natural resource management. These concepts are often used interchangeably, but may also be used with the intention to emphasise specific characteristics of related approaches. Thus, the concept of CBNRM tends to be associated with approaches where the focal unit for joint natural resource management is the local community. Sometimes, it has also been applied to designate approaches where local communities play a central but not exclusive role in natural resource management (Rotha et al. 2005).

In practice, CBNRM is mostly about ways in which the state can share rights and responsibilities regarding natural resources with local communities. At one end of the scale is community participation in protecting, for instance, a national park, without actually involving them in park management. At the other end of the scale is a complete handover of ownership of land and natural resources from the state to communities. Between these two extremes are joint management models, where representatives of the state, acting within the terms of negotiated contracts, manage a state-owned natural resource (for example a lake or forest reserve) together with one or several communities.

Borrini-Feyerabend et al. (2004, 69) prefer using the term co-management, which they define as follows:

Co-Management (CM) of natural resources is used to describe a partnership by which two or more relevant social actors collectively negotiate, agree upon, guarantee and implement a fair share of management functions, benefits and responsibilities for a particular territory, area or set of natural resources

The advantage of this definition is that it covers different ways in which the planning and implementing authority over natural resources can be shared among various types of social actors, thus refraining from any a priori indication of which model is the most appropriate. Accordingly, this paper uses the term CBNRM to designate all kinds of approaches to managing natural resources that fit the above definition of co-management.

Some advocates of CBNRM have assumed communities to be small spatial units, with homogenous social structure and shared norms. In fact, this is rarely found in the real world. Communities are rather characterised by dynamic relations of: (i) multiple and somewhat conflicting interests, (ii) different actors attempting to influence decision-making, and (iii) internal as well as external institutions shaping decision-making processes (Agrawal and Gibson 1999). Depending on the actual relations within a particular group of people, their knowledge and the conditions according to which they can make decisions, local communities may sometimes, but not always, be the most ’appropriate’ unit for natural resource management.

1.4 CBNRM for poverty reduction, resource conservation, and good governance

CBNRM can be considered a management strategy aiming to reduce poverty, conserve natural resources and promote good governance and decentralisation, in a single process. This is illustrated in fig. 1.

Figure 1. CBNRM and its linkages to overall development objectives

Figure 1. CBNRM and its linkages to overall development objectives

The close link between the three objectives of poverty reduction, resource conservation, and good governance is increasingly acknowledged by various international and national actors, including development practitioners as well as conservationists, and is reflected in many countries’ development strategies.

The objective of poverty reduction is closely linked with natural resource conservation, because poor people in developing countries depend on natural resources for their livelihoods. It is therefore important to ensure sustainable management of these resources. Effective and equitable natural resource management and conservation, on the other hand, require genuine involvement by the social actors who depend on the resource. Involvement of poor people in natural resource management is often best achieved through decentralisation of authority over the resources, and this cannot be approached in isolation from the need to promote good governance.

In simple terms, governance means the process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are implemented (or not implemented). In recent years, requirements to the political and administrative system of being democratic, responsive, effective etc. have increasingly been conceptualised as important elements of good governance.

Decentralisation is often seen as an important means to foster and nurture the important elements of good governance in developing countries. Policy-makers and researchers recommend decentralised natural resource management for many reasons. Some of them are that: (i) local people are likely to identify and prioritise their environmental problems more accurately than centralised organisations, (ii) resource allocation is more efficient and transaction costs lower when decisions are taken locally, so that state expenditure on management can be reduced, while resource conservation is improved, (iii) local groups are more likely to respect decisions that they have participated in taking, (iv) monitoring of resource use is improved, and (v) marginalised groups gain greater influence on local policy.1

The three objectives of poverty reduction, natural resource management and good governance are not always mutually supportive, and CBNRM is not always a realistic option. Depending on how it is pursued, conservation of natural resources can even be contrary to poverty reduction. A community may, for instance, have to reduce or completely stop their extraction of a particular natural resource in order to gain authority over it and to maintain its productive potential. This will have at least short-term negative impacts on households whose livelihoods rely mostly on products from this resource, unless they are compensated for their (short-term) loss. Likewise, in situations where strong political or commercial interests are against decentralised natural resource management, CBNRM may not (yet) be politically feasible.   

In fact, there are still very few well-documented examples of CBNRM delivering on all three objectives. While the theoretical foundation for CBNRM is sound, successful fulfilment of its triple objective is likely to be a long-term process of changing and constantly adjusting balances of power at all levels of society. This requires political will as well as professional skill. Donor agencies like Danida can support this process at various levels.

1.5 Three different levels for CBNRM support

Progress towards the three CBNRM objectives requires significant and durable changes in the allocation of power in society. A variety of constraints at different levels in society must, therefore, be overcome to make CBNRM work in practice.

There are at least three levels of possible intervention: the national, the intermediate, and the local level. CBNRM initiatives are likely to be effective only if supported – or at least not impeded – by national decision-makers as well as national legislation and policies. This is a general experience, which is shared by many Danida-supported CBNRM programmes and projects. An example of a Danida-supported CBNRM project calling for a supportive national policy framework is given in Box 1.

Box 1. Example of a Danida-supported CBNRM project calling for a supportive policy framework

“The need for promoting a supportive policy framework for sustainable pastoralist livelihoods and reducing pastoralist poverty was reiterated during consultations throughout the study [of best practices and lessons learned from Phase 1 of Ereto in Tanzania] … Yet currently, most policies are unfavourable to pastoralist livelihoods and are often based on myths and [false] preconceptions … pastoralists are finding it increasingly difficult to respond to stresses such as drought or disease given the present policy context. Policies need to be developed, which provide an appropriate framework for pastoralist livelihoods … “

Source: Kipuri N. and C. Sørensen (2005)

Moreover, CBNRM agreements are unlikely to be sustainable, unless they are linked with (decentralised) government structures, and they often rely on local institutions’ room for manoeuvre in the context of democracy. Obviously, communities must also be capable of and interested in managing nearby natural resources.

As illustrated in fig. 2, none of these three levels can be approached in isolation. National laws concerning CBNRM may, for instance, contain provisions on how CBNRM must be linked to decentralised government structures. Likewise, local CBNRM initiatives are always nested within higher levels of decentralised government as well as national policies and legislation.  

Figure 2 Three levels at which to support CBNRM initiatives

Figure 2 Three levels at which to support CBNRM initiatives

This technical note addresses how support for CBNRM processes could be designed to optimally pursue the triple objective of poverty reduction, natural resource conservation, and good governance. The focus is on three different levels of project and programme support: 1) the national level, 2) the local level, and the link between them, and 3) the intermediate level. At the national level, the main issue is how to support policy processes and legal frameworks for CBNRM. At the intermediate level, the key concern is how to institutionalise CBNRM either through local governments under a devolution process or through deconcentration of line agencies, which delegate authority to local communities. At the local level, the principal question is how to organise the collaboration between social actors and their relationship to the natural resource (Fig. 2).

1 E.g. Chambers 1994, Grindle 1982, Hobley 1996, Larson 2003, Ribot 2004, Ribot 2002, Ribot, J. C. 2005, Rondinelli 1983, Sundar 2001

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