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Community Based Natural Resource Management can drive environmental sustainability
  • By Panos
  • July 2, 2017
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Community Based Natural Resource Management can drive environmental sustainability

By Lilian Saka Kiefer

There are several factors that underlie environment and natural resources management (ENRM) challenges in Southern Africa that must be addressed for the region to achieve environmental sustainability and the economic benefits linked to it.

In efforts to address those challenges, enhancing and deepening community engagement and community participation in ENRM initiatives is critical. ENRM is at the core of community livelihood. The Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) has identified ENRM as “vitally important to the economy of the region and its growth”. Most vulnerable communities across Southern Africa chiefly rely on the environment for their livelihood. Therefore, engaging them meaningfully in ENRM sustainability has high potential to lead to them adopting sustainable practices that will eventually lead to environmental sustainability. Failure to effectively engage communities robs the ENRM response of community ownership which is central to the environmental sustainability initiatives.

Through its work on the Deepening Community Based Natural Resources Management (CBNRM), Panos institute Southern Africa (PSAf) has learnt several lessons that require consideration by policy makers at various levels to take environmental sustainability forward. While the SADC has rightly stated that “improved utilisation and stewardship of natural resources” is important, there is need to establish mechanisms and structures for community members’ participation in ENRM activities. A PSAf study on mechanisms for community participation in CBNRM in Zambia found that there were no structures deliberately set up to facilitate community engagement on CBNRM. While there existed numerous community structures for participation such as cooperatives, fisheries management committees, block and camp agricultural committees, village action groups (VAGs) and Village Development Committees (VDCs), there was none for ENRM, thereby making CBNRM almost non-existent. There were pockets of ENRM efforts facilitated by some civil society organisations and community based organisations, but they were at very low level and highly uncoordinated. Lack of supportive structures for sustainability caused some of them to die prematurely. This leaves community members without platforms to effectively engage in ENRM initiatives and drive environmental suitability in their localities. Similar situations exist in other countries in the region.

This calls for action by policy makers to support the establishment, set up and financing of platforms and mechanisms for community participation in ENRM. If deliberate efforts are made to mobilise existing community structures and address capacity gaps for community members and community institutions to also tackle community ENRM issues, CBNRM would begin to take effect. PSAf assessed community capacities in ENRM, with the aim of determining community preparedness and capabilities for deepening CBNRM. It was found that communities lacked capacity in basic ENRM principles, had low understanding of the role they would play in fostering environmental sustainability, and had low appreciation of the value of their participation in ENRM. It is critical that governments and stakeholders undertake to roll-out a sustained ENRM capacity building programmes for communities and community structures.

Traditional leadership is one of the most influential community structures for community mobilisation and community ownership of development initiatives. So far, their role in ENRM and CBNRM has been minimal. It would be critical through the relevant ministries or departments if deliberate efforts were made to strengthen the role of traditional leadership in sustainable ENRM starting with capacity building of traditional leaders in ENRM, to mobilisation of traditional leaders to play an active role in ENRM in their communities.

Effective and sustainable ENRM requires a favourable legal and policy environment. It is critical that all ENRM laws should have corresponding policies to enable programming around their enforcement to take place. Equally, there is need for legal and policy reviews to ensure that where policies and laws are not adequate, they are strengthened adequately to effectively support CBNRM. In circumstances where laws or policies are in draft, the government must move with haste to facilitate their finalisation and enactment, as well as finance the roll out of plans relevant for the implementation and enforcement of such laws.

CBNRM is critical for ensuring environmental sustainability. The several gaps in the response of governments and other stakeholders need to be adequately addressed to ensure effective CBNRM for sustainable ENRM in the region.

The author is PSAf Executive Director. For feedback, email: lilian@panos.org.zm