What went wrong in CBNRM?

SHARE   |   Monday, 25 June 2018   |   By Thomas Dust Nyoni
Lions at Chobe National Park Lions at Chobe National Park

Many factors led to the erosion of the biodiversity among them legacies of the colonial period when African hunting was outlawed and local communities were prohibited from managing or benefitting from wildlife. Colonial conservation laws dating from the turn of the century effectively classified African use of game as poaching. To curtail this negativity among the community’s governments across Africa set up new approaches on which communities were to manage their wildlife. For such an approach to be widely accepted and adopted it had to be capable of addressing ecological, social and economic concerns.

The general failure of the centralized approach to natural resource management to arrest irreparable losses of biodiversity around the world during colonial and post independent periods led to a search for an alternative natural resource management (NRM) regime. The concept of community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) arose specifically to address the goals of environmental, economic and social justice. CBNRM, which integrates wildlife conservation and rural development objectives in a single program package, has been adopted as a win-win approach to wildlife management in several wildlife rich countries in Africa.


Botswana has declared about around 22% of the country as Wildlife management areas whose primary role is wildlife utilization. These areas are located in the thinly populated, remote and poor western and northern parts of Botswana. And is therefore assumed to be the main local source of livelihood for local people. In most WMAs, government has granted local communities the right to use the wildlife resources subject to government regulations such as the requirement to form a trust, to prepare and adhere to a management plan for the area and the need to apply for a hunting quota. Community-based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) of the natural resources in the WMAs offers an opportunity for rural development as also read in the rural development Policy. This arrangement allows local people to have a role to play in resource management and derive benefits from such resources around them is essential for CBNRM to achieve its goals. As such, CBNRM is based on the premise that local populations have a greater interest in the sustainable use of natural resources around them more than centralized or distant government or private management institutions. The expectation is that through CBNRM people increase their net benefits and improve their livelihood. This would increase popular interest in wildlife conservation, particularly in high potential areas, and in areas with few alternative livelihood options.

Modern-day CBNRM activities in Botswana have been developed and promoted for more than two  decades. Over this period, there has been considerable progress and achievement. A number of policies and laws have been put in place that promote and enable rural communities to gain increased rights over natural resources. More than 40 community trusts have been established, or are being formed, by rural people wishing to manage their natural resources in a way that can provide financial and other benefits for present generations while enabling future generations to also benefit from the same resources. The trusts have been established on elective representative democratic principles, with elected boards representing the interests of trust members. It is observed that many trusts are earning significant revenue from sub-leasing hunting and tourism rights to the private sector. While the activities of many trusts are focused on hunting and tourism, several are also exploring the management of other natural resources such as veld products. An umbrella organization, the Botswana Community Based Organization Network (BOCOBONET) has been formed to represent the interests of the trusts at national level. A number of government and non-government agencies provide various support services to the trusts


After the first project was established in the Chobe Enclave in 1993, there was proliferation of CBNRM projects in Botswana during the 1990s.  While the importance of achieving the unique blend of environmental, economic and social objectives of CBNRM is being recognized, concerns are growing in Botswana that the projects are not yet mature, and cannot sustain themselves. Concerns have also grown about communities’ ability and suitability to manage the substantial resource revenues and productive activities. The number of Community-Based Organizations (CBO) has rapidly grown, and in 2002 forty-six CBOs were registered while twelve of those were involved in a joint venture agreement (JVA); at least seven private companies were involved at that time. Revenues from JVAs have grown to  P8.5 million in 2002 with an average cash value for communities of over P700 000 per annum.

This is a lot of money for the mostly small CBNRM-villages but all is not well.  Where does the money go? Why are communities still relatively poor despite an abundance of resources in Botswana?


What is disturbing though is that these projects were given to the people without much thought.  Most people living in WMAs are very poor, and derive their livelihood from a mixture of activities including gathering, wildlife, agriculture and employment, often outside the WMA. Many depend on government assistance.  For example after many years of CBNRM, we can’t measure the economic viability and performance of CBNRM projects in Botswana and its attendant impact on improving the living standards of the poor. Probable due to the lack of data as the communities were not empowered and capacitated to perform such huge projects.  Quite interesting the government seems to have not given the communities the role of managing the resource, and this irks communities as they view themselves as implementers rather than co-management. Communities do not participate in decision making over management and use of NRs – Government decides and informs communities. The decision-making process remained characteristically top-down as before: nobody was consulted.  Consequently communities feel alienated from their NRs and disenfranchised about their role as managers & custodians of the resources. The communities still perceive that the decision making provcess lies with the government controlled department such as Department of tourism, Department of Wildlife and national Parks   and Botswana Tourism Organisation.More especially that the BTO has been given executive powers to bring and develop any product from communities to markeatable standrads  and Department of wildlife  still unilaterall decides the number of animals to be given out as hunting quota without the involvement of the community. Hence the community are only on Utilisation and not conservation. Thus communities perceive that authority lies with these state controlled agencies and accountability  is at central government. This arrangement has led to tensions among the local communities and the agencies. This  is viewed as lack of trust by the government on granting powers to local communities full natural resource manangement custodianship. Coupling this is the inability of the government support in developing or identifying new markets This project was thrown to communities without necessary skills to manage this resource. Communities have not been able to develop adequate good governance skills and ethics.  A lot has been report on the misuse of funds and benefits not devolved to households Government’s failure to prosecute felons and embezzlers of community funds. The setup of the CBOs and weaker constitutions have rendered Communities inability to hold their leadership accountable for their actions through democratic means – especially Boards of Trustees.


In summary, it very important to increase the use value of WMAs on a sustainable basis. This can only be realized by increase in unit as measured in terms of livelihood benefits as well as land productivity. The increase can be achieved by maximizing the development benefits of wildlife, for example through commercialization and the establishment of wildlife-based industries. It is therefore difficult for CBNRM programs to demonstrate that biodiversity conservation and sustainable rural development, the most inspired objectives of CBNRM have been achieved in Botswana and elsewhere in  Southern Africa. The basic reason for this lack of clear success partly lies in government’s failure to institute and provide secure property rights to local communities, not only with respect to wildlife resources but also to entire ecosystem in coexistence with wildlife resources.  We need to revisit the CBNRM policy and allow problems to be addressed and further develop CBNRM policy implementation strategy.

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