Transfrontier conservation areas: People living on the edge. Edited by Andersson, J. A., de Garine-Wichatitsky, M., Cumming, D. H. M., Dzingirai, V. and Giller, K. E. 2012. Routledge/Earthscan from Routledge.

This book provides a refreshingly candid collection of papers on transfrontier conservation areas (TFCAs) in Southern Africa, from a diverse range of established and new authors. It provides a snapshot of what progress (or often what lack of progress), has been made to date in terms of conservation and development.  Many of the papers chart the history of various TFCAs in southern Africa, including perhaps most prominently the Great Limpopo TFCA which spans regions of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

The book demonstrates that TFCAs in the region have not yet reached their goal, under which populations of elephants can traverse freely across international boundaries, to be perused by fee-paying tourists who take their photographs and who spend money in local communities on accommodation, food and craft.

Following a summarised history of the emergence of TFCAs in Southern Africa, Marshall Murphree suggests provocatively three main motivations for TFCAs: as areas to “mitigate international antagonisms”, to redress inequalities caused by colonial boundaries, and to redress socioeconomic marginalisation of people living on the edge. Critically, he considers that the idea of international peace being supported by ‘peace parks’ is “largely palliative rhetoric” and the term is simply useful in “winning the support of politicians, who can put their signature to the enterprise at little or no cost”. To second and third concepts he prescribes more weight, but highlights that within the realm of the third there has been an “abysmal” record of progress. 

In their introductory chapter, the editors also indicate that although TFCAs suggest “synchronised natural resource management”, there is still a patchwork of land uses: some of which support conservation and others that are industrial or are even ecologically damaging (e.g. deforestation for agriculture and wood-fuelled tobacco curing). They clarify that these are primarily “political administrative units”.

The first chapter considers the ‘invisible people’ living in TFCAs, recounting how local people are seldom included in political or academic discussions. This is followed by a paper on the development of boundaries be they hard (e.g. physical fences) or soft (e.g. lines on maps). It describes how over the course of time conservation areas have expanded for a variety of different reasons, including veterinary disease control and remedying declining wildlife populations. Then a chapter on population and livelihoods reviews commercial opportunities, challenges and realities for people living on the edge of TFCAs, such as the Great Limpopo and the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Parks. The paper describes how current population patterns on the edges of TFCAs are not due to conservation policies, but rather due forces such as access to land and water; rural-urban migration; displacement from war, insecurity and disease; segregationist land policies and re-settlement; and livelihood activities.

An essay on ethnic heterogeneity describes differences in socio-cultural drivers of natural resource management, and how they influence migration, livelihoods, conflicts and land reform. On the edge of TFCAs, the authors find “collages of cultures, diverging interests, livelihood trends and world views that differ along ethnic lines”. The next chapter considers the values of different stakeholders involved in transboundary areas, and how these contrasts lead to ambiguity and low levels of political influence on the borders. The authors describe how edges have been hiding places for people avoiding violence and slave traders, labour reserves for colonial governments, ‘dumping grounds’ for ‘excess peoples’ and spaces for illicit activities such as smuggling and cattle theft. They have also been areas of conflict between different land use options, including wildlife, agriculture and tourism. The movements of wildlife, people and livestock around TFCAs are reviewed, with respect to the variable availability of natural resources such as wildlife, grazing land, and building materials.

Issues of human wildlife conflict and disease transmission are explored in relation to animals moving in and out of conservation areas. In some areas there are more cases of human death from crocodile than any other wildlife species, while crop damage is most frequently caused by elephants. This chapter shows that people who live closest to protected areas suffer the most conflict with wildlife and that wildlife-borne diseases can reach much further away from the borders. A paper on natural resource-based livelihood opportunities considers disparities in opportunities for wildlife-based enterprises, and the factors that contribute to them such as population densities, social and ecological resources. Detailed tables indicating the major land tenure regimes, climatic indicators, population and development, important diseases, tourist attractions, and livelihood opportunities within 13 TFCAs provide rich detail to the chapter. Case studies of Mahenye in Zimbabwe, conservancies in Namibia, land claims in the Richtersveld and Makuleke regions of South Africa are also provided. Perhaps the most innovative are the illustrations of land where wildlife and livestock are combined, in areas of Zimbabwe and Namibia.

In their concluding chapter, the editors analyse the objectives for TFCAs and challenges that remain to be addressed in order for them to succeed. They state clearly that “unless those living on the edge benefits from conserving wild natural resources, TFCAs are unlikely to work as sustainable multiple use zones,” and their very existence is threatened. They suggest moving away from development on the edge of TFCAs, towards an emphasis on “development for conservation” that incorporates the meaningful participation of people who live on the borders of protected areas.

Surely this book must be considered essential reading for all academics, practitioners and policy makers who are working in transboundary areas in the region, and particularly within developing countries of the world. It is to be hoped that it will influence changes in the way that practitioners work on TFCAs, and refocus their efforts to devise policy and initiatives that drive more rapid and sustainable improvements to the livelihoods of people who live there, while also promoting biodiversity conservation in expansive conservation areas. If so, then we can be confident that a further edition of the book, in (say) a decade or so, will have more positive impacts of TFCAs to report.

Dr Anna Spenceley is Chair, IUCN WCPA Tourism and Protected Areas Specialist Group.

Photo: Book cover. Credit: Routledge / Earthscan.