Sustainable landscape conservation poses many challenges, including revisiting ideas about protected areas. In this blog, Prakash Kashwan discusses his recent research on the topic.
Forests play an equally important role on multiple fronts: they sustain rural livelihoods, help provide vital ecological services, act as the stock house of locally and globally valuable biodiversity, and are seen as the cornerstone of climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts. The recognition of forests’ importance has led to two recent developments. First, departing from an emphasis on isolated protected areas, natural scientists and conservation groups advocate for the adoption of large scale landscape conservation programs. Second, in consideration of the long history of tensions between the rights of forest-dependent groups and conservation agencies, many social scientists and community rights advocates caution against significant expansion of protected area networks, which may result in land rights conflicts and human rights violations. In a recently published research article I argue that sustainable landscape conservation requires an engagement with actors, agencies, and processes that have been beyond the purview of protected area management approaches of the past. If accomplished, this will create new opportunities to foster multi-level mobilization of citizen groups, and broadening the ambit of conservation to deliver the benefits of biodiversity and forest conservation directly to rapidly urbanizing local residents.
While many conservation agencies and actors recognize the importance of participation of local communities, such acknowledgement remains inadequate. Protected areas often fall under the jurisdiction of forestry agencies, whereas landscape conservation plays out at larger scale, under the jurisdiction of multiple government and non-government agencies. Conservation actors cannot expect to take control of the entirety of landscapes to manage them for the exclusive goals of nature conservation. Despite E.O. Wilson’s provocative arguments that half of the earth should be set aside for nature, conservation agencies have little influence over decision-makers responsible for land use decisions and developments outside the more than fifteen percent of global landmass set aside as national parks.
Many areas targeted for landscape conservation are undergoing rapid socioeconomic changes leading to urbanization and attendant expansion of the middle classes, which makes even the most successful rural-development oriented conservation models less useful than they would be in the absence of such changes. Countries throughout the Global south have accorded statutory community forest and land tenures to indigenous and forest-dependent people, which mean that government and non-government agencies must share authority and decision-making powers with citizens. As such, participation by invitation and top-down determination of the agenda of participatory governance is unlikely to satisfy residents living within conservation landscapes, let alone motivate them to contribute proactively to the goals of landscape conservation.
Thus, conservation managers need to think of larger landscapes as ‘‘zone of interactions’’ (ZOI) shaped by interactions between protected areas and their surroundings in human-dominated tropical landscapes”. Ultimately, the success of landscape conservation depends greatly on the actions of a range of government and non-government actors and agencies, each of which is bound by a different set of laws, regulations, economic incentives and barriers, as well as cultural and social norms. Cross-scale linkages between these actors, agencies, and institutions produce uneven distribution of costs and benefits, which presents numerous challenges to our understanding of collective action for sustainable governance of common pool resources. At the landscape level, environmentally and socially just outcomes are unlikely to emerge without social and political mobilization. Latin America’s relatively successful forest tenure reforms originated outside of the forest policymaking process and often came about in response to radical peasant mobilization, beginning with the Mexican revolution of 1910-1917.
However, it would be quite misleading and counter-productive to expect that the outcomes witnessed in Latin America could be “replicated” elsewhere. The real lessons of such comparisons are to draw insights for processes and institutions that must be put in place to facilitate multi-level collective action directly linked to commercial opportunities that makes conservation of forests, wildlife, and biodiversity rewarding for forest-dependent people, and to put in place and enforce mechanisms to hold powerful government and non-government actors to account. Investments in building organizational and institutional capacities of multiple social stakeholders, and a broader distribution of the benefits of conservation, promise to improve accountability of government agencies. While scholars have rightly argued that conservationists must build coalitions with civil society and with local residents, such coalition building must be linked to institutional infrastructure that facilitates broad-based participation of local residents in determining the nature and priorities of development.
Improving accountability and effective public engagement will require that local communities and civil society act as checks against the abuse of power by the state, especially the forestry and wildlife agencies. Socially just conservation interventions require practitioners and policymakers to dismantle the long-entrenched and institutionalized inequalities tied to exclusionary forms of conservation and development prevalent in the developing countries. Such proactive interventions will help replace the monolithic and exclusionary vision of protected area-based conservation with more eclectic portfolio of landscape conservation, including conservation of agrobiodiversity and other types of biodiversity one finds within human dominated landscapes.
Prakash Kashwan (Ph.D., 2011, Indiana University, Bloomington) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. His research is concentrated in the area of Comparative and International Environmental Policy and Politics, Institutional Analysis, and Political Economy of International Development. Dr. Kashwan’s scholarly writings have been published in Ecological Economics, Regional Environmental Change, Land Use Policy, International Journal of the Commons, Journal of Theoretical Politics, and Global Environmental Politics. His first book Democracy in the Woods: Environmental Conservation and Social Justice in India, Tanzania, and Mexico will be published by Oxford University Press in early 2017.