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Community Conservation in Zanzibar - not just mangroves and monkeys

29 December 2011 Södertörn University

The sustainable development goals of community conservation in Zanzibar raise more complex issues than just protecting monkeys and mangroves. Contingent socio-economic and cultural factors must be taken into account when planning and implementing conservation initiatives if they are to endure, let alone succeed.

The problem investigated by Fred Saunders in his thesis is why community conservation often falls short on its promises to deliver conservation, increase democracy and bring development opportunities to poor people in the rural South. His findings indicate that community conservation projects commonly fail because they are too mired in concern about regulating, or perhaps more accurately constraining, the ‘direct’ relationship between resource use and users.

The thesis argues that participants in community conservation should be seen not just as ‘local rational resource users’, as they largely are now, but as people with differentiated socio-economic and cultural interconnections and interests.

Evidence gathered from two community conservation case studies in Zanzibar was used to show how the theory underpinning these interventions is overly simplistic and determinative, and therefore does not sufficiently acknowledge the existing and emergent politics of project sites. A key misconception underpinning these projects is that the complexity and dynamism of community relations is able to be reduced to how people use local resources. In reality, people negotiate across multiple scales and numerous social terrains, including gender, family, class, work and politics, all of which potentially influence the management and use of resources. These interactions are historically influenced, power laden and have consequences.

Reflection on the results of this thesis indicate that community conservation approaches would benefit from taking a more contingent, embedded and dynamic view of institutional interaction. This would recognise that people pursue various interests in the spaces opened up by project interventions; that some people are more constrained than others in pursuing these interests, and that project interventions will change the existing social and socio-environmental relations in some way. How well these specific conditions are dealt with in community conservation projects could well mean the difference between realising localised sustainability benefits and abject failure.

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