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Management of some commons in southern Africa: Implications for policy

This policy brief prepared by the Programme for Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) analyzes the present and future implementation of community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) as an alternative to privatization in the semi-arid rangelands of southern Africa. CBNRM empowers communities to manage their common lands and relies upon local indigenous knowledge of ecology and best agricultural practices. This brief explores the use of CBNRM in southern Africa through the lens of case studies in Namibia, Botswana, and Nama Karoo (South Africa). The best-functioning CBNRM systems are built upon community ownership of natural resources, a beneficial legislative context, focused technical assistance from government ministries, well-trained and educated committee members and frontline workers, and highly motivated community leaders. In the long-run, CBNRM bolsters and legitimizes marginalized communities´ claims to land and natural resources that are in danger of being appropriated by more powerful private individuals and companies.


Profound transformations in communal land tenure systems are taking place in parts of southern Africa that have resulted from decades of interventions, particularly the shrinking of the commonage through capture of extensive tracts of lands by private interests. Some policies have been into place that envisage improved management of common rangeland resources through privatisation. However, empirical evidence is lacking as to what extent these may have been successful.

Traditional management systems in communal areas have been broken down to the extent that many of them are now more characteristic of open access systems. An alternative to meeting the challenge of managing resources in common rangelands is to develop community-based rangeland resource management systems that build on the strengths of traditional management approaches. Therefore a call is made on the use of indigenous knowledge systems and empowering communities to manage their rangeland resources, in order to prevent open access and promoting improved rangeland management and more sustainable livelihoods.

Uploaded on: Feb 15, 2013
Last Updated: Dec 04, 2015
Year Published: 2006

Resource Tags

Resource Type: Practitioner Resources Issues: Community / Customary Land Rights, Environmental Justice Tool Type: Policy Papers / Briefs Target Population: Rural Languages: English Regions: Sub-Saharan Africa