Contested Sustainability

Edited by Stefano Ponte, Christine Noe and Dan Brockington

Welcome to the African Griot! Can you please begin by providing a brief overview of your book Contested Sustainability?

So many rural Africans, and so many aspects of African economies hinge on natural resources. Their effective governance is essential for people and the environment. And this governance is changing dramatically. New and more complex partnerships linking donors, governments, business, NGOs and other actors are emerging to govern natural resources. While they draw on substantial resources and attract high expectations, we do not know whether they deliver better outcomes. Contested Sustainabilityexamines the emergence and evolution of sustainability partnerships in three key natural resource sectors in Tanzania – forestry, wildlife and coastal resources – to assess whether co-management with local communities results in better livelihood and environmental outcomes. The contributors examine the distribution of benefits and losses that these partnerships entail, and the forms of sustainability they produce. 

How do you define a ‘sustainability partnership’ in your book?

Contested Sustainability examines ‘sustainability partnerships’ that bring together different configurations of actors and combine conservation and development objectives. We use the terms ’partnership’ and ‘initiative’ interchangeably in the book. We do notmean for the term ‘partnership’ to indicate that all actors can leverage the same power equally. We recognise the power disparities and interest clashes among different actors and actor categories that these ‘partnerships’ may entail. From this stand point we analyse ‘sustainability partnerships’ in three key natural resource sectors in Tanzania: wildlife, forestry, and coastal resources. In each of these sectors and across sectors, we compare ‘more complex’ partnerships (those that entail some form of co-management with local communities and private and civil society actors, and putatively more participatory processes) to relatively ‘simpler’, more traditional top-down and centralized management systems and to locations where sustainability partnerships are not in place.

Your work provides valuable insights into the success and failures of the management and governance of wildlife, forestry and coastal resources; did any successes or failures surprise you?

Yes! In the wildlife sector, considerable effort has gone into forming different partnerships – aimed at sustaining wildlife conservation and enabling communities living with wildlife to prosper from them. We found that wildlife presents a cost to some people, both in terms of the damage it does and the lost opportunity to benefit from it. Yet, these costs are concentrated on a minority of people. Most people are not preoccupied with wildlife management measures and how to improve wildlife governance. They are also not preoccupied by wildlife-based livelihood activities as there has been little contribution of wildlife benefits to the local economy. The mismatch between expectations raised by conservation partnerships and everyday realities of living in areas that are increasingly forested have made villages a contested space. Human-wildlife as well as game and forest ranger’s conflicts with villagers are some of the most pronounced impacts of partnerships.

At the same time we were surprised that even close to protected areas where rebounding elephant populations were making maize farming hard, people mainly wanted to talk about their growing prosperity as new elephant-proof cash crops (sesame) was cultivated.

When it came to the fishery sector the surprise was that the lessons that we had learnt in forestry and wildlife seemed not to apply, or even be reversed. 

What was the most effective type of intervention that you looked at? 

Community-based forestry management has been more effective than similar initiatives in wildlife and coastal resource management. CBFM in the sites we studied appears to have led to clearer procedures, benefit sharing, and decision-making processes, which have improved the governance of forests. The accountability of conservation-related institutions at the local level has furthermore improved in CBFM villages compared to non-CBFM villages. Improved governance is positively correlated to local perceptions of improved forest conditions. Two factors can explain this: 1) the key role played locally by a focal organization that worked closely with district authorities and built trust in local communities; 2) the community-level financial benefits that accrued CBFM activities. 

Did you find that the co-management with local communities resulted in more sustainable environmental outcomes?

Yes and no. Co-management can be done in very different ways and its legitimacy and efficacy vary accordingly. In general, we find a positive link between higher degrees of both institutional and network complexity (a composite indication of co-management) and the maintenance of forest cover, but not so in relation to other resources.

Tell us about your cover.

It’s a picture taken by one of the editors at a fish landing site and market in Southern Tanzania. It shows fish being dried on racks in shoal-like formation, on the background of a littered land clearing. We thought it summarizes some of the challenges involved in balancing sustainability and livelihood needs.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

Yes. The size and multidisciplinary nature of the research team presented both opportunities and challenges of managing complexity. In the end, however, the team was proud about how every contributor participated actively in research and writing. Everyone’s capacity was strengthened by the teamwork from the beginning of the project to the point of publishing this book. The team lived what it aimed to investigate – sustainability partnerships – hence contributing to some of the stories of successful north-south research collaborations. This is manifest in the unusual structure and writing process of this volume. It is not an edited collection of different chapters by different authors. This is a curated collection with large over-lapping teams of writers who have plainly shared the joys, and tribulations of this work together for a long period of time.

Contested Sustainability

The Political Ecology of Conservation and Development in Tanzania

Edited by Stefano Ponte, Christine Noe and Dan Brockington

Paperback and Open Access, 9781847013224, July 2022
344pp., 44 colour, 20 black and white illus.
Eastern Africa Series
James Currey

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STEFANO PONTE is Professor of International Political Economy at Copenhagen Business School. His books include Farmers and Markets in Tanzania: How Market Reforms Affect Rural Livelihoods in Africa (2002), and co-editing The Green Economy in the Global South (2017).

CHRISTINE NOE is an Associate Professor of Human Geography at the University of Dar es Salaam. She is a contributor to David Potts (ed), Tanzanian Development (James Currey, 2019). Her research is on conservation and development politics.

DAN BROCKINGTON is a Research Professor at ICTA, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. He is author of Fortress Conservation (James Currey, 2002), and, with Stefano Ponte, co-edited The Green Economy in the Global South (2017). His research covers the social impacts of conservation and long term livelihood change in East Africa.