Enabling participatory management of natural resources to meet both the needs of rural populations and conservation purposes, based on innovative or adapted indigenous technologies.
A group's or community's identity and sense of capacity to decide about its future are determined in large part by its control over resources: building materials, food, technical knowledge, credit, energy, equipment and communications links. It is important to start working with people to address their needs within the context of their communities located within distinct local ecosystems and social systems.
The following criteria apply when considering instigating local resource management projects: (1) Project leaders must understand and work with the community. (2) A project's approach to working with the community should be clearly and carefully planned from the very beginning. (3) Diversity in the local community/ies increases the demand on the time, energy and resources of project staff working with them. (4) Suspicious or hostile attitudes or reactions from some parts of the community will likely remain a constant factor to manage, even in the best of circumstances. (5) Good projects can orient national policy framework (not just the other way around). (6) Private sector participation is important, but must be oriented to ensure it supports public interests. (7) An obvious, visible problem helps galvanize community and national support. (8) The project succeeds when people do things for themselves.
Community projects are based on the notion that by providing local communities with support for development, a direct link between conservation goals and community welfare objectives can be made. However, there are problems with providing material incentives. Successful community-based income-generation projects require a wide range of ingredients; many of which may be absent locally. Community expectations of "quick fix" development, and their ability to obtain it (by over exploiting natural resources) may preclude the search for solutions. The problem is that conventional exploitative practices may destroy the very resource base required for alternatives. Projects must invest heavily in education to transform communities' ideas about development.
Local citizens are often better able than government officials to identify the priorities for action. Members of local communities often know about cost-effective solutions that are not available to governments. The motivation and commitment of communities are often what sees an environmental project through to completion. This is especially true, for example, for soil conservation and afforestation projects such at the soil clubs of northeast Brazil in the 1980s or the Sahelian community-based land management programs of the 1990s. Programs are much more successful if they are developed with the beneficiaries rather than for them.
This strategy features in the framework of Agenda 21 as formulated at UNCED (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), now coordinated by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and implemented through national and local authorities.
Community action may be more effective if communities act collectively in external matters, whilst involving as broad a section of the community as possible in internal matters.
TRACKER is a web-based tool to capture, organize, and disseminate information about changes in community-based natural resources management and conservation in Africa and to put colleagues in touch with one another. TRACKER helps organizations achieve multiple objectives within and outside their own structure. It allows them to: (a) help field offices and local partner organizations capture and organize information about their own activities in local level conservation and natural resources management (b) help the home office put their partner organizations and country program offices in touch with one another, keep track of experience being gained by multiple projects, and have ready material to use in developing reports to donors, (c) disseminate their experiences among other conservation and sustainable development organizations for potential partnerships, mutual learning, and other collaborative opportunities.
When there is public outcry on the destruction of natural resources, the classic response of government is to impose legislation such as total log ban or closure of fishing grounds. However, experience has not shown that legislative measures alone do not solve the problem since the displaced users of the resource will still continue to practice their trade for subsistence. With minimal effect of legislation in conserving natural resources, government has turned to the users for assistance in the management of resources by what is now popularly known as community-based resource management.
Unless communities come to redefine their strategies for seeking development in ways that projects can support, then "conservation through development" initiatives will continue to fail.