CBNRM and Sustainability: Theoretical Background

Community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) means different things to different people. The term “CBNRM” not only takes a variety of forms depending on location, or socio-political and bio-physical context, but the term itself is used and interpreted in many different ways (Abensperg-Traun et al. 2011). According to these Abensperg-Traun et al. (2011), the term CBNRM simply describes the management of resources such as land, forests, wildlife, and water by collective, local institutions for local benefits. Following this explanation, the term CBNRM is often associated with programs that (1) are focused on terrestrial wildlife and (2) involve some kind of commercial use of that wildlife in order to generate income for local people.

The World Bank refers to CBNRM as a third alternative to command and control and market-based approaches to natural resource management (World Bank 2006). The term itself has breadth, adaptability, and robustness since it has been described as, inter alia, a tool or a set of tools, a checklist, a method, a set of activities, a model, a process, and an approach (World Bank 2006). At the same time, CBNRM in a particular context is considered to be a problem solving mechanism in land and natural resources. CBNRM is relevant to, and has the potential to provide solutions to, some of the problems found within communal lands.

The importance of CBNRM as an approach has recently been realized. There are at least two reasons explaining what is important about CBNRM (WWF 2006). The first reason concerns the willingness of the state to manage natural resources. In newly independent Southern African countries, for example, the governments did not consider the management of natural resources to be a priority. Financial resources were diverted to other sectors (health, education, and infrastructure development). Military-style methods of enforcing natural resource legislation are also no longer considered appropriate. And the second reason concerns the linkages between natural resources and local livelihoods. Most of the populations in developing countries depend on natural resources for their livelihoods. In Southern Africa, for example, most of the population lives in the communal lands. In all communal lands, the harvesting of natural resources plays a significant role in people's livelihoods. This means that strategies and policies to ensure the sustainable management of land and natural resources are important to national economic development. Because of the direct link between people's welfare and the environment, it is important that new approaches and ideas are developed and implemented in natural resource management. The alternative is that people will get poorer and the environmental resources upon which they depend will become scarcer, thereby worsening the already serious poverty trap (WWF 2006).

In addition, CBNRM has been recognized for a long time as a means of promoting safety. CBNRM plays a significant role in promoting a culture of safety by reducing local vulnerabilities and building capacity. Active participation and involvement of communities at the grassroots can make a real difference. This is because through the involvement of local people in the whole process of natural resource management, their feelings and real needs are considered as well as inherent resources. The capacities of local people are enhanced to help them assess situations, identify needs and problems, implement activities, and evaluate outcomes. It can be said that the CBNRM approach emphasizes the involvement of communities, which are at the heart of decision making and implementation of natural resource activities and management.

The links between CBNRM and the issue of resilience were observed and studied. The existing literature on resilience in social-ecological systems strongly suggests that community-based institutions may play a key role in fostering the resilience of communities and the ecosystems they inhabit. Some suggest that local management institutions enhance resilience. One reason is because management practices are locally adapted and based on local ecological knowledge (WWF 2006). More importantly, however, some CBNRM organizations promote social learning, an intentional process of collective self-reflection through interaction and dialogue among diverse participants. Social learning is promoted in part due to CBNRM groups' attention to monitoring and adaptive management, and their emphasis on learning and education. As rural communities face increasing environmental stresses as well as unpredictable economic and political shocks, the ability to learn and adapt is critical to their sustainability and resilience (WWF 2006).

It can be concluded that, through CBNRM, the community is not only the beneficiary but also the main actor in every step of the forest resource management process. The involvement of the community is important to ensure sustainability. The information collected will be more relevant and will reflect the opinions and realities of community members, particularly the vulnerable and poor. The capacity (self confidence, knowledge, skills such as team work, planning, etc.) of the entire community to deal with different situations they face will be developed. Natural forest resource management and community development activities and programs will achieve better, more practical and effective results. Community life will become more stable and sustainable.

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