22 Mar 2022

Successful conservation is built on trust

Experiences from all over the world show that community-based approaches to anti-corruption in conservation efforts can yield great success.

Rosewood is a tropical hardwood that is tough, with even grain, but easy to work with. Its qualities make it the perfect material for wood carving and furniture. It has also driven it to the brink of extinction.

In this episode of the Corruption Tapes podcast, senior adviser Aled Williams at CMI’s U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre is joined by Petra Burai, associate at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Annah Zhu, assistant professor at Wageningen University, and Judy Oglethorpe, a senior director at WWF US. They discuss the benefits and limitations of community-based approaches to anti-corruption in conservation, and how local communities can play an important role in both conservation efforts and governance.

What happened in Makira National Park?

Intensive logging has made rosewood one of the most endangered species of trees in the world. Elaborate measures have been implemented to protect it, for example in the Makira Natural Park in Madagascar. A conservation effort in Makira Natural Park was showing considerable success in combatting the local-level corruption that contributed to illegal logging of the precious rosewood in the region. Its success was in large parts ascribed to the extensive and close cooperation with local communities. The conservation programme seemed like the picture-perfect community-based conservation approach. But challenges threatening the whole scheme soon emerged. What went wrong?

It soon turned out that rosewood’s high commercial value compromised the conservation project in ways that were impossible to deal with on a local level. Illegal rosewood logging was so lucrative that it provided a strong incentive for communities to join the illicit networks.

-It also led to the rise of a rosewood elite, which was essentially rosewood exporters who managed to integrate themselves into national-level political networks through a type of institutional capture, says Annah Zhu.

-So while community-based anti-corruption efforts may prove effective in cases where local landscapes are of little interest to national-level actors, they are likely to fail when resources are highly valued for strategic or economic reasons, she says.

Lessons learned

The rosewood experiences from Makira National Park shows how easily a community-based approach can break down once a natural resource gains high economic value. It also shows that there is no single design that fits all. To succeed, you have to know the context and operate within the framework that it dictates. And you depend on a close collaboration with the community and good local management.

But exactly how do you do this? There are several ways of counteracting the negative effects the prospect of making money has on the success of a conservation programme.

-When lucrative natural resources are involved and institutional capture is present, anti-corruption interventions must adopt a multi-level approach. This means looking not only at community level dynamics, but also political dynamics at the national level and how they intersect with/undermine local resource management, says Zhu.

To avoid pitfalls, implementers should be aware that community-based approaches require continuous work. Community-based approaches to conservation need to be built on a solid foundation. This foundation includes a sense of trust, being inclusive, and getting everyone on board. Judy Oglethorpe says that these components have been crucial to community-based projects, and stresses that these factors, combined with well governed community institutions, can lay the foundation for conservation success also in cases of wildlife and natural resources of high economic value.

And even though there is no such thing as a general rulebook for community engagement, there are certain common features.

-In successful projects there was a feeling of solidarity which came from a sense of belonging and ownership. But that is not automatic. It rests on the adjustment of interests of all participants concerned. Community-based projects, in general, need to embrace issues that directly affect people’s lives, provide assistance to use public information in more effective ways and, of course, show results, says Petra Burai.

-A feeling of solidarity and ownership doesn’t come automatically. It depends on all participants’ interests being taken into account, she says.

Tune into the Corruption Tapes podcast for a fresh approach to the debate on how to tackle the devastating effects of corruption on conservation! Available on Soundcloud and Spotify.

For more resources from the Targeting Natural Resource Corruption project, visit www.worldwildlife.org/pages/tnrc-targeting-natural-resource-corruption


The podcast is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the responsibility of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID, the United States Government, or individual TNRC consortium members.