Community-based natural resource management (Spring 2016 issue)

The equitable and sustainable management of natural resources is essential in MCC’s work to improve food security and livelihoods. However, there are inherent complexities associated with how these resources should be managed and by whom. Community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) emphasizes the role of communities in making decisions about how natural resources are controlled. In contrast to top-down management approaches, CBNRM recognizes that communities are best positioned to make management decisions due to their intimate knowledge of local ecological conditions, traditional management practices and local interests and preferences.

The articles included in this issue of Intersections explore what effective and successful CBNRM looks like in a variety of contexts and identify common themes that arise when working at CBNRM. The first theme emerging from these articles is the complexity in the relationships among actors in CBNRM processes, including communities, local governments, national governments, NGOs and the private sector. These actors have different goals and motivations for engaging in natural resource management, as well as differing approaches to community participation. While multiple actors can work collaboratively to strengthen resource management, more often this dynamic generates complications and tensions stemming from competing interests.

Secondly, these articles raise important questions regarding the role of NGOs like MCC in CBNRM specifically and community development more generally. How can NGOs most effectively support communities as they take the lead in managing their natural resources, particularly when complex relationships exist among actors? Several articles in this issue address this question from numerous angles and contexts.

As these articles demonstrate, community-based natural resource management is not a straight-forward process. Many challenges exist within community engagement processes, especially when other actors (government institutions, private sector actors, NGOs) are involved. Despite complications within CBNRM, community ownership and active participation in managing natural resources can be successful. In instances where the CBNRM process has fallen short, opportunities exist for improvement.

Amy Martens is a research associate in the Planning, Learning and Disaster Response department. Allison Enns is an MCC food security and livelihoods coordinator.