Skip to main content Accessibility help

From hope to crisis and back again? A critical history of the global CBNRM narrative



Community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) has been on the ascendancy for several decades and plays a leading role in conservation strategies worldwide. Arriving out of a desire to rectify the human costs associated with coercive conservation, CBNRM sought to return the stewardship of biodiversity and natural resources to local communities through participation, empowerment and decentralization. Today, however, scholars and practitioners suggest that CBNRM is experiencing a crisis of identity and purpose, with even the most positive examples experiencing only fleeting success due to major deficiencies. Six case studies from around the world offer a history of how and why the global CBNRM narrative has unfolded over time and space. While CBNRM emerged with promise and hope, it often ended in less than ideal outcomes when institutionalized and reconfigured in design and practice. Nevertheless, despite the current crisis, there is scope for refocusing on the original ideals of CBNRM: ensuring social justice, material well-being and environmental integrity.


Corresponding author

*Correspondence: Dr Wolfram Dressler e-mail:


Hide All
Antona, M., Biénabe, E.M., Salles, J.-M., Péchard, G., Aubert, S. & Ratsimbarison, R. (2004) Rights transfers in Madagascar biodiversity policies: achievements and significance. Environment and Development Economics 9: 825–47.
Baker, M. & Kusel, J. (2003). Community Forestry in the United States: Learning from the Past, Crafting the Future. Washington, DC, USA: Island Press.
Barnes, J.I. & Macgregor, J. (2002) Economic efficiency and incentives for change within Namibia's community wildlife use initiatives. World Development 30: 667681.
Berkes, F. (1989) Common-property Resources. Ecology and Community-Based Sustainable Development. London, UK: Belhaven Press.
Berkes, F. (2004) Rethinking Community-based Conservation. Conservation Biology. 18 (3): 621630
Berkes, F. (2007) Community-based conservation in a globalized world. PNAS 104 (39): 1518815193.
Blaikie, P. (2006) Is small really beautiful? Community-based natural resource management in Malawi and Botswana. World Development 34: 19421957.
Brandon, K.E. & Wells, M. (1992) Planning for people and parks: design dilemmas. World Development 20: 557–70.
Bray, D., Merino-Perez, L. & Barry, D., eds (2005) The Community Forests of Mexico. Austin, TX, USA: University of Texas Press.
Brechin, S., Wilshusen, P., Fortwangler, C. & West, P. (2002) Beyond the square wheel: toward a more comprehensive understanding of biodiversity conservation as a social and political process. Society and Natural Resources 15: 4164.
Brockington, D., Duffy, D. & Igoe, J. (2008) Nature Unbound. Conservation, Capitalism and the Future of Protected Areas. London, UK: Earthscan.
Brockington, D. & Igoe, J. (2006) Eviction for conservation. Conservation and Society 4: 424–70.
Brokensha, D., Warren, D.M. & Werner, O., eds (1980) African Rural Development: Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Development. Lanham, USA: University Press of America.
Brosius, P. (1999) Analyses and interventions: anthropological engagements with environmentalism. Current Anthropology 40: 277309.
Brosius, P., Tsing, A, & Zerner, C. (1998) Representing communities: histories and politics of community-based natural resource management. Society and Natural Resources 11: 157168.
Brosius, P., Tsing, A. & Zerner, C. (2005) Communities and Conservation: Histories and Politics of Community-Based Natural Resource Management. New York, NY, USA: Altamira Press.
Bullock, R. & Hanna, K. (2008) Community forestry: creating or mitigating conflict in British Columbia? Society and Natural Resources 21: 7185.
Campbell, L. & Vainio-Mattila, A. (2003) Participatory development and community-based conservation: opportunities missed for lessons learned? Human Ecology 31: 417437.
Carson, R. (1962) Silent Spring. Boston, MA, USA: Houghton Mifflin.
Chambers, R. (1983) Rural Development: Putting the Last First. London, UK: Longman.
Cocks, M., Dold, A. & Grundy, I. (2001) Challenges facing a community structure to implement CBNRM in the Eastern Cape South Africa. African Studies Quarterly 5 [www document]. URL
Conklin, B. & Graham, L. (1995) The shifting middle ground: Amazonian Indians and ecopolitics. American Anthropologist 97: 695709.
Cooke, B. & Kothari, U. (2001) Participation: The New Tyranny? London, UK: Zed Books.
Corson, C.A. (2008) Mapping the development machine: the US Agency for International Development's biodiversity conservation agenda in Madagascar. Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA.
Cronon, W. (1995) The trouble with wilderness; or, getting back to the wrong nature. In: Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, ed. Cronon, W., pp. 6990. New York, NY, USA: W. W. Norton & Co.
Davis, E.J. (2008). New promises, new possibilities? Comparing community forestry in Canada and Mexico. BC Journal of Ecosystems and Management 9 (2): 1125.
Dowie, M. (2009) Conservation Refugees. The Hundred-Year Conflict between Global Conservation and Native Peoples. Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press.
Dressler, W. (2006) Co-opting conservation: migrant resource control and access to national park management in the Philippine uplands. Development and Change 37: 401426.
Duffy, R. (2006) Non-governmental organisations and governance states: the impact of transnational environmental management networks in Madagascar. Environmental Politics 15: 731–49.
Escobar, A. (1998) Whose knowledge, whose nature? Biodiversity, conservation, and the political ecology of social movements. Journal of Political Ecology 5: 5382.
Fabricius, C. & de Wet, C. (2002) The influence of forced removals and land restitution on conservation in South Africa. In: Conservation and Mobile Indigenous Peoples. Displacement, Forced Settlement, and Sustainable Development, ed. Chatty, D. & Colchester, M., pp. ?–?. New York, NY, USA: Berghahn Books.
Fabricius, C., Koch, E., Magome, H. & Turner, S., eds (2004) Rights Resources and Rural Development. Community-based Natural Resource Management in Southern Africa. London, UK: Earthscan.
Fals-Borda, O. (1987) The application of participatory research in Latin America. International Sociology 2 (4): 329347.
Gilmour, D.A & Fisher, R.J. (1991) Villagers, Forests and Foresters: The Philosophy, Process and Practice of Community Forestry in Nepal. Kathmandu, Nepal: Sahayogi Press.
Hall, B. (1981) Participatory research, popular knowledge and power: a personal reflection. Convergence: An International Journal of Adult Education 14: 619.
Hayes, T.M. (2007) Does tenure matter? A comparative analysis of agricultural expansion in the Mosquitia forest corridor. Human Ecology 35: 733747.
Hayes, T.M. (2008) The robustness of indigenous common-property systems to frontier expansion: institutional interplay in the Mosquitia. Conservation and Society 6: 117129.
Hilhorst, D. (2003) The Real World of NGOs: Discourses, Diversity and Development. London, UK & New York, NY, USA: Zed Books.
Horowitz, L. (1998) Integrating indigenous resource management with wildlife conservation: a case-study of Batang Ai National Park, Sarawak, Malaysia. Human Ecology 26: 371403.
Hufty, M. & Muttenzer, F. (2002) Devoted friends: the implementation of the convention on biological diversity in Madagascar. In: Governing Global Biodiversity, ed. Le Prestre, P. G., pp. 285314. London, UK: Ashgate.
Hutton, J., Adams, W.M. & Murombedzi, J.C. (2005). Back to the barriers? Changing narratives in biodiversity conservation. Forum for Development Studies 2: 341370.
Igoe, J. (2005) Global indigenism and Spaceship Earth. Globalization 2 (3): 377390.
Igoe, J. & Brockington, D. (2007) Neoliberal conservation: a brief introduction. Conservation and Society 5 (4): 432449.
Johnson, C. & Forsyth, T. (2002) In the eyes of the state: negotiating a rights-based approach to forest conservation in Thailand. World Development 30: 15911605.
Kellert, S., Mehta, J., Ebbin, S. & Lichtenfeld, L. (2000) Community natural resources management: promise, rhetoric and reality. Society and Natural Resources 13: 705715.
Le Roy, E., Bertrand, A. & Montagne, P. (2006) Gestion locale des ressources renouvelables et sécurisation foncière à Madagascar. In: L'Etat et la gestion locale durable des forêts en Afrique francophone et à Madagascar, ed. Bertrand, A., Montagne, P. & Karsenty, A., pp. 368–96. Paris, France: L'Harmattan.
Lewis, D. & Mosse, D. (2006) Encountering order and disjuncture: contemporary anthropological perspectives on the organization of development. Oxford Development Studies 34: 113.
Li, T. (2002) Engaging simplifications: community based resource management, market processes and state agendas in upland Southeast Asia. World Development 30 (2): 265283.
Li, T. (2007) The Will to Improve: Governmentality, Development, and the Practice of Politics. Durham, NC, USA: Duke University Press.
MacKenzie, J.M. (1988) The Empire of Nature. Hunting, Conservation and British Imperialism. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.
Marcus, R. (2001) Seeing the forest for the trees: integrated conservation and development projects and local perceptions of conservation in Madagascar. Human Ecology 29: 381397.
Marie, C.N., Sibelet, N., Dulcire, M., Rafalimaro, M., Danthu, P. & Carrière, S. (2009) Taking into account local practices and indigenous knowledge in an emergency conservation context in Madagascar. Biodiversity Conservation 18: 27592777.
Marks, S. (2008) On the ground and in the villages: a cacophony of voices assessing a ’community-based’ wildlife program after 18 years. Munyamadzi Game Management Area Central Luangwa Valley Zambia. Unpublished Report for Mipashi Associates. Sand County Foundation/Bradley Fund for the Environment.
McCarthy, J. (2005) Devolution in the woods: community forestry as hybrid neoliberalism. Environment and Planning A 37: 991014.
McCarthy, J. (2006) Neoliberalism and the politics of alternatives: community forestry in British Columbia and the United States. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 96: 84104.
Montagne, P. & Ramamonjisoa, B. (2006) Politiques forestières à Madagascar: entre répression et autonomie des acteurs. Économie Rurale 294–295: 926.
Montagne, P., Razanamaharo, Z. & Cooke, A., eds (2007) Le Transfert de Gestion à Madagascar; dix ans d'efforts: Tanteza. Montpellier, France: CIRAD.
Mosse, D. (2005) Cultivating Development. An Ethnography of Aid Policy and Practice. London, UK: Pluto Press.
Murphree, M. (2004) Resource management in Africa: from whence to where? Keynote address to Breslauer Graduate Student Symposium, Berkeley, California, 5 March 2004 [www document]. URL
Nash, R. (1967) Wilderness and the American Mind. New Haven, CT, USA: Yale University Press.
Neumann, R. (1998) Imposing Wilderness. Berkeley, CA, USA: University of California Press.
Neumann, R. (2001) Africa's ‘last wilderness’ reordering space for political and economic control in colonial Tanzania. Africa 71: 641665.
Neumann, R. (2002) The postwar conservation boom in British Colonial Africa. Environmental History 7 (1): 2247.
Neumann, R. (2004) Moral and discursive geographies in the war for biodiversity in Africa. Political Geography 23: 813837.
Ostrom, E. (1990) Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Pagiola, S., Arcenas, A. & Platais, G. (2005) Can payments for environmental services help reduce poverty? An exploration of the issues and the evidence to date from Latin America. World Development 33 (2): 237253.
Peluso, N. (1993) Coercing conservation? The politics of state resource control. Global Environmental Change 3: 199218.
Pollini, J. (2007) Slash-and-burn cultivation and deforestation in the Malagasy rain forests: representations and realities. Ph.D. dissertation, Cornell University, Ithaca, USA.
Quarles van Ufford, P., Kumar, A. & Mosse, D. (2003) Interventions in development: towards a new moral understanding of our experiences and an agenda for the future. In: A Moral Critique of Development: In Search of Global Responsibilities, ed. van Ufford, P. Quarles & Giri, A., pp. 343. London, UK: Routledge.
Ryan, J. & Robinson, M. (1990) Implementing participatory action research in the Canadian north: a case study of the Gwich'n in language and cultural project. Culture 10: 5771.
Schroeder, R. (1999) Community, forestry and conditionality in the Gambia. Africa 69: 122.
Shrestha, K.K. & McManus, P. (2007) The embeddedness of community forestry in Nepal. Journal of Smallscale Forestry 6: 273290.
Shrestha, K. K. & McManus, P. (2008) The politics of community participation in natural resource management: lessons from community forestry in Nepal. Australian Forestry 71: 135146.
Simpson, L. (2001) Aboriginal peoples and knowledge: decolonizing our processes. The Canadian Journal of Native Studies 21: 137148.
Soule, M. & Lease, G. (1995) Reinventing Nature? Responses to Post-modernism. Washington, DC, USA: Island Press.
Stevens, S. (1997) Conservation through Cultural Survival: Indigenous Peoples and Protected Areas. Washington, DC, USA: Island Press.
Stocks, A. (1996) The Bosawas Natural Reserve and the Mayangna of Nicaragua. In Traditional Peoples and Biodiversity Conservation in Large Tropical Landscapes, ed. Redford, K. & Mansour, J., pp. 130. Washington, DC, USA: America Verde Publications.
Stocks, A. (2003) Mapping dreams in Nicaragua's Bosawas Reserve. Human Organization 62: 344356.
Stocks, A., McMahan, B. & Taber, P. (2007) Indigenous, colonist and government impacts on Nicaragua's Bosawas Reserve. Conservation Biology 21: 14951505.
Toillier, A., Lardon, S. & Hervé, D. (2008) An environmental governance support tool: community-based forest management contracts (Madagascar). International Journal of Sustainable Development 11: 187205.
Vitug, M. (2000) Forest policy and national politics. In: Forest Policy and Politics in the Philippines. The Dynamic of Participatory Conservation. ed. Utting, P., pp. 1140. Quezon City, Philippines: Anteneo De Manila University Press.
WCED (1987) Our Common Future. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Weber, J. (1995) L'occupation humaine des aires protégées à Madagascar: diagnostic et éléments pour une gestion viable. Natures Sciences Sociétés 3: 157–64.
West, P. (2007) Conservation is our Government. The Politics of Ecology in Papua New Guinea. Durham, NC, USA: Duke University Press.
West, P. & Brechin, S. (1991) Resident Peoples and National Parks: Social Dilemmas and Strategies in International Conservation. Tuscon, AZ, USA: University of Arizona Press.
Western, D. & Wright, M. (1994) Natural Connections: Perspectives in Community-based Conservation. Washington, DC, USA: Island Press.
Wilshusen, P., Brechin, S., Fortwangler, C. & West, P. (2002) Reinventing a square wheel: critique of a resurgent ‘protection paradigm’ in international biodiversity conservation. Society and Natural Resources 15: 1740.
Wittayapak, C. & Dearden, P. (1999) Decision-making arrangements in community-based watershed management in northern Thailand. Society and Natural Resources 12 (7): 673691.



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed