The Organizational Structures for Community-Based Natural Resources Management in Southern Africa

by Bruce Campbell and Sheona Shackleton


Throughout Southern Africa there has been a move to decentralize natural resource management (NRM). Decentralization has taken many forms, resulting in different organizational structures for NRM. Fourteen case studies from eight countries can be classed into four types, depending on the key organizations for NRM: (1) district-level organizations; (2) village organizations supported by sectoral departments (e.g. Village Forest Committees); (3) organizations or authorities outside the state hierarchy (e.g. traditional authority, residents’ associations), and (4) corporate organizations at the village level (e.g. Trusts, conservancies, property associations). Attitudes towards district-level schemes amongst local people are generally negative. The greater the authority village organizations receive the more likely they are to succeed. In the cases with corporate organizations, local residents have received user or proprietary rights over resources. Such cases reflect the best chances of community-based natural resources management (CBNRM) being successful. It is clear that policies that explicitly decentralize authority to village-level organizations help to avoid some of the problems that have emerged. The impact of private sector stakeholders can be positive or negative depending on the institutional arrangements in place. Many of the cases have demonstrated the key role that external facilitation plays in building the capacity of local organizations. Traditional leaders have continued to play a role in NRM, with varying degrees of authority and control. The paper ends with a discussion of the key features for the success of CBNRM.

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Bruce Campbell of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) has undertaken research in southern Africa for 20 years, with recent work on issues at the interface of economics, sociology and ecology, including work on ecological economics of rangeland management systems, systems perspectives on forestry co-management arrangements, community-based natural resource management and common property management.

Sheona Shackleton is a natural resource management consultant affiliated to the Environmental Science Programme at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa. Her current areas of research interest include natural resource utilisation and valuation in communal lands; common property management and the institutional aspects of community-based natural resource management (CBNRM); rural livelihood systems; and the commercialisation and marketing of non-timber forest products. She has worked throughout South Africa but has concentrated most of her efforts in the savanna woodlands in the north of the country.