The power of communities

On the 27th of October 2015, we, the students of Conservation Science 2015, experienced the most fascinating, amazing and incredible Mid-Term conference. During this conference, each future conservation scientist was expected to present a current conservation issue. Before the conference begun, I am sure that all of us felt the stress and tension build up. However, as soon as the first presenter went up, things changed. Stress dissipated in the room’s thin air, and everyone seemed captivated by passion. In my eyes, we were a community of dedicated and motivated individuals with the power to change the future of conservation. But are we powerful enough?

Throughout the conference the power of communities to change the course of conservation was highlighted. Local communities were presented to stand in the way of conservation efforts. I wonder, why is this power not used hand in hand with conservation? Can we find a middle ground?

In theory, we can and conservation development is the solution.

Conservation development involves the promotion of economic growth through sustainable usage of natural resources and integrated conservation management plans. Conservation development schemes take into account local community needs, but also conservation priorities. Therefore, instead of local communities standing in the way of conservation efforts and conservation priorities standing in the way of local communities’ development, this community power is used to achieve conservation priorities. But does this even work?

By presenting 3 schemes in Sub-Saharan Africa, (1) Luangwa Integrated Resource Development Programme (LIRDP) in Zambia, (2) Community Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE) in Zimbabwe, and (3) Ponto do Ouro Partial Marine Reserve (PPMR) in Mozambique, Amy identified the success of Conservation Development projects.


PPMR in Mozambique, allows for the protection and monitoring of leatherbacks, the largest sea turtles, that are critically endangered and loggerhead sea turtles that are endangered, with the help of locals.

Conservation Development projects successfully improved conservation attitudes. They improved local communities’ welfare through (a) commercially viable subsistence farming (LIRDP), (b) ethical tourism and hunting schemes (CAMPFIRE), (c) ecotourism and increased trust between stakeholders (PPMR) necessary for social cohesion.

These provide hope!

However, schemes also experienced significant challenges. Some of them involve lack of motivation and conflict with tradition (LIRDP) and some stakeholders being worse off than others, e.g. fishermen (PPMR).

As Amy concluded, we should take these challenges into account and improve future projects. We must include all important stakeholders in decisions and introduce a socio-political and ethical dimension in conservation. Furthermore, it can be said that for a scheme to succeed all stakeholders must be involved. This allows for long term positive changes in rural communities, which usually suffer the most. All in all, Conservation Development initiatives can actually lead to mutually beneficial solutions instead of being a ‘recipe for disaster’.

Communities have the power to either lead conservation efforts towards success or to failure. Therefore, it is up to us, the conservation scientists, to use this opportunity of middle ground between conservation and development, to bring about change.

By Athina Georgiou Shippi


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