A herder takes cattle across the Mwenezi River in the Chiredzi District in Zimbabwe in the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area.
Photo credit: Alexandre Caron (2018)

By Alexandre Caron, Robin Bourgeoise, Chloé Guerbois, Nicia Giva, Prisca Mugabe, Billy Mukamuri, Richard Fynn, William’s Daré, Moseki Motsholapheko, Etienne Delay, Lerato Nare, Rapahëlle Ducrot, Joaquim Bucuane, Sara Mercandalli, and Christophe Le Page.

This Plain Language Summary is published ahead of the article discussed; please check back for a link to the full paper.

Conserving African wildlife has been at the cost of the livelihoods and well-being of local communities since the beginning of the nature conservation era. Today, in order to promote the conservation of nature in developing countries, people living in this nature need to benefit from it and contribute to its management in accordance with their local cultures, indigenous knowledge and value systems. Integrating environmental justice in nature conservation is essential if one wants to protect 30% of terrestrial land by 2030 and allocate enough agricultural land to feed the growing African population for the coming 30 years.

Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs) are conservation models that emerged in the past twenty years with the dual agenda to promote both nature conservation and local socio-economic development. However, so far these initiatives have still given little attention to the actual interest, expectation and the aspect of nature valued by local communities and their value systems. This study shows that promoting environmental justice – which includes the dimensions of recognition, decision making and benefit sharing – is paramount to sustainable livelihoods in conservation areas.

Using a participatory methodology to examine local livelihoods of four different groups of knowledge brokers living within TFCAs in three countries of southern Africa, we found that  the visions local people have of a sustainable future do not fit into the vision proposed by the conservation and local development dominant stakeholders. The latter have designed for local people a future based in wildlife tourism and other wildlife-related activities. However, local people emphasize a future of improved local governance, of secured land allocation, of strengthened agricultural practices and where traditional knowledge and value systems are revived.

Despite efforts to decolonize the conservation sector, current nature conservation models fail to address this mismatch. There is an urgent need to transform the way people belonging to these areas are involved in the design and the management of conservation areas which includes reconsidering in these spaces the relationships between people, and with the rest of nature.