Many countries in the world are reporting fast fading natural forests and game reserves. This could be attributed to the increasing population of human beings that are encroaching on the forests, cutting down trees to either get land for settlement or get wood for timber and other uses. This position made early researchers view the community as a hindrance to the issue of natural resource management. The community was viewed as an impediment to the effort to salvage the natural resources from the speedy destruction that they faced. After thorough analysis of the approaches to the phenomenon of natural resource management, the position of the community changed. New researchers have come up with solutions that give the community an upper hand in the resource management (Agrawal & Gibson, 630). This paper will therefore highlight the importance of the community in the effort of cooperative management of resources and the benefits that are associated with the same approach. In addition, the paper will explore the risks that the former approach faced and the contemporary views’ risks. Finally, the paper will explore ways through which other stakeholders can benefit by employing a comprehensive use of the community in their strategic plans.
History of Community Vs Conservation
Scholars’ views of the society have always taken different routes. Although all the writers viewed social change as an irreversible phenomenon, their views on the role of the traditional community and the benefits of the occurring social changes differed greatly. (Agrawal & Gibson, 631). One group of the writers viewed the social changes positively while having an abhorrence of the traditional community while the other group viewed negatively the social changes but championed the importance of the community. Among the former group were the early Durkheim, Spencer and Marx while Tonnies, Dewey and the later Durkheim made up the latter group. On their position, the pro changes and anti-community led by Marx saw the changes as the only bridge away from the limited and coercive past of the human life and away from the idiocy of the barbaric life that characterized the community. On their part, the latter saw social changes to be a corroding factor of the ties that held the human society together and gave them identity and belonging. Several new theories have supported the fact that social changes are the solution that is available to salvage the community from the barbaric past.
Early writers and scholars viewed the community in a negative way. They viewed people as an impediment to the effort of resource organization in a rational way. In their view, the communities’ interests and the aims of the conservationists would never converge at any point (Agrawal & Gibson, 631). They believed that the two stood in an opposing manner. While the conservation efforts were majored on putting into good use and preserving endangered resources like drinking water, forests, fisheries, wildlife, pastures and irrigation flows, the same resources acted as the main source of food, fuel, water and fodder for the local communities and therefore the exploitation by the same communities was done unrestrainedly. This was the theory with which the society believed caused the degradation of natural resources. The theory was propagated by Garett Hardin and was later fueled by many other theorists who continued to popularize it.
This notion was highly accepted basing on the empirical evidence that was rampant in the societies. In the rural areas, the population growth was becoming very rapid. This led to consumption pressure on the existing natural resources which never increased with the increase of the population. Furthermore, local resources became open to a larger demand network through the opening of market forces thus creating more consumption pressure on the resources.
What were the results of this point of view? As a consequence, many policies were made regarding enacting measures that completely sidelined the local communities. Most of the policies were based on the belief that the only way to manage, conserve and protect the resources was through high-handed approach. This was through letting the government take control of the resources or rather allowing room for stricter market and private property rights to take control. These policies received backing from several conservation agencies resulting in the formation of game parks and reserves and other protected zones (Agrawal & Gibson, 631).
Contemporary Perspective of Resource Management
Currently, a lot of money is being directed to community-based organizations by international bodies so as to enhance processes of resource management. With many international bodies taking the local communities as the locus in their conservation strategies, the role of the community has thus taken a new perspective from the outdated sidelined role to a current center stage. Aside from the international bodies’ investment of large amounts of money in community-based programs, scholarly works of the contemporary time have shown papers underscoring the importance of incorporating the local community with other stakeholders in the effort of streamlining conservation. Several factors could be attributed to this change in perspective of the view of the community. Among the views is the existence of practices and rituals, all through existence, whose principal aim was the restriction of the access to essential and critical resources (Western & Wright, p.1).
Another glaring factor that led to the inclusion of the communities in the conservation programs and policies was the fact that these resources were the main components of the day-to-day basic needs of these people. This meant that even with the tightest security and coercive measures, the community would have to access the resources in a way or another. This made it very difficult to implement this strategy. This was a great hurdle in the entrusting state-owned agencies to conserve the resources through coercive measures. Furthermore, many of these programs by the government agencies failed as a result of poor implementation, inaccurate designs full of faults and corrupt managers of the projects also played a great role in the failure of the policies. These factors incorporated with lack of other alternatives of livelihood called for the inclusion of the community as the only option existing alternative (Wells and Brandon, 1992).
Political structures have played another role in the ensuring that contemporary conservation strategies embrace the community participation. Democratic structures have given power to native population to claim stewardship roles in the management of natural resources. This role is also encouraged by the Non-Governmental Organizations which have taken as their role, the amplifying and making sure that the voices of the local inhabitants and their groups are well heard. This specter has unpopularized the idea of development and conservation programs that do not include the participation of the indigenous populations (Agrawal & Gibson, 633).
With the existence of such drawbacks, the advocators of the participatory conservation had to highlight the importance of involving the community. Their basic argument was that the very inhabitants of that region and therefore their needs and dependence on the resources were doubtlessly long term. Furthermore, the inhabitants of the region possessed more understanding of the resources than any other stakeholder who could come from other regions. This made the community the most favorite managers of the resources. In addition to having the need for the resources, the community was also viewed from a point of interest. The advocators of this position posited that if the community had an interest in the resources, they would doubtlessly protect them. In fact, any hindrance of the community to have an active role in the conservation would make them destructive to the resources (Agrawal & Gibson, 630).
Owing to the fact that the community is now playing the center position in the contemporary theories of conservation, how can these views be applied in the management process? Chase et al (pg. 209) underscore the challenges in a process of management of natural resources. In their argument, Chase et al identify the forces that play a role and which must be considered during policy formation. In a case of wildlife management, to attain the specific objectives, the stakeholders’ interests play a great role in the manipulation of the overall policy. These stakeholders form the community.
According to Chase et al, (pg.209), a management program is always carried out within an environment that contains cultural, economic, political, social and ecological forces whose specific interests must be put into consideration when designing a policy. These forces are created by the different stakeholders and their different interests which in most cases are conflicting. The stakeholders include rural landowners, the hunters, activists of animal rights, tourism firms, environmentalists, bird watchers and motorists. All these people who believe that they have a right to participate in the policy formation then offer a great challenge to the agencies involved in the policy formation.
These forces are what led to the formation of a management process that would enable the agencies to come up with appropriate management policies that would not only assist them attain their goals but also put into consideration the different demands from the different stakeholders. The model, according to Chase et al (pg. 210) involves six stages which are founded on the knowledge base of the agencies collected through researches. The first stage in the process of management involves the identification of the management objectives and the policy goals. In a living example, the main objective of the agency might be the maintenance of a certain population of the deer. The number should be enough to sustain the hunting needs of the local inhabitants and at the same time be sustained free from extinction.
The second process is the identification of the problem. Having identified the objective, it becomes necessary to understand the challenges involved in the achievement of the identified problem. This might include balancing the stakeholder interests and integrating within the definition the biological and socioeconomic needs. This stage therefore involves the identification of the available alternatives and the consequences associated with each alternative. Basing on the identified alternatives and the consequences associated with them, the third stage which is the decision making process comes in. the decision making might be made based on the habitat condition, population model of the animals, stakeholders’ scientific survey, or it could be made through the combination of all or some of the elements. Finally, the action may be taken. This identifies the fourth stage of the process. As in the case of the deer management, the agency involved may decide to increase the population of the deer by 16% in a period of 7 years. The action will include reduction in the permit numbers or other stiffer regulations to ensure reduced hunting. After a given period of time, the response will be evaluated through the use of changes identified in the harvest data or through direct observation. The information collected will then be stored in the data to be used as information in the next round of management decision-making.
How can the community be Incorporated into Conservation Programs?
To identify the ways through which a community can be utilized in the process of co-management in resource conservation, it is good to establish the importance of involving the local community in the program. (Schusler and Decker, pg. 311) identify the importance of incorporating the local community in the management process as compared to relying solely on the central agency. The main benefits include enhancement of management effectiveness, promotion of human and natural system understanding, putting trust between the stakeholders and the agencies, reduction of costs to the agencies due to reduced expenses that would have come up due to enforcement measures, and the public awareness of the conservation issues is promoted,
Chase et al (pg.210) identify methods by which the community can be involved in the effort to attain the general objectives of an agency. In their model, there are five ways through which this can be achieved. The first method is through authoritative management. In this system of management, the agency assumes total control of the process by assuming an expert model and therefore not consulting the stakeholders. In this model, the judgments are done from the experts’ own professional interpretations coupled up with biological experts’ views and their own observations. This model is mostly taken when agencies are sure that they understand the stakeholders’ attitudes and beliefs and the beliefs are perceived to be homogenous throughout the community.
The second way through which the agencies can involve the stakeholders is through the passive-receptive approach. In this approach, the agency gives the stakeholders the role to offer their input while the agency takes the role of being heard. The input collected from the stakeholders is used as the basis from which decisions are made. It is from this information that problems can be identified, objectives made and also the appropriate actions are taken (Chase et al, pg. 210).
The third method identified by Chase et al (pg. 210) through which the agencies can involve the stakeholders in their management process is through the Inquisitive method. In this approach, the agency takes it as their role to ensure that they invite the stakeholders to bring in their input. This is achieved through listening sessions, public meetings and carrying out surveys. Through these methods, the agencies can access the stakeholders’ expectations, behaviors, preferences, attitudes and beliefs.
The fourth approach to the issue of stakeholder involvement in management is through the transactional system (Chase et al, pg. 210). Unlike the other systems, this system does not just give the stakeholder the chance to give input, but it also allows him to contribute to the decision-making. A good example of this system was witnessed in the formation of task forces in North America in order to deal with an identified common interest within the stakeholder environment. The premier task forces were created in the early 90’s by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. These task forces approach the issues from their points of view interpreting them, weighing the alternatives and coming up with a solution that is in the consensus.
Finally Chase et al (pg. 211) identify the final approach to management as co-management. Unlike other approaches, which allow the stakeholder to contribute in input provision and the transactional approach which allows him to participate in decision making, this method allows the stakeholder to participate in any or all the stages of the management process. According to the Chase, this approach does not really have a specific definition. It simply involves a dynamic concept where the stakeholder contributes in the provision of input, setting of goals, decision making and all other processes. A good example of such an approach was evident in the Mercenaria mercenaria “spawner sanctuary” in New Jersey. Due to this, the term has been defined according to the prevailing circumstances. But the slightly appropriate one is the World Conservation Congress which defines co-management as “…a partnership in which government agencies, local communities and NGOs and other stakeholders negotiate, as appropriate to each context, the authority and responsibility for the management of a specific area or set of resources.”
Risks Involved in these Forms of Management
No constructive idea ever comes free from risks. Like all other ideas, the management approaches in this paper that involve co-management with the community carry with them enough risks. One of the greatest risks involved in this approach is the mythical perception of the term community. Most of the advocators of these approaches that call for the involvement of the community view the community as a small unit with a homogeneous way of life with similar interests. In their definitions of a community, they fail to address the differences in interests that occur within different communities (Agrawal & Gibson, 640). This causes great risks in form of management. With such communities being almost non-existent, the failure to highlight the differences in the community setup can result in great controversies with one group of people feeling sidelined. As a result they might resolve to use the resources in a destructive manner.
Secondly, trying to manage resources without involving the community almost stands a zero chance of success. This was evidenced by the failure of the other programs that encouraged coercive measures from the government. This calls for a compulsory involvement of the community. Unfortunately, on their own, the community cannot manage to use the resources sustainably. There are several other factors that play a key role in the ensuring that the community manages the resources well. Schusler et al (pg. 309) argue that no resource management can succeed without the use of social learning interspersed with appropriate capacity and processes, good structures and policies that are supportive. This will call for thorough investment that will involve educating the community, under the different interests of the different stakeholders, to come up with a uniform agreement. This is not an easy task it may lead to conflicts resulting in failure of the program.
Another great risk in these approaches is in the conflict of interests between the agencies, the stakeholders and the politicians. While most of the writers identified internal factors like funding and resources as the main players in the success of a policy change, Busenberg (pg. 579) identifies the role of the political context of the region as a great factor. Apart from the political context of the situation, scholars show that expertise is another very important part of conservation. Unfortunately, the same expert knowledge has been used by political powerhouses to justify risky activities that play within the interests of the corporates and high-ranking state elites at the expense of the community (Fischer, 204).
To have a comprehensive involvement of the community, agencies should first identify the different dimensions of the community. This is to say that the definition of the community should not be narrowed so as to view the community as a small homogenous group of people. It should identify the various different interests and other factors that construct the community’s norms including the political context (Agrawal & Gibson, 641). After identifying the different dynamics of the society, they should employ the management process. This can only be employed after the community and the agencies in question have done an analysis and come up with the ecological knowledge of the region, a knowledge that will be passed down to the community ( Olsson & Folke, 85). This knowledge is very important to the project and will contribute to the effectiveness of the whole process. With the acknowledgment of these key players, the recourses will be used sustainably.
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