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Community Based Wildlife Management Programmes: Do the Communities Benefit?

During the Parliamentary debate, The Under Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Mr Richard Benyon said trophy hunting can have a positive effect IF income is fed back into conservation schemes and communities. We researched this by looking at what economists and sociologists had to say about such community programmes. Instead of describing it as benefit, exploitation would be a better word.

 The concept and consequences

During the middle 1980’s conservation agencies and international donors began seriously discussing the need to involve rural African communities, often the poorest of the poor, in wildlife conservation. As many communal lands harbour(ed) substantial wildlife populations, this was seen as a way of achieving many goals at the same time, and combining development needs with environmental protection. Poverty alleviation would be achieved by encouraging communities to allow ecotourism entrepreneurs and hunting operators access to the land, and sharing the profits with the community members. As the communities realized the economic value of wildlife, they would come to see such wildlife as an overall better land use than subsistence agriculture and maintenance of livestock, and would also largely stop poaching. In other words the communities would undergo a sea change in their mostly negative attitudes towards wildlife and become partners in conservation.

And did this work?

Those were the ideals, and a number of large- to medium-scale programmes were established in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, funded with substantial international donor funds. Once the infrastructure, training, and equipment needed was in place, such programmes would become self-sustaining. In fact, none of this happened. For various reasons, but primarily because the communities themselves, the people living with wildlife, received little if any benefit from the programmes, all largely failed. In many cases, since these communities encounter many negative aspects of living with wildlife (damage to crops, loss of livestock, and even loss of life), the economic situation of the already impoverished communities actually worsened.



"Are the people wrong when they say they are being cheated?"

For this blog, I relied on independent economic and sociological studies of community – wildlife programmes rather than consulting their own more biased literature. I reviewed only two programmes, but did not select these because they prove my point. Alexander Songorwa analysed eight programmes and reached identical conclusions. In his words, “One condition for the success of CWM is that equitable amounts of wildlife revenues (whatever the type and amount) must remain in the hands of the community. The revenues must reach the majority of community members in an open and easily understood manner so that they can create and/or increase community members' interest in conserving wildlife.  But in all programs and projects …the story is the same: that the intended communities did not receive sufficient amounts of the revenues initially promised, or did not receive them at all. The programs/projects therefore could not address the basic community needs. Consequently the target communities found themselves with little stake in implementing those programs/projects. Where is the communities' genuine interest in wildlife conservation going to come from if [they receive little or no benefit]?  Are the people wrong when they say they are being cheated?”

Example 1:  CAMPFIRE in Zimbabwe

And the goals were?

CAMPFIRE (Community Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources) in northern Zimbabwe was among the first to begin implementation of a programme in the late 1980’s. The goals were to manage wildlife and habitat in communal lands for the benefit of people living in the areas as well as to provide an integrated land use plan for communal areas bordering parks and private safari hunting concessions. CAMPFIRE was designed to stimulate the long-term development management and sustainable use of natural resources in communal farming areas, and communities were to be given stewardship and responsibility for those resources as well as the right to benefit directly from their use. In legal terms, the communities were to become “Appropriate Authorities”.

Generous international assistance


A variety of donors stepped forward to provide funding needed to initiate the project, given that it had received national and international attention to reconcile development and environment goals. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) provided over 2/3 of the external support, but NORAD (Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation) and DFID (UK Department for International Development) also provided funding.

The start-up funding was generous, to say the least. Between 1989 and 2003, USAID alone provided $25.2 million, divided as follows: project administration – 21%, community development and infrastructure including buildings, fences, and vehicles – 24%; development projects and institutional capacity building – 13%, technical support for conservation – 12%, planning and research – 7%, training – 4%, grants to participating NGO’s – 20%.

Appropriate Authority?


Not for the communities sadly.....


Given the sums of money involved, it was decided (without community participation) that rather than the communities themselves being given “Appropriate Authority” status, this role was more suitable to the Rural District Councils (RDCs). An informal agreement was made that 50% of the revenue generated would flow to the communities, 35% would be used for wildlife management such as fire control, monitoring, employment of game scouts, and a 15% administrative fee retained by the RDCs. In practice, this later was modified to 49% to the communities, 20% for wildlife management, 12% retained by the RDCs, 3% for “other expenses”, and another 15% held by the RDCs and unlikely to be distributed.

After an initially slow start, by 2002, 37 RDCs had signed up for CAMPFIRE, covering a total land area of 244,000km2. The rapid expansion was prompted by the prospect of receiving development aid, large amounts of which were available as discussed above. This expansion perhaps led to the formation of the CAMPFIRE Collaborative Group, including the RDCs, the Wildlife Department, NGOs, the University, and the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development. It should be noted that of the 37 districts, only 12 could claim to have consistently profitable wildlife populations.



Not always with community agreement..

Agreements made between the consumers (the safari companies) and the providers (in theory the communities but by appropriate authority regulations the RDCs) in many cases included explicit requirements. The communities were not to harass wildlife, not to hunt wildlife themselves, to limit the expansion of areas used for crops and livestock, to confine the areas of human settlement, and in some cases to move away from areas where wildlife tended to concentrate. Such agreements were usually made by the RDCs but not always with community agreement.

Contracts made between the consumers and providers were variable. In most cases, the hunting companies (who provided 89% of the income for CAMPFIRE) paid an annual lease fee plus a trophy fee. In some cases, the districts received a percentage of the declared gross income of the operator, and in one case a joint venture was established between the operator and the district.

Hunting companies unwilling to participate in full economic analysis


In few cases was the money distributed to individual households


A full economic analysis of the CAMPFIRE programme cannot be made, as the hunting companies have refused to report their earnings from the programme. And initially at least, many RDCs did not monitor the safari operations and resulting payments. Nevertheless, between 1989 and 2001 (the period for which the most comprehensive records are available), 18 RDCs earned a total of $20.3 million of which 97% came from 12 districts as mentioned above. Of this amount, the RDCs retained $6.3 million (31%) and $9.9 million was disbursed to the various wards (a ward is a sub-district administrative unit containing an average of six villages; in the main CAMPFIRE districts there were an average of 991 households per ward and an average of 5.4 people per household). During 1989 to 2001, each ward received an average of $64,000, and in most cases such finance was used for development projects. In few cases was the money distributed to individual households, and as more districts joined CAMPFIRE, such individual benefits have declined. In 1989, where such payments were made, each household received $20, but this declined to $2 in 1998 because more districts had by then joined. In addition, such payments were intermittent.

The impact on poverty alleviation...has been marginal to non-existent.

In that sense, the key assumption of the programme – that revenue from wildlife would create incentives not to modify the land in ways inappropriate for wildlife use – has been largely irrelevant. Especially when the communities themselves have to bear the “costs” of living with wildlife, and where they are denied hunting rights and the rights to cultivate more land, the direct financial impact on poverty alleviation through CAMPFIRE has been marginal to non-existent.

Communities lose out


Therefore, while the aggregated revenue from wildlife resources at the district and ward level has been substantial and has in many cases led to the establishment of schools, boreholes, clinics, maize grinding mills and perhaps the purchase of irrigation pumps, the benefits that might trickle down to individual households is far too small to change hearts and minds. In fact, the incentive to forego more immediate and individually more rewarding land use practices is non-existent, and many questions have been asked about the ultimate sustainability of wildlife based land uses for the CAMPFIRE communities. Also, there are persistent anecdotal accounts of benefits being captured by elites in many producer communities for their own advantage, nepotism in assigning paid jobs, and appropriation of project equipment for personal use. Add to that the fact that many wards and households are largely involuntary participants in a programme decided by the RDCs, and that some are likely to carry net losses, the benefits of participation by communities become increasingly obscure. Therefore, it is not unexpected that increased levels of poaching and wildlife harassment occur, and that alternative land uses are again common.

A summary of CAMPFIRE


.......largely failed to live up to expectations

In summary, the CAMPFIRE programme, while initially and perhaps hopefully optimistic in terms of household benefits from wildlife as a viable alternative land use, has largely failed to live up to expectations. Instead of producer communities benefiting from and controlling wildlife revenue, this has flowed in many different directions. Whereas communities in this case received few direct wildlife benefits, they were expected to bear the full burden of the damage wildlife caused to other economic activities and the opportunity costs of alternative land uses foregone or diminished by the presence of wildlife. Communities in wildlife areas are often already economically marginalized and least able to bear these costs - even if they are willing to conserve wildlife, the costs to them of doing so may be insurmountable given these kinds of programme structures.

Example 2: ADMADE in Zambia


Appropriate Authority?


When C.C. Gibson and S.A Marks focused specifically on the ADMADE programme in Zambia, a programme similar in many details to the overall goals of CAMPFIRE but also different in others, a familiar picture emerged. ADMADE placed their Appropriate Authority designation in the hands of the Chiefs, the traditional rulers in the Game Management Areas. This level of control was inevitably used to secure more power and resources for themselves rather than facilitate local participation or wildlife conservation, game scout positions were assigned to relatives and to gain favours, and some Chiefs even organized their own illegal hunting groups.

Communities receive their usual pittance


Similar to CAMPFIRE, only about 2% of the gross profits from sport hunting reached the rural communities themselves, most funds went to the hunting operator and the Government. Since the vast majority of the residents received so little, there was again no incentive to conserve wildlife. Returns from illegal hunting far outweighed any benefit from ADMADE. In addition, not all residents responded to purely economic incentives. The community hunters have a high social status as they provide meat and other goods to the community, and in addition their goals centre around aspects such as personal bravery, skill, and even spiritual merit. Benefits perceived by others as motivators not to hunt may therefore have little or no significant impact on local lives.

While ADMADE was able to prevent hunting of large-bodied species, the community hunters switched to smaller animals and continued their activities. Arrests and sentencing provided no disincentives, and community hunters went back to their activities soon after release.



...the communities have seen no tangible benefits to conserving wildlife

Overall, organized community wildlife management projects have fallen well short of their expected goals and have not convinced communities of the value of wildlife. Many factors have contributed to this, including the reluctance to abandon various traditional means of utilizing wildlife, but largely the communities have seen no tangible benefits to conserving wildlife with the very small amounts eventually disbursed. While it could be said that the communities did overall benefit from construction of schools and clinics in their areas, such benefits were not surprisingly seen as secondary to poverty alleviation and nutritional requirements. This is even more apparent in programmes where communities were asked to cease their own hunting and curtail expansion of agricultural plots and livestock herds. Active participation in revenue sharing and stewardship over wildlife resources was not afforded the communities, and allocation of revenue was in many cases not a consultative process.

Overall, therefore, and despite the claims of the hunting operators and programme administrators, communities by and large have either benefited little if at all from Community Based Natural Resource Management projects, despite the best intentions of donors. Consideration of wildlife costs forms a central part of the economics of community conservation, and unless such costs are directly offset by benefits, benefit sharing will have marginal impact. For local communities to be willing and economically able to conserve wildlife therefore does not just require that conservation generates the broad benefits of schools and boreholes. Even when people in wildlife areas are furnished with such community development benefits, frequently they still lose out in personal economic terms from the presence of wildlife.

Many current formulas must change

This is not to say that change is impossible, just that many current formulas must change to truly involve those who bear the negative costs of living with wildlife. Conservation of wildlife must involve communities, but must also be cognizant that a shift of direct use rights from the communities themselves to wildlife entrepreneurs like trophy hunters might fall well short of convincing those communities that cash payments are a suitable substitute for the loss of other activities. Revenue distribution in any case must be both more equitable and accountable, and communities rather than RDCs and others should have the greatest say in how they want to apply such revenue to better their daily lives and gain tangible benefits.



Frost, P.G.H. & Bond, I. 2008. The CAMPFIRE program in Zimbabwe – payments for wildlife services. Ecological Economics 65: 776-787.

Emberton, L. The nature of benefits and the benefits of nature: Why wildlife conservation has not economically benefited communities in Africa. Institute for Development Policy and Management, University of Manchester. 

Songorwa, A. (1999, Community-based wildlife management in Tanzania: Are the communities interested? World Development 27: 2061-2079). 

C.C. Gibson and S.A. Marks 1995. Transforming rural hunters into conservationists: An assessment of community based wildlife management programmes in Africa. World Development 23: 941-957)


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Posted by Pieter Kat at 10:08

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