Despite their good intentions, conservation projects do not always have the desired outcomes for both the environment and local residents. But why not?  –

A recent series of papers from the Responsive Forest Governance Initiative (RFGI), funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, a project which IUCN is implementing with the University of Illinois and the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa, identifies some of the questions raised and unintended consequences of well-meaning decisions. It also offers guidance on how to improve the outcomes of future interventions. One common mistake, the research suggests, is miscalculating which project partners or sections of society to include or exclude at different phases of the project. This can turn the outcomes sour.

Take for example a recent situation in Senegal. Because issues of gender equity and community engagement are of legitimate concern in conservation and development projects, Senegal’s National Park Service chose to work exclusively with women on a mangrove conservation project in the Somone Nature Reserve. But as Researcher Coumba Dem Samb describes, upheaval about the exclusive nature of the project and the negative reaction of local leaders fragmented the local community. The women felt betrayed and the men now consider natural resource management to be ‘women’s work’. Some men even threatened to sabotage the project.

In another case from the Democratic Republic of Congo, authors Oyono and Ntungila-Nkama describe how international agencies have been working with local people to zone their lands for resource use and conservation. However, most of the meetings are through platforms created by NGOs, rather than existing governmental platforms. This left many local residents feeling disconnected and unrepresented with no effective way of influencing the official process or holding decision-makers accountable. As the authors note, “without public participation, the people cannot question their representatives and their leaders.”

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