CAMPFIRE experiences in Zimbabwe

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Wayne M. Getz et al. present an optimistic outlook for community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) in their Policy Forum "Sustaining natural and human capital: Villagers and scientists" (19 March 1999, p. 1855), and they suggest that the key is for scientists and villagers to develop partnerships. Communal Area Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE), a community-based approach to wildlife management in Zimbabwe, provides "concrete examples of CBNRM success in raising the income levels of poor rural communities," Getz et al. say. Emerging problems, however, could derail many of the initiatives. A small group of researchers in Zimbabwe have played a key role in the devolution of wildlife management from central to local government. However, in achieving this success, the line between scholarship and advocacy has become blurred.

The push for CAMPFIRE has resulted in a concentration of power in Rural District Councils (RDCs), the lowest level of government (1). RDCs generally view CAMPFIRE as a means to raise funds. Our fieldwork in three CAMPFIRE districts indicates that many villagers show little knowledge about CAMPFIRE or view the program as an extension of the RDC or "government." Even where counselors do represent their communities in the RDC, they may have little bargaining power over benefits derived from CAMPFIRE, because counselors from wards without wildlife schemes are often in the majority.

Villagers living with wildlife bear the costs of wildlife (impacts on agriculture), whereas benefits from safari hunting may be spread beyond the community that bears the costs or may be concentrated in the RDC. We found that 50 to 90% of revenues from hunting were retained by the RDC, whereas in one district, household dividends were $1 to $3 per household per year (1). If antelope were poached and sold for meat, they would bring $7 to $20 each.

Scholarship is needed to establish under what conditions CBNRM works. There are successful CAMPFIRE schemes, but each district is different, providing rich data for scholars. An emerging hypothesis is that devolution must go lower than the RDC if CBNRM is to be successful (2). The successes of CAMPFIRE must be built on by developing genuine local participation and ownership. Given that villagers are largely not benefiting from CBNRM, further work on institutional and anthropological themes (power, property rights, incentives) should perhaps be the priority over building technological partnerships between villagers and scientists.