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SOS Rhino : In the News : Improved Natural Resources Management Systems Needed

Improved Natural Resources Management Systems Needed


The Herald (Harare)
March 4, 2003
Posted to the web March 4, 2003
Lovemore Chikova

SOUTHERN Africa environmentalists are calling for improved community-based natural resources management systems to ensure communities benefit from natural resources surrounding them.

The environmentalists made the call in South Africa at a recent preparatory workshop for the Fifth World Parks Congress to be held in the same country later this year.

It was noted that communities in the region have watched helplessly for a long time while outsiders plunder resources next to them.

The participants, who also included academics, called for new models of protected areas such as national parks to ensure that communities benefit from such resources.

Research has already established that as one moves closer to resource-rich protected areas, the degree of poverty gets sharper.

This shows that communities settled around such natural resource-rich areas are being denied benefits from resources that are just a stone's throw away.

While neighbouring communities do not have money to engage in big tourism ventures, wealthy city dwellers and foreign-owned companies generate millions of dollars annually from tourism businesses they run in and around national parks.

Yet this relationship has often resulted in a conflict between the surrounding communities and those managing the parks, as the people demanded a share of the natural resources.

Ford Foundation programme officer Mr James Murombedzi said southern African communities were alienated from the resources they used to manage well by colonialism.

"It must take post-colonial governments to rethink on whether to go back to pre-colonial conservation methods," said Mr Muro-mbedzi.

"Colonialism wanted to establish order, but environmental historians say this actually disturbed the good management of resources by communities."

What is needed in the region is to convince world leaders and national park managers to allow disadvantaged communities settled next to parklands to start deriving benefits from their rich diversity.

This is the message that the southern African region will carry to the Fifth World Parks Congress to agitate for a new order that will ensure rural communities benefit from natural resources around them.

But concern was raised on how the devolution of power and responsibility to manage benefits from natural resources from the state and individuals to lower structures was to be achieved.

"The problem surrounding devolution of authority over resources to local communities probably constitutes the single biggest problem facing the southern African region," said Southern Africa Sustainable Use Group chairman Mr Brian Jones.

"Methods that work need to be put in place to ensure that this is achieved for the benefit of all those involved."
The workshop participants recommended that to go around the problem, local institutions and communities must be empowered by statutory instruments that protect them if they are to have a role in conservation of natural resources.
This will lead to new and innovative models for protected areas based on co-management of natural resources with communities.

The other vexing issue was on how communities will benefit from natural resources in conservancies that are mostly viewed as private property.

Conservancies are a recent development formed following the pulling together of resources and land by freehold farmers to form large wildlife sanctuaries.

It was noted there has already been a conflict surrounding the issue of conservancies in Zimbabwe, with local communities venting their frustration by invading the areas, demanding a share of the natural resources.

The concept of conservancies began to emerge in Zimbabwe following efforts by the then Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management to develop breeding areas for the black rhino in safe sanctuaries.

According to the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism, there are at least 24 conservancies on freehold land in that country covering at least four million hectares.

In South Africa, freehold conservancies were promoted by the Natal Parks Board to facilitate water catchment conservation through encouraging groups of farmers to monitor the impact of their land management practices on the health of river systems.

While some participants said owners of conservancies should not share resources with surrounding communities because they are private properties, others said that should not be the case.

"We need new mechanisms to ensure that we avoid conflicts in conservancies by making sure there is a partnership between farmers and communities that is beneficial to both sides," said Africa Resources Trust director Dr Cecil Machena.

"Wildlife is very much of a public resource and people view it in that way. We need clear mechanisms to ensure everyone benefits."

The promotion of equity in sharing resources, whether in conservancies or any other protected areas, was seen as the only way to ensure there is no conflict between communities and those who manage such areas.

The major recommendation to come out of the workshop was the need for new and innovative models of management of natural resources to ensure local communities benefit.

These new forms of management must aim at ensuring the sustainable use of natural resources.

The southern African region will present some of its recommendations at the Fifth World Parks Congress in Durban in September.

The congress, which is held after every ten years, will be organised by The World Conservation Union.

It aims at reviewing and learning from protected area gains and setbacks of the past ten years and integrate them into the broader economic, social and environmental agenda.

The other aim will be to build a more diverse and effective constituency for protected areas to redefine and reinforce their value and relevance in the 21st century.

The first World Parks Congress was held in Seattle, US, in 1962, with the subsequent three taking place in Yellowstone, US, in 1972, in Indonesia in 1982 and in Venezuela in 1992. The congress has become the main global forum for reviewing the status and role of protected areas in conservation and development.

The next congress will come to southern Africa under the theme: "Benefits beyond Borders" at a time the region launched the vast Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park involving national parks in Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa.

The emphasis will be on trying to find out how communities beyond the borders of protected areas can benefit from the rich natural resources available.



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