Communities adapting to climate change can learn from revolutionary conservation method

A revolutionary approach to conservation and development pioneered in southern Africa provides vital lessons that can help communities worldwide adapt to climate change, according to a new report published by IIED today.

News, 03 May 2012

Muyeye Chambwera and colleagues studied examples of Community-Based Natural Resource Management, a name for systems developed over the past three decades to enable communities to control and benefit from local wildlife, forests, water and other resources.

They found that CBNRM methods could inform strategies for communities to become more resilient to challenges such as droughts, floods, extreme temperatures and changes to rainfall patterns.

“CBNRM has been a success when it has created processes and institutions that devolve power from central government, create tangible benefits for communities and allow the people themselves to take charge of their own development,” says Chambwera. “These factors will all be critical to the success of communities as they strive to adapt to climate change.”

CBNRM is based on an incentive-driven notion that assumes that communities will manage their natural resources better, and in ways that also result in poverty reduction, if they are in control of those resources and derive direct economic benefits from them. This approach to conservation and development has enabled communities to cope with a range of stresses.

Four key elements form the foundations of CBNRM: sustainable use, devolution of management decisions from government to local institutions, collective control and legal rights over resources, and economic incentives that enhance the value of resources to communities that conserve them.

The researchers identified eight key lessons that CBNRM has for community based adaptation:

  • Blending strategies for sustainable livelihoods and resource management can make communities more resilient and able to adapt to climate shocks
  • Local capacity can decide whether communities can overcome climate threats
  • Incentives must be direct and visible
  • Sustainable household cash incomes will enhance a community’s capacity to adapt
  • Community adaptation projects should build on traditional institutions – not just create new ones
  • Institutions for community based adaptation should include all relevant stakeholders
  • Traditional leadership can be an important symbol for community ownership
  • Trust matters – between communities and their leaders, and between leaders and project teams

After three decades of experience, CBNRM is now operating at local, national and regional levels. The report says that for community based adaptation to climate change to become as well established at such scales, it will need financial incentives, enabling policies, research, communication and people who will champion the approach.

“To succeed, long-term adaptation to climate change will depend on locally-based and proven approaches rather than top-down interventions that are driven by central governments or outside aid agencies, and which depend on external resources,” says Chambwera. “That’s where CBNRM can provide useful models for community-based adaptation. In fact both systems can work hand-in-hand and strengthen each other.”

Download the report