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2015-04-15 | News

Making community-based conservation work - a lesson from Zimbabwe

Local communities are getting involved more and more in conservation projects in and around protected areas in southern Africa, as a way of complementing government-led or private sector efforts to shore up biodiversity and nature conservation.

Now, a study of a series of projects in Zimbabwe shows that some of the most effective programmes are those where the community is able to work together at a local level to write its own rules around wildlife management, and create its own leadership structures within villages.

This is the finding of a recent study by resource economists from the University of Cape Town (UCT), who looked at how community-based natural resource management programmes have worked in wilderness areas in locations where people and wildlife live in intimate proximity in Zimbabwe.

Herbert Ntuli, a research fellow at the UCT Environmental Policy Research Unit (EPRU), looked at several of  Zimbabwean CAMPFIRE (Communal Areas Management Programmes for Indigenous Resources) projects which started in the 1980s as a way of allowing communities to benefit from, and be supportive of, wildlife conservation and management.

Herbert Ntuli

‘The most well known and successful is the Mahenye CAMPFIRE project, which started in 1982. This was one of the first communities to get involved in wildlife management in this way,’ explains Ntuli.

Mahenye is close to the Gonsarezhou National Park, and the communities here live in close proximity with wildlife. Villagers tend to use wildlife as a source of food, or might find their crop and livestock practices clash with game needs. But villagers can also benefit from the tourist opportunities, and the associated influx of tourism-related revenue, which come with having higher game counts in a well-conserved wilderness area.

‘In the CAMPFIRE projects, communities were invited to form their own institutions in the form of wildlife management committees,’ explains Ntuli. ‘They wrote their own constitution, and drew up their own rules for how wildlife should be managed. An example would be, how the committee would handle a situation where a person was caught hunting illegally for the pot, would they be fined, or would they be removed from the group.’

Ntuli visited communities in mid-2013 in order to understand which of these community-based initiatives were effective in enhancing wildlife conservation, and why.

‘After interviewing 336 households in 30 different communities around the Gonarezhou National Park, it became clear that the committees that had the highest levels of trust, and were able to work together to draw up their own management structures, constitutions and rules, were the ones that worked best.’

This kind of community involvement can help boost traditional forms of wildlife conservation, such as those initiated by state institutions or private conservation operations.

Ntuli worked alongside associate professor Edwin Muchapondwa from the EPRU. The two resource economists hope to have their findings published in the World Development Journal in 2015. For more information, contact Herbert Ntuli on

By Leonie Joubert