Academic journal article Africa

Introduction: Nature as Local Heritage in Africa: Longstanding Concerns, New Challenges

Academic journal article Africa

Introduction: Nature as Local Heritage in Africa: Longstanding Concerns, New Challenges

Article excerpt

The concept of natural heritage or patrimony (1) increasingly informs biodiversity conservation initiatives in Africa. The idea that a country's natural resources constitute a heritage that local resource users have a stake in preserving and passing on to future generations represents an alternative approach to resource conservation that privileges local knowledge, control and management. This locally and culturally oriented conceptualization of natural resource conservation arises from the tensions and land-use conflicts associated with state-led conservation efforts that begged for alternative approaches (Anderson and Grove 1987; Neumann 1998; Moore 1993). The greater appreciation of indigenous resource management skills (Nietschmann 1973; Richards 1985; Carney 2001) combined with political-economic reforms such as decentralization and land privatization, have sparked interest in grassroots 'conservation with development' approaches that are rooted in local cultures and their socio-spatial organizations (Peluso 1992; Stevens 1997; Western and Wright 1994). The concept of natural heritage draws attention to such alternative 'regimes of nature management' (Zerner 2000: 16), in which communities hold a stake in preserving species and landscapes on their own terms.

This shifting perspective on resource conservation, with its emphasis on local cultures and capacities, and the devolution of control to local communities, is promising but remains poorly conceptualized (Descola 1999; Dugast 2002; Posey 1999; Peluso and Watts 2001). This introduction and the articles that follow seek to contribute to these longstanding concerns and new challenges by examining natural heritage, territory and identity in relation to each other. At a time when neo-liberal reforms (decentralization, privatization) are being grafted onto community-based organizations and local knowledges, it is important that we give greater attention to how nature, communities, resources and management practices are conceptualized, prioritized and (re)configured to ensure that livelihoods and environments are truly enhanced in a sustainable and equitable manner.

The concept of natural heritage gained momentum in the debates surrounding the application of international conventions on the environment. The 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity posed the problem of the just and equitable distribution of benefits stemming from the use of biodiversity, and thus focused attention on the access to, management and control of natural resources especially by local actors. Conflicts over resource appropriation, their wise use of conservation and the role played by local communities raise a number of important questions linking notions of territory, natural heritage and environmental knowledge.

These linked notions are interpreted and manipulated according to certain interests and the dominance of environmental policy frameworks (Smouts 2001; Barbault et al. 2002; Martin 2002; Forsyth 2003). Their multiple meanings have elicited numerous debates within scientific communities (Jeudy 1990; Humbert and Lefeuvre 1992; Babelon and Chastel 1994; Nora 1997; Brechin et al. 2003; Fairhead and Leach 2003). In the context of the global North, they have been the object of numerous publications over the past twenty years (Lamy 1996; Poulot 1998; Chevallier 2000; Rautenberg et al. 2000). In contrast to the many conferences and publications on the topics of land rights and territories in Africa (Bassett and Crummey 1993; Blanc-Pamard and Boutrais 1994; Blanc-Pamard and Cambrezy 1995; Blanc-Pamard and Boutrais 1997; Benjaminsen and Lund 2001; Juul and Lund 2002), there has been relatively little written on the theme of natural heritage (Graham et al. 2000; Chaleard and Pourtier 2000; Bart et al. 2002). This gap in our understanding motivated the creation of the interdisciplinary research group Heritage and Territory (UR026) at the French Institute of Research for Development in the National Museum of Natural History, Paris, a group that subsequently became Heritage, Territory and Identity (UR169). …

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