In response to the CBNRM discussion started in SULiNews 5 by Robin Sharp's article CBNRM: Does it have a future?

The SULiNews issue 5 article by Robin Sharp highlighted some relevant points about CBNRM. Current practice needs to be strengthened in order to continue unlocking value for local people, including improving of enabling policies, devolution, incentives, and sharing experiences between the various sectors as well as countries, such as being promoted in the Southern African Regional CBNRM Programme (SACF). However, to answer the question “What can SULi contribute to widening and deepening understanding of the value of community-based conservation?” I feel we should be placing our emphasis beyond traditional CBNRM at the “village” level, as the article seems to indicate, and move towards integrating CBNRM principles into all our work.

There are a number of principles which are (or should be) applied in CBNRM (or community conservation etc) which need to be integrated into other initiatives, not only “CBNRM” type projects. By focusing only on “CBNRM” we are losing the opportunity to “scale up” CBNRM from what many people still consider it to be – village based wildlife management projects – to a means to empower citizens to manage and benefit from their natural resources, whatever those resources may be. For example, CBNRM principles should be integral to REDD+, Climate Change Adaptation, Green Economy,  Illegal Wildlife Trade campaigns, and any other natural resource based initiative– whether at the local level or at the global level. While what I am advocating is not new (eg. see 1, 2), I feel it warrants repeating (with acknowledgement to recent discussions with Simon Anstey, Greg Stuart-Hill and Richard Diggle in this regard). CBNRM has provided numerous lessons over the years with regards to working with people who live with and off natural resources, and many global initiatives that are receiving a great deal of attention now could benefit from these lessons and principles, as could the people these initiatives are targeting.

Furthermore, within our own work (whether as consultants, academics or in conservation organisations), rather than promoting CBNRM as separate to “species”, “freshwater”, “marine” issues, CBNRM principles should be cross-cutting through all of these themes, where for instance participation, equitable costs and benefits and incentives are integral to all conservation work and not only seen as the domain of “CBNRM projects”. 

On a slightly different note, CBNRM has proven to be a way to make conservation and natural resources directly relevant to people who live with those resources. How can we use it to make conservation relevant to the broader populations in countries? Are there lessons we can take to make for instance rhino poaching of interest to the majority of people in South Africa so that rather than only a small population being agitated by it, the whole population can be up in arms about it? How do we engender a feeling of ownership in rhinos where the death of one is felt by the majority rather than the minority?

Melissa de Kock is advisor for WWF-Norway on CBNRM and Climate Change Adaptation:


(1) Chishakwe, N., Murray, L. and Chambwera M. 2012. Building climate change adaptation on community experiences: Lessons from community-based natural resource management in southern Africa, International Institute for Environment and Development. London.

(2) Bond et al. 2009. Incentives to sustain forest ecosystem services: A review and lessons for REDD. Natural Resouce Issues No. 16. International Institute for Environment and Development, London, UK, with CIFOR, Bogor, Indonesia, and World Resources Institute, Washington D.C., USA