The Urbane Ecologist

Governance of protected areas in developing countries

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I’ve recently begun reading a book called People, Protected Areas and Global Change: Participatory Conservation in Latin America, Africa, Asia and Europe. It is a collection of case studies that analyze the governance and success of several protected areas. The book is edited by Drs. Mark Galvin and Tobias Haller. (See my Books post for a more complete citation.)

So far I have learned that the governance of protected areas is quite an issue of tension in many developing countries, largely because of debates over rights of access to natural resources for the locals and the levels or inclusion different people have to this land. Tension is generated, too, by the looming shadow of colonial histories, which have made it more difficult to ascertain who has the right to power, who has the right to governance, and who has the right to be involved at all. Often, protected areas are a way for a former colony to manifest and demonstrate control over its own territory.

There are two general ways to govern a protected area: the fortress approach and the community approach. Fortress governance features police or military-style control of a protected area by the state, and it prohibits human use completely. The community approach recognizes and returns power and the right to make decisions to the local level, sometimes in a bottom-up fashion. Generally speaking, there has been a movement from a fortress approach to a community approach.

The historical experience that people have from the fortress approaches still undermines the trust in relationships between the people and the state, however. Other challenges are developing the notion of ownership by local people and increasing the options they see for acting on their own, and generating enough incentives to balance or overcome losses and opportunity costs.

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