Conservation and Community engagement in Africa
Afrika Forum seminarseries ht 2012-vt 2013
The recommendation of many donor organisations e.g. World Park congress is that conservation should strive to reduce poverty and at least not exacerbate poverty in local communities. Further many donor organisations, such as the World bank, explicitly state that development projects should as far as possible avoid resettlement. Despite these resolutions, local residents are still physically and/or economically displaced in many conservation projects, particularly in Africa. Schmidt-Soltau warned in 2009 that in west Africa alone 200 000 individuals were at risk of becoming “conservation refugees” a statement which has caused great controversy (Curran et al 2009, 2010).
Community Based Natural Resource Management and positive social and economic trade-offs are promised in mission statements of conservation but there are rarely formal processes to evaluate these goals. There are very few assessments of the impact on, or benefits for, local communities socially and economically from conservation parks.
Since the 1990s, in Africa and elsewhere, Community Based Natural Resource Management has long been a buzz word in development and conservation circles – nevertheless community based conservation appears immensely difficult to achieve in practice. Inherent problems with community conservation have caused a so-called“disenchantment” with the possibilities of community conservation. Conservationist today tend to regard community based conservation as “too difficult and impossible to do right” – perhaps human and social scientists must take some responsibility for this, as their cautionary warnings against the “enchantment” of community based conservation has made conservationist abandon this idea altogether.
African governments tend to opt for the national parks model when designating conservation areas which, in most countries, makes residency illegal and which precludes the possibility of real community engagement. Designation of conservation areas and/or REDD (Reducing Emission of Deforestation and Degradation) reserves has been accused of being another form of “landgrabbing” sanctioned by the just cause of saving nature. Meanwhile the impracticality and lack of success of western style national parks in countries with poor infrastructure, lack of social equity and weak democratic structures has been pointed out - but what are the alternatives and what would these look like?
The seminar series is intended to raise these issues critically and constructively by inviting practitioners from different circles and with different points of view. The aim of the seminar series is to discuss possibilities for joint research projects that explore these very complex bur pressing issues.