Rural communities are often characterized by a rural way of life. In contrast to urban areas, rural communities are relatively far from the big cities and are found out in the country. Communities like these have a low population density and small population size that engages in farming and other agricultural activities. Prevalent problems that arise from rural communities and their need to protect their natural areas are usually as a result of human activities, activities the locals practice themselves. These activities include things like poaching of animals for consumption; use of skins and commercial sale of the meat, illegal fishing, use of plants for; construction materials and fuel woods, and encroachment. Rural people’s use of natural resources serves as a significant economic opportunity for them especially since many rural communities are in third world countries with high poverty levels. Along with poverty often comes factors such as lack of self-improvement opportunities, high vulnerability to diseases and disasters, exclusion from decision-making and a lack of capacity to defend community interests. Urban areas that depend on goods and services from these rural areas, also challenge these areas by engaging in some of these activities which undermine the management of resources in rural regions. These types of activities are particularly essential for these urban areas to satisfy their growing consumerist lifestyles, which they mostly do in the context of global trade (Boer & Baquete, 1998).
With the prevalent problems that arise from the exploitation of some of these rural communities, there is a need to protect some natural areas within these regions. This paper highlights the relationship between natural protected areas and local rural communities as a focal point for maintaining the benefits of sustainable rural and local development strategies. This relationship is critical in maintaining and designing effective conservation strategies, especially in rural communities that are exploited often. The following areas were considered in this research and will serve as key examples for this study: Liwonde National Park, Malawi, Wildlife and Protected areas in Ethiopia, Mount Cameroon Region of West Africa, Nyungwe Forest Reserve, Rwanda and Maputo Elephant Reserve, Mozambique. The key aims of the study include:
Major aims: The research’s major aims are to understand the activities challenging protected areas in rural regions; identifying and describing some of the socio-cultural problems faced by these local African communities, and briefly; pointing out the local people’s perception on conservation activities and how they respond to these activities.
Specific aim: The research provides a description of how the attitude and participation of people from local communities in East Africa greatly influenced the conservation and preservation of some of their natural heritage areas.
Ayonghe (2012) examined the management of protected areas within rural communities in the Mount Cameroon Region of West Africa. Using the qualitative methods of field observation and interviews, Ayonghe found that there is need to protect some areas in these communities and be managed properly for the well-being of the population. This ideology remained after controlling for demographic and confound variables, such as ethnicity, socio-cultural features, political factors and income dimensions. After sampling households in about seven of the village communities, the study found out that even though the local people of the area exerted high pressures on their resources, there was still a strong will to collaborate with the government in the protection and conservation of their forest. This was particularly important since the local people consider the forest one of their main source of survival. This equally led to increased collaboration of local communities, enabling them take part in the process of decision-making.
Boer and Baquete (1998) analyzed that through the participation of locals from the Maputo Elephant Reserve, southern Mozambique this has helped in the development of a resource management plan which improved the relationship between the Reserve and the local population generally. The aim of the study was to improve the understanding of the local people’s use of natural resources and perceptions of the Reserve’s impact. After carrying out interviews in four different villages, it was recorded that on average 60% of the household exploited resources, 71% valued plant resources less and 21% haunted a range of animal species. The use of these resources went mainly into commercial purposes to improve their economic status. Even with efforts to sustain livelihoods, 88% of respondents answered positively towards the plan to improve the management and conservation of their reserve.
Although this research seems outdated, it touches on matters relevant to the study of parks in developing countries. It also provides useful information that champions some of the causes for lack of proper national park initiatives in developing countries.
Dearden, Rollins and Needham (2016) in chapters 2, 7, 10 and 15 of their book discuss the issues rural people in developing countries face because of the existence of parks. Each chapter touches on the fallacy that indigenous societies in rural areas of the world live in harmony with nature and their natural areas. Much of this work take a global view of the plight local people face with the engagement of their parks and reserves. In their view, the bodies that treat these national parks do not have clearly defined terms of what conservation of nature implies. They also present the idea that the way nature is viewed in these rural regions, can be traced to historical processes that have occurred within these societies.
Novelli, M., & Scarth, A. (2007). Tourism in Protected Areas: Integrating Conservation and Community Development in Liwonde National Park (Malawi). Tourism and Hospitality Planning & Development,4(1), 47-73. doi:10.1080/14790530701289697
The paper introduces some of the theories, concepts and debates that exist in the literature surrounding protected areas, conservation, local communities and tourism, with a focus on less developed countries, and then explores the concepts in the context of Liwonde National Park, Malawi
The paper introduces some of the theories, concepts and debates that exist in the literature surrounding protected areas, conservation, local communities and tourism, with a focus on less developed countries, and then explores the concepts in the context of Liwonde National Park, Malawi The paper introduces some of the theories, concepts and debates that exist in the literature surrounding protected areas, conservation, local communities and tourism, with a focus on less developed countries, and then explores the concepts in the context of Liwonde National Park, Malawi
The paper introduces some of the theories, concepts and debates that exist in the literature surrounding protected areas, conservation, local communities and tourism, with a focus on less developed countries, and then explores the concepts in the context of Liwonde National Park, Malawi. According to Novelli and Scarth (2007) in order to explore the implications of tourism and protected areas in Liwonde National Park, a qualitative research and field research approach was adopted. This involved face-to-face interviews so as to create an interactive setting between them and the participants. As one of Malawi’s smaller national parks, it was the strong desire of the locales to make the park self-sustaining whilst also generating revenue for this purpose. Novelli and Scarth (2007) also mention that even though the economic benefits of tourism are not extended to bordering communities, the principles of local support highlighted in the study remains rather helpful in conserving the park and fostering community development. Nonetheless, a major critique would be that further research is needed to assess the changes of community attitudes and behaviors over time and reassess them of the top of the tourism scheme implementation.
Tessema, Lilieholm, Ashenafi and Leader-Williams (2010), examine community- protected area relationship and how it could be improved through the involvement of communities in co-management arrangements of conservation initiatives. Using household surveys, they found that despite local tensions, most respondents of the survey held positive views toward wildlife and nearby natural areas. Giving the ongoing ties between the local people, protected areas and wildlife, future conservation efforts included active participation of the local communities in gaining local support for wildlife conservation. The thesis of the paper provides insights into the ideological importance of local residents, the way the people relate to their landscape and some of the issues involved in decision-making with private sectors. We shall see that these network of connections are necessary in order to implement successful conservation policies.
The value of resources and landscape heritage in rural areas have not been included so much in local and socio-economic development. With high poverty rates in these areas, the relationship between parks and poverty is still one of the main issues on the global protected areas agenda (Dearden, Rollins & Needham, 2016). In many cases, the creation of protected areas to conserve biodiversity in rural regions causes the obstruction of future land-use options as a means to alleviate poverty. The people in these rural areas give relative value to the use of these natural resources. According to Dearden et al., 2016, locals usually harbor a justified sense of resentment towards parks because they would rather engage in unsustainable resource extraction to maintain their livelihood and to ensure future economic opportunities.
Boer & Baquete (1998) examined the cause for locals’ use of natural resources in the Maputo Elephant Reserve (MER) located in Southern Mozambique and the casual attitudes towards these natural resources. It was recorded that about 60% of the households in the community exploited more than two different resource categories (Boer & Baquete, 1998). 71% of the households who valued the animal and fish resources less, used plant resources instead (Boer & Baquete, 1998). Plant resources were used specifically for purposes that had the highest relative values. Among 21% of the households, antelopes, hippopotamuses and elephants were valued highest out of all the animal resources (Boer & Baquete, 1998). These animals were mostly used for the commercial sale of meat, consumption and use of the skins to make other products. Based upon this research, the common use of the reserve was mainly for commercial purposes by the rural people. It was also stated that this part of the world has a history of armed conflict and have faced open abuse and exploitation of their natural resources especially during the civil war which lasted from 1978 to 1992 (Boer & Baquete, 1998). According to Boer & Baquete (1998), animal population reduced drastically during the civil war, and during this time the MER was managed by the National Forestry and Wildlife Department which had lost its control as a result of the war. In Mozambique, the prolonged civil war meant that the forest reserves never received any significant protection from opportunist logging companies. It was reported that some natural habitats such as the Northern Mozambique forests were lost due to commercial exploitation and heavy logging (Boer & Baquete, 1998). They also found that after the civil war ended in the 1990s, this deforestation also accounted for a reduction in the population density of large mammals due to lack of food.
Dearden, Rollins & Needham (2016) have also examined from an international viewpoint, some of the socio-cultural problems faced by local communities in regards to protecting their natural areas. They disclose that many of the challenges rural regions face when trying to protect their natural areas is due to the fact that there is no consistent definition of the term ‘protected area’. A “national park” in one country might have moderate biodiversity objectives and be devoted to protecting local culture and way of life whereas, in another country, it could be the soul representation of nature conservation with strong prohibitions against interventions in natural processes (Dearden et al., 2016). A good example is seen with Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park. This park forms the heart of a protective designation but is also surrounded by other types of protection lands governed in co-operation with both private sector and community partners (Dearden et al., 2016).
Even with these challenges and differences, rural communities are still finding ways to understand their relationship with their natural areas. Most locals approach this strategy with respect to their beliefs and principles guiding the natural areas. These beliefs have led to the creation of protected areas in many developing countries. Precisely, national parks and reserves in East Africa are finding new developmental and conventional management strategies to protect their natural areas, whilst also fostering strong community involvement.
The first case study to be examined is the wildlife conservation project in Ethiopia. According to Tessema, Lilieholm, Ashenafi & Leader-William (2010), it was observed that natural resources in Ethiopia have been sustainably managed through a wide range of common property resource regimes. This enabled early conservation efforts to focus on creating protected areas prohibited from the killing of wildlife without official permission. Additionally, the policies and strategies developed from community participation at the federal level also led to protection from private sectors. These private sectors who now effectively manage most of the protected areas at the local level. The first step that enabled them to create a sustainable and collaborative resource management system was understanding the local people’s attitudes towards wildlife and conservation (Tessema et al., 2010). They asked and encouraged participants to express their views about wildlife in their respective protected areas, how they believe wildlife should be protected, their feelings regarding their local protected areas and their desired relationship between with these protected areas (Tessema et al., 2010). Community leaders invited key informants to participate in certain focus groups by making use of local well-trained translators to ensure that all participants were able to express their views freely. The strong support showed by both the community leaders and the local people resulted in 100% participation in the focus groups (Tessema et al., 2010). During the final assessment, results showed that the villagers held positive views towards wildlife. To build on these gains, the local people proposed that firstly, transparency within their local communities and private or non-governmental organizations (NGOs) be improved. Secondly, because they viewed wildlife as an important part of their lives, they expressed sympathy for extirpated wildlife and supported conservation of the remaining wildlife populations through both government and NGO support (Tessema et al., 2010). Thirdly, they requested that locals be employed as part of the staff for those private and non-profit national parks (Tessema et al., 2010). It was noted that conflicts and misunderstandings arose because park staff were not local to the area (Tessema et al., 2010). Thus, it was with this positive attitude and contributions that the locals as well as private reserves were able to establish a legal framework under which communities can collaborate with a clear understanding of partnership rights and responsibilities on issues regarding their protected areas (Tessema et al., 2010).
The next case study looks at a similar incidence in the rural communities of Mount Cameroon, a protected region in Central Africa. The Mount Cameroon region is located in the South West region of Central Africa and is the highest mountain in both the West and Central African region (Ayonghe, 2012). The mountain itself is also an active volcano (Ayonghe, 2012). Despite being an active volcano site, the surrounding vegetation, crater lakes and waterfalls still makes it a popular tourist destination and provides useful information regarding plants and animals of the region such as bananas, rubber, oil palm, tea, snakes, monkeys, rats and antelopes (Ayonghe, 2012). Indigenes of the mountain state that despite the possibilities offered by the mountain region, some species of primates and several other wild animals all native to Cameroon are endangered (Ayonghe, 2012). This is particularly true in the Limbe Wildlife Centre (LWC) where many orphaned primates whose families were killed for bush meat have also been illegally taken out of their natural forest habitat. According to Ayonghe (2012), the LWC never buys or sells animals but instead are funded through donations. Over time, the LWC with collaborative efforts from the indigenous people, the government of Cameroon and the Pandrillus foundation have since sought strategies to secure the long-term survival of endangered species. The focus was mainly on promoting awareness on conservation by creating workshop, research and recreational services. The Mount Cameroon forest became a protected area not only because there was a need to protect endangered animal species from illegal hunters but also to control the harvesting of plant species (Ayonghe, 2012). It is for reasons like this that the Mount Cameroon National Park is still ongoing with developments aimed at protecting the park. In the interviews carried out to inform the locals on conservation activities, results showed that many of the locals believed that the reserve not only prevented the destruction of their natural resources but also offered other services. These services include serving as a tourist attraction which in turn brings about economic development of the community, conservation activities which prevent bush fires typically common on Mount Cameroon and finally, activities which serve to define hunting areas and sustainable off-take (Ayonghe, 2012). These and many other perspectives have been acknowledged by the local community of Mount Cameroon and are still being implemented to protect the natural resources till this day.
The next case study analyzes similar community-based management strategies implemented in the Nyungwe Forest Reserve, Rwanda. It is currently one of the largest tracts of forest remaining in the Albertine Rift highlands of East-Central Africa (Masozera, Alavalapati, Jacobson, & Shrestha, 2006). The Nyungwe Forest Reserve (NFR) contains more than 295 bird species and 13 primate species with very little agricultural resources (Masozera et al., 2006). The substantial loss of the reserves’ forest cover is due to poor soils and steep slopes. The NFR has also suffered long years of colonial exploitation and while the prohibition of clearing the forest (for agriculture) existed, forest conservation legislation during the colonial period gave leeway to other forms of exploitation (Masozera et al., 2006). This meant that mining and timber harvesting under a system of government-controlled permits were granted. Despite these circumstances, local members of the reserve have since sought ways to strengthen the conservation of the NFR. According to Masozera et al. (2006), the community based management approach to the NFR, recognized the basic needs of the local people in and around the area. This approach increased the local access to the reserve as a way of engaging the people in natural resource management (Masozera et al., 2006). It also incorporated their ideas, experiences, values and capabilities in order to influence forest management planning. In the study Masozera et al., also mentions the key roles of stakeholders in the planning and management of the reserve (2006). They explained that involving key stakeholders allowed all the necessary conditions for sustainable conservation of the reserve to be considered and addressed accordingly. Even in the face of effectively planning and maintain their forest reserve, the local community representatives expect that the community based management approach will in succession improve their well-being.
The last case study focuses on Liwonde National Park, Malawi. The major difference between the locals represented in this study from the other studies is that the locals in this region used the global demand for nature-based tourism in conserving and protecting their natural area. Tourism, in truth, is integral to many of the world’s protected areas. This case study provides evidence to suggest that if developed carefully, tourism can generate revenue in a non-extractive sustainable way. According to Novelli & Scarth (2007), it is estimated that about 85% of the population in Malawi live in rural areas. This would suggest that the economy of the country is not buoyant. Protected areas have the potential to generate economic benefits to local communities through the sustainable use of natural resources in a variety of ways. This is why one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) proposed by the Malawian government was to identify natural resources located in their rural areas and uncover potential economic benefits from them. It was within this framework of the MDG that the touring of their natural areas was suggested. It was also proposed that as opposed to other economic sectors, tourism will reduce poverty rates and also help in “game preservation” (Novelli & Scarth, 2007). Tourism within this park serves as an environmentally friendly way of developing counties where protected areas are becoming more popular destinations, especially for wildlife tourists (Novelli & Scarth, 2007). However, it has been established that support from the surrounding local communities is desirable to achieve this. Within the Liwonde discourse, the attitudes of the local people towards wildlife tourism revealed no negative concerns. The key goal of the agenda was to ensure that tourism became a tool for conservation management rather than becoming only a site for tourism business. The only noted concerns were related to the lack of sufficient economic gains from the park, rather than resentment towards tourism specifically (Novelli & Scarth, 2007). Considering the potential economic benefits of tourism to local communities, protected area tourism offers certain but limited opportunities to local people (Novelli & Scarth, 2007). Tourism can help finance community development while providing tangible park benefits, as long as the local interests of the people are acknowledged. Although further research is needed to determine what happens when community attitude changes over time.
The relationship between rural communities and their protected natural areas is a very complex one. These protected areas are under constant threat of exploitation, degradation and lack of development strategies and thus, there needs to be sustainable management designs which will help protect these areas. These management designs can only be implemented effectively when there is an understanding of the impact of these natural areas on the locals as well as their complex relationship with the rural community in general.
- Ayonghe, A. N. (2012). Rural communities and protected area management in the Mount Cameroon Region of West Africa. African J. of Economic and Sustainable Development,1(2), 146. doi:10.1504/ajesd.2012.046972
- Boer, W. F., & Baquete, D. S. (1998). Natural resource use, crop damage and attitudes of rural people in the vicinity of the Maputo Elephant Reserve, Mozambique. Environmental Conservation,25(3), 208-218. doi:10.1017/s0376892998000265
- Dearden, P., Rollins, R., & Needham, M. (2016). Parks and protected areas in Canada: Planning and management. Don Mills: Oxford University Press.
- Masozera, M. K., Alavalapati, J. R., Jacobson, S. K., & Shrestha, R. K. (2006). Assessing the suitability of community-based management for the Nyungwe Forest Reserve, Rwanda. Forest Policy and Economics,8(2), 206-216. doi:10.1016/j.forpol.2004.08.001
- Novelli, M., & Scarth, A. (2007). Tourism in Protected Areas: Integrating Conservation and Community Development in Liwonde National Park (Malawi). Tourism and Hospitality Planning & Development,4(1), 47-73. doi:10.1080/14790530701289697
- Tessema, M. E., Lilieholm, R. J., Ashenafi, Z. T., & Leader-Williams, N. (2010). Community Attitudes Toward Wildlife and Protected Areas in Ethiopia. Society & Natural Resources,23(6), 489-506. doi:10.1080/08941920903177867