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Addressing Trade-offs: Experiences from Conservation and Development Initiatives in the Mkuze Wetlands, South Africa

Annika C. Dahlberg, Department of Physical Geography and Quaternary Geology, Stockholm University
Catie Burlando, Natural Resources Institute, University of Manitoba


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Present-day conservation policies generally include the aim to integrate biodiversity conservation and local development, and describe this as a win–win solution that can satisfy all interests. This is challenged by research claiming that many efforts fail to match practice to rhetoric. South Africa has made strong commitments to fulfill the dual goals of conservation and development, and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park is promoted as an example of this. We explore present and potential outcomes of conservation and development interventions in a community bordering the Wetland Park through the perspective of different stakeholders, with the aim of uncovering opportunities and risks. In terms of improving local livelihoods as well as involvement in conservation, the success of the studied interventions varied. Local communities may accept restrictions on resource use as a result of realistic and fairly negotiated trade-offs, but if perceived as unjust and imposed from above, then mistrust and resistance will increase. In this area, collaboration between conservation organizations and the local community had improved, but still faced problems associated with unequal power relations, unrealistic expectations, and a lack of trust, transparency, and communication. As unsustainable efforts are a waste of funds and engagement, and may even become counterproductive, policy visions need to be matched by realistic allocations of staff, time, funds, and training. At the national and international level, the true cost of conservation has to be recognized and budgeted for if efforts at integrating conservation and development are to succeed.

Key words

integrated conservation and development; Mkuze wetlands; natural resource management; protected area; rural livelihoods; South Africa; trade-offs

Copyright © 2009 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087