In the protection and management of natural resources, it is widely agreed that human social, political, cultural and economic systems must be part of the equation (Berkes 2004; Kates et al. 2001; Gunderson & Holling 2002). In recent years, community-based and collaborative conservation have been increasingly recognized as alternatives to the dominant paradigm of top-down, expert-driven management (Berkes 2002). However, the literature suggests that collaborative and community-based conservation efforts should be cautious about moving forward too quickly since low levels of organizational capacity at the community-level may pose a challenge to rapidly developing institutions capable of managing complex natural system (Barrett 2001). This is especially true in collaborative efforts that involve multiple stakeholders (Berkes 2004). In such efforts, taking into account historical and contemporary relationships of power among stakeholders will help ensure greater equity as well as the promotion of local livelihoods and sustainability (Gruber 2006: Berkes 2004; Brosius and Russell 2003). The literature also suggest that special emphasis should be placed on empowerment at the community-level and especially with traditionally marginalized groups. According to Agrawal (1999):
“local groups are usually the least powerful among the different parties interested in conservation. Community-based conservation requires, therefore, that its advocates make more strenuous efforts to channel greater authority and power toward local groups. Only then can such groups form effective checks against arbitrary actions by governments and other actors.”
If, as Agrawal suggests, empowerment at the local-level should be our priority, where do we start? Brown (2002) has identified a set of internal and external challenges that community-based organizations face. Externally, community-based organizations are challenged by a lack of legitimacy and accountability with the general public; relating with institutions of the state, such as government agencies; relating with institutions of the market, such as businesses; and relating with international actors, such as development agencies that provide funding support. Internally, they face challenges of amateurism, restricted focus, material scarcity, fragmentation, and paternalism. However, efforts by governments and NGO’s to build the capacity of community-based organizations without destroying what makes them so unique in the first place (e.g. local focus, their spirit of volunteerism and solidarity) is not easy (Powers, 2002; Brown, 1989). Powers et al (2002) offers the following advice:
“We believe it may be most effective if INGOs go beyond decentralising their operations and cease being operational in the field. This can be done by forging ties with autonomous local NGO’s which have a proven commitment and track record in handing over controls in the development process to the communities where they are working. To the degree that terms for partnership can be negotiated equitably, the imperative for standardised and impersonal mass reproduction of one strategy, which ironically is often only magnified (rather than adapted) in the process of decentralization, can be significantly curtailed.”
According to Berkes (2004) the specific approaches to building capacity of community-based conservation organizations is a current area of interest for the conservation community. Furthermore, the success of community-based natural resource management has lead to an explosion in support from international agencies and subsequently, the number of new local natural resource management organizations (Gruber, 2010; Armitage 2005). According to Gruber (2010):
“[w]hile CBNRM has proven to be a successful model in numerous cases, this approach may be outpacing a critical analysis of the key characteristics of effective community based environmental initiatives which can ensure long-term successful and sustainable programs in a variety of settings.”
Village Earth offers several courses focused on supporting community-based conservation efforts, this includes: Participatory Water Resource Management, Building Climate Change Resilient Communities, Community Participation and Dispute Resolution, & Agroecology for Sustainable Communities.
Agrawal A, Gibson CC (1999) Enchantment and disenchantment: the role of the community in natural resource conservation. World Development 27:629–649
Armitage, D. 2005. Adaptive Capacity and Community-Based Natural Resource Management. Environmental Management 35:703-715
Barrett, C.B.,K. Brandon, C. Gibson, and H. Gjertsen. 2001. Conserving tropical biodiversity amid weak institutions. BioScience 51:497-502
Berkes, 2004 Rethinking Community-based Conservation, Conservation Biology, Volume 18, No. 3 July 2004: 621-630
Berkes, F. 2002. Cross-scale institutional linkages: perspectives from the bottom up. Pages 293-321 in E. Ostrom, T. Dietz, N. Dolsak, P.C. Stern, S. Stonich, and E.U. Weber, editors. The drama of the commons. National Academy Press. Washington, D.C.
Brosius, J.P. and D. Russell. 2003 Conservation from above: an anthropological perspective on transboundary protected areas and ecoregional planning. Journal of Sustainable Forestry 17 (1/2):39-65
Gruber, 2010 Key Principles of Community-Based Natural Resource Management: A Synthesis and Interpretation of Identified Effective Approaches for Managing the Commons. Environmental Management 45:52–66
Kates, R. W., et al. 2001. Sustainability science. Science 292: 641-642