The Community-Based Natural Resource Management Network

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A number of separate advances, intellectual developments, events and issues, several of which are linked and mutually supportive, have come together and resulted in the emerging local-level management and developmental approach of CBNRM. It follows that CBNRM is a very eclectic and robust mix of ideas and approaches, contributed by a large number of people. CBNRM is very much a live, active and evolving agenda and approach.

The issues that together constitute CBNRM, in order of importance and/or relationship with each other, with the more fundamental issues listed first, are: (1) Knowledge management and knowledge sharing, (2) Civil society, local communities and NGOs, (3) Culture and local knowledge, (4) Resource rights, (5) Stakeholders and roles, (6) Sustainability and equity, (7) Practical work, (8) Research, (9) Networking activities, (10) Analysis and knowledge production, (11) Funding, (12) Training and capacity building, and (13) Information and communication technologies.

Knowledge management and knowledge sharing

A structured approach to identifying, collecting, managing, producing, disseminating and using appropriate knowledge about development is emerging. As part of this, a specific knowledge management and knowledge sharing terminology is emerging, and is being utilized by CBNRM Net (see Category Terminology).

The World Bank plays an important role in advancing knowledge management and knowledge sharing in development cooperation (see Page Knowledge management and knowledge sharing).

Specifically for Sub-Saharan Africa, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), together with, among others, Associates in Rural Development, Inc. (ARD) and International Resources Group Ltd. (IRG), are developing various management tools to address a limited set of issues. These efforts rely heavily on electronic media and means of communication to address perceived problems in natural resource management (NRM) and CBNRM knowledge management.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, specifically in Southern Africa, there is an increasing amount of experimentation with knowledge management strategies applied to CBNRM, involving print, audio, and World Wide Web (WWW) media. These latter efforts are to some extent the result of collaboration between civil society, the public sector, and training and research institutions, with funding from international donors and transnational NGOs.

Civil society, local communities and NGOs

Since the 1980s we have witnessed an enormous increase in activities at the local level in developing countries and countries in transition. This activity and participation is testimony to an increasing understanding, on the part of local people in these countries, of the importance of becoming involved in determining the goals of local (as well as national) development, and the means to achieve them. International development has, to some extent, been instrumental in bringing about this watershed.

More important, the global changes in terms of increased local activity are contributing dramatically to changing the face of international development. Civil society is increasingly becoming an important factor in connection with democratization movements and decentralization of fiscal and governing bodies. Various types of participatory approaches to local development are fast becoming mainstreamed (see Item NGOs).

NGOs that are active in CBNRM have a whole host of responsibilities, from funding, through planning, implementing and managing activities and projects, through monitoring and evaluating such activities, to advocacy. In doing so they in many cases act as intermediaries between various stakeholders, from the local community to the national level and beyond. It follows that NGOs cover the whole range from local NGOs to transnational NGOs. NGOs may be understood as initiators and key actors in emerging social movements, and a case can be made for understanding the increase in CBNRM activities in Sub-Saharan Africa, in particular in Southern Africa, as a growing social movement.

Culture and local knowledge

Along with the attention given to participation and the local level comes a growing focus on the role and importance of culture and local knowledge (also called indigenous or traditional knowledge) in the development process. On the one hand, this has led to an understanding of the cultural foundation and context for local natural resource management, and the importance of local knowledge for CBNRM activities. The role of chieftaincy in West Africa is a case in point. On the other hand, culture and local knowledge is more and more used as a tool in organizing local people around specific CBNRM activities. In Southern Africa dance and theater is being used in this way.

Local knowledge also addresses local natural resource management regimes, including traditional rights to natural resources.

Resource rights

Rights to natural resources have, in the West, traditionally, been conceptualized as being private and individual. This understanding was only too easily applied to how the West dealt with the management of local natural resources in developing countries. The course of events in countries in transition, on the other hand, led to a very different situation.

Civil society and NGOs in many developing countries and countries in transition have played a key role in raising new issues and giving them credibility and acceptance. One such issue deals with the concept of ownership of natural resources. Against the prevalent Western idea of individual or private property rights to natural resources, a broader conceptualization is emerging. This broader and more complex picture of how local natural resources are owned, utilized, accessed and managed is increasingly becoming an important issue also in investment and project activities (see Item CPRNet).

As the knowledge about traditional forms of managing natural resources are growing, the complexity and variation in these systems or management regimes are becoming apparent. Likewise, the integration of these management regimes with almost all parts of culture and social organization is becoming clear. The next step, understanding that this traditional knowledge is not an obstacle to optimal NRM, but an aid and strength, is taking longer to take root. CBNRM plays an important role in making the necessary connections to enable and speed up this institutional and value change.

Stakeholders and roles

More and more people are becoming active in CBNRM. In addition to civil society and NGOs, recent additions include the private sector. As these broad stakeholder groups, as well as the public sector, increasingly interact, their approaches to using CBNRM makes clear certain fundamental differences, for example, in terms and goals. At the same time is also evidence of convergence. A case in point is the 'social marketing' approach that, while partly employing a terminology originating with the private sector, basically talks about the same issues of local-level economic, social and environmental sustainability that civil society stakeholders are concerned with.

A growing population and a diminishing resource base (these are of course causally connected factors) lead to increasing competition over these scarce resources. These changes, coupled with societal changes (including in economics, politics and value systems), contribute to increasing differentiation in needs and interests, in particular at the local level. Increasing differentiation in access to the means with which to satisfy these needs and interests leads to actual differences in livelihood standards. Such means include degree of control over local natural resources, which is diminishing at the local level.

These developments, and the synergies between them, are important for understanding the increasing levels of complexity when it comes to managing local-level activities.

On a related track, and largely caused by political developments that favor decentralization of fiscal and political arrangements, we are witnessing a move towards decreasing hierarchies, more democratization and increasing efforts at recognizing and involving local people. This contributes to the increase in number of stakeholder categories, through processes of objective and subjective definition of separateness and uniqueness.

Sustainability and equity

The recognition of environmental ills and the call for the necessity of achieving sustainable development has contributed to understanding the complexity of natural and environmental linkages. Furthermore, it has lead to an increasing understanding of the equally complex nature of positive and negative feedback between local environments and the people living - and making a living - in these environments.

Sustainable development is gradually understood as being based on recognizing and supporting the close linkages between natural and social systems located on several levels. This, in turn, leads to giving equal emphasis to environmental and social sustainability. As a result, we are gradually coming to an understanding of both the preconditions and the means for achieving equity and justice in access to and use of natural resources.

Practical work

An increasing amount of practical CBNRM work is going on at the local level throughout the world. This work is found in different ecosystems and sectors, and in all parts of the world, but is most widespread and advanced in Sub-Saharan Africa. However, little is known about the extent of these activities, the results achieved, and the experiences gained. Furthermore, next to nothing is known about the amount, content and quality of any knowledge sharing and learning that may take place between CBNRM practitioners.

The growing emphasis on participatory approaches in development is addressing also NRM. In some cases this work is leading to more structured, progressive and adaptive approaches. To give an example, Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) shares some of the ways of working, insights and results that is the starting point both for CBNRM and for CBNRM Net.

A particularly noteworthy trend concerns the increase in cooperation between stakeholders at the local level, some of them fairly new to CBNRM. There is a growing understanding of the complexity caused by more stakeholders, with different interests, agendas, needs and resources, etc., becoming parties to CBNRM activities. This is, together with a general emphasis on the importance of collaboration for achieving sustainable management of local natural resources, paving the way for efforts to align stakeholders located on different levels, and get them to collaborate also vertically. Solutions are more and more seen to lie in increased and structured collaboration between CBNRM stakeholders located on different levels, partly as a tool or a means, and partly as a goal in itself. Such collaborative approaches are known under several names, with 'co-management' being perhaps most widely used.

An interesting connection is developing between practical field-based work and research as regards co-management.


Since the early 1990s there has been an increasing focus on doing research. Some of this research is done without any applied goals, and some is done with a more practical orientation and output in mind. Perhaps with the exception of CBNRM in Sub-Saharan Africa, this research deals largely with various sub-fields, specializations or sub-components, and often has a special geographic or regional focus (see Item Research and Group Internet). Key organizational foci for such research include:

Networking activities

Networking activities are here understood as activities that connect CBNRM stakeholders, in particular CBNRM practitioners, across existing boundaries, including sectors, cultures, languages, sectors and national borders.

The general model for traditional efforts at networking can be characterized as being more or less vertically integrated (through being funded and managed by international donors), country-focused and/or sector-oriented. Furthermore, many of these networking activities rely heavily on the Internet and an accompanying centralized management and one-way flow of information and knowledge.

Networking activities that are built upon the new vision of CBNRM knowledge management and knowledge sharing are beginning to emerge at the national and regional levels. Examples include agriculture and rangeland management (West Africa, Anglophone and Francophone countries), forestry (South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa), rangeland management (the Sahel), and tourism, parks and wildlife management (East Africa, Middle East, South America, Southern Africa).

CBNRM began emerging as a term and a separate approach only in the early 1990s. This came about in an evolutionary way, following the increasing emphasis on this at the local, national and international levels, and for the reasons spelled out here. Two additional reasons should be mentioned: namely as part of the growing efforts to combat the negative effects of environmental management, and through increased emphasis on research.

The Common Property Resource Management Network (CPRNet), founded in 1995 and now available on CBNRM Net under a web-hosting agreement, is an early player in raising these participation and stakeholder issues on a global level, and in networking among producers and users of CBNRM knowledge pertaining to various forms of collective rights to natural resources. A breakthrough for CBNRM work on the international level came, however, with the international CBNRM workshop in Washington D.C., United States in May 1998, organized jointly by World Bank Institute, International Development Research Centre and Ford Foundation (see Item International CBNRM workshop [Washington D.C., USA] and Item Knowledge management and knowledge sharing).

Networking is an important linkage between research on the one hand, and analysis and knowledge production on the other hand. The growing emphasis on networking plays an important role in analysis of CBNRM activities and in producing CBNRM knowledge.

Analysis and knowledge production

The traditional model of analysis was one in which research and applied work on CBNRM was largely separated from each other. There was a dichotomized situation built around - and in turn reinforced by - a division of labor between researchers that were largely working in the West, and practitioners working in developing countries. Research was largely confined to the academic sphere, and results did not necessarily make it back and down to the practitioners. To the extent that feedback linkages existed, they were often confined to a specific sector, the activities of one particular donor, or a particular country.

This is changing. Research and practical work is increasingly feeding into each other, and contribute to breaking down these boundaries. Participatory approaches, PRA, stakeholder analysis and social analysis/assessment are some examples of emerging bridging approaches that makes this possible as well as carries the new way of linking research and practical work forward. The democratization and decentralization processes in developing and transition economies represent important pre-conditions for this to take place.

This is, in effect, the essence of the new thinking that sees CBNRM research and practice as integrated under the umbrella of knowledge management and knowledge sharing. Research produces CBNRM knowledge that is utilized in concrete CBNRM projects. Conversely, practical CBNRM activities produce CBNRM knowledge that informs research and analytical activities as well as other CBNRM stakeholders. Thus, the emerging vision of CBNRM is built around an integrated approach to use and production of CBNRM knowledge.

The growing global CBNRM networking activities are important in this picture. Through emphasizing contacts across sectors and countries along a South-South parameter, these activities are contributing to bridging the traditional research-practice division of labor.


The increasing amount of practical CBNRM work, some of which is research-related, has been possible partly due to a growing interest in financing such work. Key sources of funding for specific CBNRM-related activities include: Ford Foundation, International Development Research Centre, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and USAID. A lot of these funds go to Sub-Saharan Africa, but other regions are also targeted.

Transnational NGOs, for example IUCN - The World Conservation Union, as well as multilateral and bilateral agencies, are becoming interested in CBNRM, and elements of CBNRM are gradually being mainstreamed in NRM investments and regular projects, specifically in Sub-Saharan Africa. This means, additionally, that CBNRM in some cases is being scaled up from the local level, for example, to sectors and countries.

Training and capacity building

There is a growing realization of the importance of training and capacity building, and work on this is increasing. It is noteworthy that some of this activity is taking place at the national level, with links down to the local level and up to the regional level. Traditional means of training and capacity building are largely employed, including meetings and workshops, but there are efforts to rethink the available tools. A lot of this activity is taking place in Sub-Saharan Africa, specifically Southern Africa (see Item Training and capacity building).

There is increasing interest in using the new electronic media and channels of communication in advancing learning and capacity building in development work. The World Bank Institute has been involved in this work, in particular in connection with distance learning.

The important international CBNRM workshop in May 1998 adopted very strong and broad-ranging recommendations to continue the work on CBNRM training, capacity building and networking (see Item International CBNRM workshop [Washington D.C., USA], Page Rationale and Group Regions).

Information and communication technologies

The ongoing changes with regard to Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) have an enormous impact on the overall context for development co-operation. ICT is changing the way we interact and do business in this area dramatically. In this connection the so-called digital divide is of major concern.

Among the recent work that has influenced the conceptualization of CBNRM Net is a report by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad), published in 2000. The report is titled "Information & Communication Technologies. Challenges and Opportunities to Norad and its Development Partners" (it can be downloaded from Norad's website).