Natural resources such as fish, water, wood and wildlife are of paramount importance to the livelihoods of millions of people but in many cases, local people have little say in how these are managed. IUCN is leading a major international project to help engage local communities in decision making to ensure equitable and sustainable use of the environment.
Recognising that those people who most directly depend on natural resources are often the poorest, IUCN aims to improve governance—the processes that determine how decisions are taken and how citizens participate in them—to secure livelihoods and promote sustainable natural resource management.
Our ‘Improving Governance of Natural Resource for Rural Poverty Reduction’ project started in 2008 and is being implemented in 13 countries (Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Lebanon, Syria, Tunisia, Benin, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Bolivia and Peru) through IUCN regional offices and partner organizations. Initiatives under the project include the development of cultural indicators of human well being, community based ecotourism, development of rights-based approaches that use human rights as a framework to guide conservation initiatives, participatory management of natural resources and raising awareness about governance issues at local and government levels.
A Global Learning Workshop for the project was held in Colombo, Sri Lanka in September 2010. This brought together a range of actors working to address governance of natural resources to explore key issues, exchange ideas and share lessons learnt from a wide variety of cultural, political and environmental contexts. IUCN’s Social Policy team and other international staff took part alongside partner organizations, and government representatives.
Project case studies such as fisheries management in southern Africa, indigenous peoples’ participation in protected area management in Bolivia and traditional systems of resource management in Lebanon provided a basis for discussions on the definition of governance, principles of good governance and the need for both ‘bottom-up’ and ‘top-down’ approaches. Particular reference was made to the links between livelihood security and sound natural resource management and the importance of integrating the rights and traditional values of local people in governance.
IUCN’s Sri Lanka office invited all participants to visit Puttalam Lagoon, an IUCN project site north of Colombo. This provided some insight into the social, political and environmental issues faced by fishing communities. Mangrove ecosystems have been degraded by commercial enterprises such as shrimp farming and salt panning while an increasing human population puts pressure on natural resources and threatens fisheries. Unsustainable practices are due to poor governance caused by lack of community involvement in decision-making, little awareness of laws and regulations, poor enforcement and weak relationships between local and national stakeholders. Participants were able to discuss these issues with local Fisheries, Land Use and Environment Government Officials who described future activities to improve community participation in local natural resource management.
Participants agreed that improving governance is a complex and long-term process that requires the commitment of all stakeholders in building capacity, strengthening - partnerships, and ensuring transparency and accountability. Many perceived a lack of political will to engage in activities aimed at empowering communities and improving local governance of natural resources. Boosting the participation of civil society and encouraging dialogue between institutions were identified as effective ways of influencing change.
This Improving Governance of Natural Resources for Rural Poverty Reduction Project is funded by the UKaid from the Department for International Development’s Governance and Transparency Fund (DFID-GTF).
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