Institutional rearrangements in the North Luangwa Ecosystem: implications of a shift to community based natural resource management for equity in protected area governance

Rhoda Nthena Kachali, Neil M. Dawson, Jacqueline Loos

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Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) is presented as an equitable approach, particularly relative to strict types of Area-based conservation. In Zambia, traditional and formal, contemporary institutions were combined to leverage CBNRM for natural resource management. We investigate whether and how this shift in conservation approach and interaction between institutions works in practice, and to what extent it produces more equitable governance processes. We identified 30 key informants from NGOs and government departments via snowball sampling. We conducted 20 focus group discussions involving local community participants in three Game Management Areas (GMAs) adjacent to North Luangwa National Park. Focus groups were divided by age and gender to minimize any potential influence of unequal power relations. Data collection included informal discussions with individual community members and participant observation. We found that the customary roles held by chiefs gave them relative power over the Community resources board and made them gatekeepers for NGOs and government institutions. Instead of fostering community participation and empowerment, new CBNRM institutions have had the unintended consequence of increasing the customary chiefs’ power through commercialization and bureaucratization of their positions. Rather than reinforcing local and indigenous institutions CBNRM has become a vehicle through which governments and NGOs centralize power and manufacture consent while weakening traditional institutions and reproducing existing patterns of inequity. This research provides unique insights into the workings of a CBNRM institution that is a hybrid between traditional (socially embedded) and Government (bureaucratic) institutions. We recommend that rather than simply setting up idealized institutions as a means to devolve power and enhance equity, the realisation of effective local participation and representation in CBNRM projects requires careful assessment of cultural contexts, local institutions and power dynamics.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere33549
Issue number13
Early online date24 Jun 2024
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2024

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