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Copyright © 2000 by The Resilience Alliance

The following is the established format for referencing this article:
Cumming, D. H. M. 2000. Drivers of resource management practices - fire in the belly? Comments on "Cross-cultural conflicts in fire management in northern Australia: not so black and white" by Alan Andersen. Conservation Ecology 4(1): 4. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol4/iss1/art4/

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Drivers of Resource Management Practices - Fire in the Belly? Comments on "Cross-cultural Conflicts in Fire Management in Northern Australia: Not so Black and White" by Alan Andersen

David H. M. Cumming

WWF Southern Africa

Published: February 3, 2000

In those parts of the world where there is a mix of autochthonous and immigrant cultures, often black and white, it is too easy to conclude that conflicting approaches to resource management are gut reactions rooted in tribe or race. Andersen's (1999) analysis of fire management "cultures" in northern Australia questions such simplistic explanations and convincingly shifts the focus to one of conflict between the cultures of science (rational or experimental) and management (experiential or "gut feeling"). Andersen concludes that resolving this conflict and achieving long-term effective resource management in northern Australia will depend on reconciling tensions between scientists and managers. However, this is unlikely to be enough, because interests (and actors) beyond those of scientists and managers will inevitably be involved and may even drive the process. For this reason, the related questions of "Whose values and goals drive resource management?" and "Whose values judge its effectiveness or success?" are crucial. The minefield of managing charismatic large mammals and their habitats in southern Africa (Cumming et al. 1997) would provide a useful backdrop against which to extend the scale of analysis, not only geographically but also in terms of economic, cultural, political, and ethical "space" (Cumming 1991, Hill 1996, Mandondo 1997, and Orians 1998).

Although this is not the place to attempt that analysis, I would argue that, when conducting wildlife conservation or resource management enterprises, at least six sets of factors (or drivers) influence the outcome, and that the potential constraints and opportunities they impose have to be tackled. These are ecological, social, economic, technical, legal, and political factors (Fig. 1). Each of them involves a cluster of different actors, value systems, and goals and, equally important, different criteria on which to judge the effectiveness of outcomes. Depending on the resource management problem being addressed, these factors may have to be dealt with at one or more scales ranging from those of the local farm or village to the national and international levels. The pertinence and influence of any one of these factors on the effectiveness of resource management, however that is judged, will also vary over time and space. Elephants and community resource access rights provide a suitable example.

Fig. 1. Six major components influencing, or impacting on, a natural resource management decision.

GIF Image (2 K)

Thanks to community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) programs, resource access and management rights have been extended over the last 15 years to farmers on communal or traditional land, and this extension of rights was itself a long battle on many fronts in the policy arena. These developments have meant that, for the first time in nearly 100 years, rural peasant farming communities have been able to derive direct benefits from elephants through returns either from safari hunting or from the sale of the ivory and hides of animals killed on their land (Bond 1994). To farmers who may have spent weeks guarding their fields at night from crop-raiding elephants, this is an important development. Their newly gained resource rights and access to returns from a valuable natural resource have, however, been curtailed by international pressures to ban the trade in elephant products, on the grounds that the species is endangered or that it is morally wrong to kill elephants.

It is useful to examine some of the elements of resource management conflicts that arise in this case. At the village level, there are debates about whether elephants have a place at all in their agro-ecosystem, about protective fences and their siting, about the costs and benefits involved, and about how potential benefits should be dispersed. The actors include villagers, both local and "Head Office" wildlife officials, district officials, representatives of NGOs, and district, provincial, and national politicians, to name a few, all of whom have some influence in the matter of how to manage elephants or mitigate the problems they create. At the district level, the same set of actors is involved, largely in debates about hunting rights, quotas, and the proportion of the returns that should be retained by the District Council. At the national level, issues of policy related to resource access rights and benefits, hunting leases, corruption, export controls and licenses, and the monitoring of wild populations are important but overshadowed by defending the rights of the country and its farmers to trade their products internationally. It is in this arena, mainly through the structures of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the Biodiversity Convention, that the six elements (Fig. 1) converge to influence, if not govern, returns to farmers. The extent to which the incentives generated by the sale of elephants and their products are enjoyed by farmers will then determine the fate of the elephants, and a host of other animals, on their land.

The dominant drivers of elephant management policy at the international level are, however, not local resource managers or scientists, but environmental and animal rights groups opposed to hunting or trade in elephant products. Their campaigns against selected resource management practices, unashamedly driven by deeply held beliefs, influence national and international politics and, thus, policies and legal instruments affecting resource management. Research on how to move towards more inclusive approaches to resource management decisions that involve the full range of actors and drivers is urgently needed. The paper by Shindler and Aldred Cheek (1999) represents a valuable start.


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Andersen, A. 1999. Cross-cultural conflicts in fire management in northern Australia: not so black and white. Conservation Ecology 3(1): 6 [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol3/iss1/art6

Bond, I. 1994. Importance of elephant sport hunting to CAMPFIRE revenue in Zimbabwe. TRAFFIC Bulletin 14(3):117-119.

Cumming, D. H. M. 1991. Wildlife and the market place: a view from Southern Africa. Pages 11-25 in L. A. Renecker and R. J. Hudson, editors. Wildlife production: conservation and sustainable development. AFES Miscellaneous Publication, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Alaska, USA.

Cumming, D. H. M., M. B. Fenton, I. L. Rautenbach, R. D. Taylor, G. S. Cumming, M. S. Cumming, J. M. Dunlop, G. A. Ford, M. D. Hovorka, D. S. Johnston, M. Kalcounis, Z. Mahlanga, and C. V. R. Portfors. 1997. Elephants, woodlands and biodiversity in southern Africa. South African Journal of Science 93:231-236.

Hill, K. A. 1996. Zimbabwe’s wildlife utilization programs: grassroots democracy or an extension of state power? African Studies Review 39(1):103-123.

Mandondo, A. 1997. Trees and spaces as emotion and norm laden components of local ecosystems in Nyamaropa communal land, Nyanga District, Zimbabwe. Agriculture and Human Values 14:353-372.

Orians, G . 1998. Human behavioral ecology: 140 years without Darwin is too long. Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America 79(1):15-28.

Shindler, B., and K. Aldred Cheek . 1999. Integrating citizens in adaptive management: a propositional analysis. Conservation Ecology 3(1):9. (Available online http://www.consecol.org/vol3/iss1/art9)

Address of Correspondent:
David H. M. Cumming
WWF Southern Africa Regional Programme Office
P. O. Box CY1409
Causeway, Harare
Phone: (263-4)252533
Fax: (263-4)252534

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