Natural resources: use, access, tenure and management, eastern and southern Africa

Natural resources: use, access, tenure and management

pp. 118-166 in Bowyer-Bower, T. and Potts, D. (eds.) (2004) Eastern and Southern Africa, new regional text commission by the Institute of British Geographers’ Developing Areas Research Group, Addison Wesley Longman, London. (with Homewood, K.).

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The significance of gathered or hunted resources to African livelihoods has received increasing attention in recent years, both by academic researchers and by professionals designing and implementing conservation and rural development schemes. ‘Natural resources’ now are recognised as conferring continuing and interrelated benefits to their users and, for some, may be the primary sources of subsistence and welfare. Food security, for example, may be enhanced in several ways: through direct consumption of accessible ‘wild’ foods that, even in small quantities, may provide essential nutrients and diversify otherwise monotonous diets; through the sale or exchange of gathered products which increases purchasing power and the ability to obtain alternative foods; and through holding trees as a form of ‘savings bank’, to be converted into income in response to unexpected contingencies. Gendered dimensions of resource-use mean that resource-gathering may provide a source of independence and extra income for women who are often the primary collectors and processors of specific products. On the other hand, gendered associations between animal wildlife and men as hunters mean that the current plethora of schemes to increase local access to wildlife resources may focus on men as the relevant decision-makers and obscure women’s knowledge about the wider environment. Infusing these utilitarian dimensions of resource-access are less tangible links with cultural identity, knowledge and symbolism, the practice of resource use enabling elements of culture, tradition and identity to be renewed and revisited.

This chapter provides an overview of current issues pertinent to the use and management of indigenous biotic (i.e. biological or living) resources in East and Southern Africa, including:

  • a working definition of what we mean by the term ‘natural resources’;a unifying framework for understanding the distribution of ‘wild’ plant and animal resources with respect to biophysical factors;
  • a summary of common uses of natural resources and their varying contributions to livelihoods, from subsistence to commercial and from local to international;an overview of systems of tenure guiding access to resources;
  • a summary of some current sources of change for ‘traditional’ resource use, tenure and management practices;
  • an outline of various and changing models of wild resources conservation, including a discussion of recent conservation and development initiatives that have as their stated aim the transfer of various rights over natural resources to local ‘communities’;
  • and some comments highlighting what we feel are, and/or may become, future priorities for policy and research regarding natural resources.

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