Community Based Natural Resources Management (CBNRM) is an approach to conservation and development that recognizes the rights of local people to manage and benefit from the management and use of natural resources. At government level, this involves devolving control and management responsibility to local people through appropriate natural resources management policy and legislation. It entails transferring back to communities access and use rights, empowering them with legislation and devolved management responsibility, building their capacity and creating partnerships with the public and private sector actors to develop programmes for the sustainable use of a variety of natural resources.


The rationale for Community Based Natural Resources Management is based on the premise that local communities that derive direct economic benefit from managing natural resources will protect those resources. Therefore, strengthened community based organisations (CBOs) supported by appropriate and effective legal and policy framework will contribute to sustainable management of natural resources

History of CBNRM?

Community Based approaches were partly driven by emerging evidence in the 1980s of the failures of state controlled conservation and the creation of economic incentives for the sustainable use of wildlife resources on private game farms and in communal areas. The last two or so decades have witnessed a paradigm shift in Southern Africa in conservation and natural resource management (NRM) away from costly state-centered control towards approaches which local people play a much more active role. These reforms purportedly aim to increase resource user participation in NRM decisions and benefits by restructuring the power relations between central state and communities through the transfer of management authority to local-level organisations.

Community based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) has a long history of success in many countries in southern Africa. Starting in the late 1980s, the CAMPFIRE program in Zimbabwe generated significant benefits for local communities via wildlife management. The USAID- funded LIFE project in Namibia facilitated the creation of numerous community conservancies that have also reaped the rewards of wildlife management, and paved the way for joint ventures with private sector tourism operators.

Similar CBNRM programs have also had positive impacts on local livelihoods in Zambia, Malawi, and Botswana and practitioners are optimistic about new programs in Mozambique and Tanzania. Nonetheless, many feel that the full potential of CBNRM has yet to be realized or recognized.  

Over the last two decades, CBNRM has been practiced in Southern Africa with considerable success. CBNRM has been explored as a combined development and conservation approach in the region for over 20 years. It has been portrayed as a solution to conservation challenges such as poverty alleviation, reduction of pressure on the use of natural resources whilst protecting biodiversity and important ecosystems. In development terms, it is relatively new concept- and is still proving itself.


CBNRM guiding principles

1. Community bases i.e. relate to a community of individuals, normally in a situation where there is a shared or communal natural resource to which all members have shared access. In the southern African context this normally refers to communities residing on land that is variously termed traditional tenure, customary tenure, communal tenure or tribal tenure. In some instances the community may have access to state land such as state forestry or conservation land. Child  (2004) added that the producer communities should be small enough that all the households can participate face to face.
2. Natural resource based with an emphasis on sustainable management and use of the renewable resources. In many southern African cases CBNRM is wildlife based and linked to hunting and ecotourism, but CBNRM can be linked to a far wider range of natural resources.
3. Benefit sharing. Resource management is directly linked to community benefits and enhancing livelihoods. The link between natural resource production and the benefits derived should be transparent and immediate. This may be either in direct production or financial returns to individuals, or through shared resources such as schools, clinics etc.

 4.   Devolution of ownership of the land or the resources on the land may be involved. In many of the southern African states the communal land is legally state land, though in a few instances land reform is resulting in communities gaining title to the land as a group or as individuals. Devolution of ownership is not normally considered a pre-requisite for CBNRM to work, providing usage rights and management are devolved. However, full devolution of ownership can pave the way for CBNRM implementation. 
5.   Devolution of management and usage rights. Management is passed down from the state to the resource user community. The level to which this devolution takes place may vary and may involve local authorities, traditional authorities or new resource management institutions. Most practitioners believe that management should be devolved to
the lowest practical level, though in practice the state often resists total devolution. Community corporate bodies should be accountable to their constituency.
6.   Development of local resource management institutions. For a shared resource to be managed sustainable, some form of local institution needs to co-ordinate the management and use of the resource. Development of resource management institutions is a key component of CBNRM projects.  
7.   Natural resource management plans and structures are put in place at the community level. For CBNRM to be affective the community needs to develop a plan around how resources will be managed. This may for instance include off-take quotes, limits on what products can be harvested and how resources will be distributed in the community.
8.   Incorporation of traditional knowledge systems. There is growing belief that local knowledge is needed to manage local problems. This should be incorporated with, not replace scientific knowledge. 
9.   Resource monitoring and evaluation structures are put in place at the community level. Only through monitoring is it possible to assess impacts of the management plans. This information should be fed back into an adaptive management system.
Source: Turner, S. 2004 in G. Von Maltitz 2007




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