Community Conservation: Inequality and Injustice

Myths of power in protected area management 

There is a clear belief in many conservation circles that protected areas cannot survive without the support of their neighbours. Protected areas’ neighbours are more numerous than their guards. If these poor rural neighbours want to collect firewood, graze their livestock or hunt wild animals then they will, often with impunity, and conservation will suffer. I call this belief ‘the principle of local support’. The importance of local support has been observed in many instances, but it should not be built up to be a universal principle. There are occasions where it does not work, and we need to be wary of it for several reasons. First, the principle of local support assumes that the weak can obstruct the agendas of the strong. It ignores the fact that rural groups are often politically, militarily or financially weak. In contrast, conservationists can be relatively well-funded, well-connected, and well-armed. Second, the principle assumes that where rural people perceive they are being treated unfairly they will take effective action to achieve a more just distribution of resources. This may be possible, but is in stark contrast to many instances around the world where inequality and injustice continue to be perpetrated regardless of opposition to them.

I outline a detailed case study from the Mkomazi Game Reserve in Tanzania, which shows how conservation can flourish despite local opposition. I argue that advocates of community conservation need to pay more attention to such so-called fortress conservation’s strengths and especially its powerful myths and representations. If conservation’s misfortunes are concentrated onto a relatively weak group it is quite possible for this inequity to be sustained. It is not the existence of poverty or injustice that will cause problems for conservation, but their distribution within society. Understanding how inequality and unjust conservation are successfully perpetrated will make it easier to understand the politics of more participatory community conservation projects.

Originally published as:

Brockington, D. 2004. Community conservation, inequality and injustice: Myths of power in protected area management Conservation and Society 2(2):411–432.

This article is from issue


2007 Jul