Giving villagers a slice of the pie

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ZIMBABWE'S magnificent game parks are a big tourist draw, but until recently, the people of the surrounding areas did not feel they had a stake in the parks' success. Poaching, too, had become a major problem. Now, wildlife conservation in the country is being made to work differently - by giving hundreds of villagers a share in its management and benefits.

CAMPFIRE - Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources - is trying the new approach. And, partly because of its success, the amount of land given over to wildlife in Zimbabwe in the past five years has risen from 12 per cent to 35 per cent.

The programme is a follow-Lip to the 1975 Parks and Wildlife Act, wWh gave landowners the right to farm wildlife on their land. But the legislation applied only to commercial farmers, many of whom, as a result of the country's colonial past, are white.

Black Africans living on so-called communal lands, usually with poor soils and rugged terrain, were still disadvaniaged. So, in 1989, the goVernment empowered district councils to'help communal people manage their wildlife and natural resources.
Sustainable resource use Says CAMPFIRE chief executive officer Taparendava Mavaneke, "CAMPFIRE is about the communal management of land, soil, trees. water and wildlife. It applies holistically to all natural resources that are not privately owned. The aim of CAMPFIRE is to ensure the sustainable titilisation of natural resources in such a way that the producer communities will benefit ... be it in the form of cash, community projects or meat." Mavaneke explains the organisation believes that natural resources, particularly wildlife, can be conserved only by the communities that live with them.

Another factor that led to the establishment of the programme was the realisation that wildlife in and around rural communities competes with other land uses, such as conventional agriculture and livestock farming, and can do so successfully only if it is socially acceptable and economically justifiable.

Among the association's goals are sustainable exploitation of wildlife in communal areas, curbing oil land degradation resulting from tilling by offering the alternative of sustainable wildlife production and enabling rural communities to benefit directly from indigenous wildlife.

The programme also recognises that wildlife can be destructive to crops and people and so aims to minimise such threats. Its approac1h to wildlife management based on market forces to achieve economic, ecological and social sustainability.

The project promotes benefits at three levels - the villager, who receives cash, meat and sometimes either temporary or permanent employment; the community which gains development revenue, and the country because of increased economic activity in rural areas.

For example, a hunting safari raised about $7,700 for villages suffering from the effects of Zimbabwe's work drought in living memory. Similarly, more than 450 rural families in the southwest received $28 each from a game- hunting expedition that was given permission to stalk and shoot animals in their area last year. Another $7,975 in fees from the expedition was set aside to pay for d maize-grinding mill, which will be managed by the villagers themselves.

The most common CAMPFIRE project is safari hunting, which is taken up mainly by foreigners Nyaminyami district in the northwest of the country used to depend on elephants for its programme, but ha, now diversified into crocodile farming.

Districts with little wildlife are investigating other resources. Says CAMPFIRE administrative secretary. Either Muchadakuenda, "The new member-districts do not have much wildlife, so they will have to rely on trees, woodlands and water." An example of this offered by Uzumba Maramba Pfungwe Evataida district council in the northeast, which this year opened a touricamp that it hopes will attract visitors interested in nirlife. It also offers facilities for bird-watching, fishing ailhiking. Ancient paintings can also be seen in the area.

The camp, which has lodges made with local materrials, is the first of its kind within the CAMPFIRE project With the revenue, says Mavaneke, "the local communities are thinking of providing a local clinic and a grinding mill, because the nearest are some 30 kIn away. The people would also like to improve the local school."

Muchadakuenda is also confident that the project can help communities with ravagep environments. "That's why we are here," she comments. "We would like to help them restore their environment and set up projects such as translocation of animals and engage in crocodile, ostrich or fish farming." Some communities prefer to invest revenue from CAMPFIRE projects in FIRE project. community projects such as schools, clinics and roads, instead of dividing it among individuals. For example. the people of Chiredzi. a remote area 400 kIn from the capital Harare. used the money earned through CAMPFIRE to renovate a $30,675 clinic, which had become dilapidated. Decisions about what to do with the money are left to the villagers. "Communities can decide how they want to use their money," stresses Muchadakuenda.

When the scheme began in 1989, only two district councils were involved. Now. there are 22 districts and 10 waiting to be gazetted. Councils exchange views through a newsletter. "Our long-term goals as an association are to broaden CAMPFIRE in order to include as many district councils and their local communities as possible," says Mavaneke. "We also hope to forge more links with other organisations involved in sustainable rural development so that together we work to strengthen local development institutions. "

Decentralisation opposed The district councils work V2 ffmrsr with the villagers to decide suitable projects. There are plans to decentralise from the district level to the village level. However, the move is resisted by many council members who feel villagers are not,capable of managing their own finances. Despite the long independence struggle, the colonial legacy of paternalism and the post-Independence legacy of strong centralised rule make grassroots decision-making an uncomfortable and, for some, unthinkable, prospect.

A case study of the- experience of the Nyaminyami district council by James Murombedzi of the University of Zimbabwe's Centre for Applied Social Sciences identified the failure to get right down to the grassroots level as one of the flaws in the programme. Murombedzi noted districts are administrative units and not necessarily cohesive communities. The programme "runs the risk of centralising at the level of the district council. "

Arguing that local control over resources was limited, Murombedzi said, "A typical response to the question, 'Who in your opinion owns the wildlife resources of this communal area?' is: either the district council or the wildlife manager. Local people argue that they do not even participate in making decisions about wildlife and, therefore, cannot consider the resource to be their own." In addition to decentralising to the village level, CAMPFIRE officials are emphasising the importance of research and documentation of natural resources in communal areas. In this context, it works with a number of organisations, including the department of national parks and wildlife management and the World Wide Fund for Nature. The association also wants to build up expertise in marketing natural resources, institution building and training rural communities in project identi fication, design, implementation and evaluation.

Because of its innovative approach, the association is often invited to international conservation meetings, where it lobbies unceasingly against the 1989 ban on the international trade in ivory.

The issue of whether to ban ivory trade has become CAMPFIRE acrimonious. Most wildlife campaigners argue for a total ban as the only way to stamp out the trade. But several southern African countries, such as Zimbabwe, contend controlled trade makes better sense because it would enable local communities to have an economic stake in wildlife protection.

It is on this ground that CAMPFIRE asserts its activities have reduced poaching. "An ivory ban will leave a conservation cost for the elephant without a development benefit," says Mavaneke. "If producer communities are in control of the management of the local resource base, then consumer bans are unnecessary."

Mavaneke says putting forward this view internationally is important because "some international conservationists misunderstand the whole concept of sustainable utilisation".

One bottleneck the programme faces is the shortage of people with skills that are of use to participating communities. The association has only four full-time workers, and leans heavily on support from non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Some see a possible threat to the programme in the recent departure of Rowan Martin from the department of national parks and wildlife management. Several animal conservation groups believe Martin's departure maV mark a shift in the government's position on the 1989 international ivory trade ban. Essentially, they argue, this would represent a return to state control of wildlife, favoured by many Western-based NGOs, and a move away from community control experiments, such as CAMPFIRE, of which Martin was an architect.

One local NGO representative was quoted in New Scientist magazine as warning, "If the government moves away from sustainable use and tries to bring wildlife back under direct state control, the CAMPFIRE programme, 'Which relies on rural communities having the legal right to,manage their own animals, will fail.

"Already, huge swaths of private land that have been switched from cattle to WW wildlife because it give the farmer a better economic return, are considered,to be land that is underusedl and liable to be reclaimed by a government keen to keep its election promise to resettle people on farms. Wildlife would once again be restricted to small national parks."

If that happens, Muchada kuenda, for one, would be very disappointed. She points out that initial reservati ns 10 from communities to the CAMPFIRE scheme have mostly been overcome: "At first, CAMPFIRE when they did not understand the aims and benefits, it was a problem. But now, most communities are very cooperative and even poaching has decreased."

And, Muchadakuenda is convinced communities all over the world can improve their standards of living through natural resource management, "which means using and caring for resources so they remain available for our children to use in the future".

Leonissah Munjoma is deputy editor of Development Dialogue in Harare