Research papers and reports by conservation scientists and non-governmental organisations suggest that community-based interventions are popular
, eagerly adopted
and have positive ecological impacts
.But our research
suggests that a closer look is needed.
Contrary to narratives of conservation success, we illustrate
that, by and large, community-based conservation in Tanzania has spread through top-down, donor-ﬁnanced implementation.
What’s more, we also question
narratives of ecological success. These narratives are based on simplistic ecological concepts which misrepresent socio-ecological complexities on the ground.
We urge researchers, non-governmental organisations, funders, and the media to consider more carefully how their work affects rural communities. Inaccurate narratives can cause harm, conflict and resistance. Ultimately, they can even undermine
long-term conservation objectives.
The narrative vs the realityResearch
shows that many conservation initiatives in Tanzania are not eagerly adopted. In fact, some have been imposed
by local communities. Many residents fear
becoming economically dispossessed, losing their land, or both.
Tanzania’s flagship Wildlife Management Area, Burunge, is a case in point. It shows that simple narratives of success quickly fall apart under critical scrutiny.
Burunge is a community-based conservation project established in the 2000s in 10 villages. In financial terms, Burunge may be called a “success”. It generates several hundred thousand US dollars in revenue per year from tourism. But, with a population of more than 30,000, Burunge’s per capita income is negligible
More importantly, residents are expected to pay a high price in return for tourism revenues. As one of us has documented
, the Wildlife Management Area is characterised by deeply divisive politics of coercive land appropriation for tourism. Residents and their livestock are kept out of dry season grazing areas so that wealthy tourists can enjoy luxury wilderness experiences.
Nonetheless, there are reports that Burunge is a successfully implemented and locally run
initiative. But these reports don’t take into account that residents have been protesting
against their exclusion from key livestock grazing areas since it was established. Stories of success disregard this reality of green grabbing
Conservation biologists also make scientifically questionable claims about the alleged ecological success
of conservation interventions. Such claims are based on the assumption that a reduced livestock density and an increasing wildlife density constitute a better ecological state of the environment.
We take issue
with this simple concept being applied to an ecologically dynamic, semi-arid environment of Northern Tanzania. The ecological conditions in the area are far more complex
than simple changes in livestock and wildlife densities.
Such studies do not evaluate the ecological impact of conservation. They simply report if conservation rules have been successfully enforced. Failing to distinguish between conservation
, such studies simply conflate the two.
However, conservation objectives are not necessarily the same as ecologically sound objectives.
The politics and ethics of selling success
But why are stories of success so widespread in conservation despite little evidence to support them?
One reason is that individuals and organisations have
a stake in marketing success stories. Selling success
is an important commodity
To us, it’s ethically problematic to suggest that Tanzania’s community-based conservation is on a path of success. This narrative obscures the politics of coercive conservation
in the country.
We care about people and the environment, and we would like to see humans and animals (domestic and wild) thrive. Yet as scientists, we also have a responsibility to avoid contributing further to the marginalisation and dispossession
of the most vulnerable people in the places we study and care about.
The rocky road towards a sustainable vision of human-animal interactions cannot be separated from broader political and economic processes
in Tanzania. Scientists, conservation and development practitioners, cannot remove themselves from this reality.
By defining what success – and by extension failure – looks like in coercive conservation, we help create a particular reality. In this reality, the weakest members of society are blamed when interventions, whose terms are dictated by others, fail.
This article is republished from The Conversation
under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article