TNRC Blog Corruption and community-based conservation: Lessons and opportunities

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Targeting Natural Resource Corruption

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Corruption and community-based conservation: Lessons and opportunities

This blog post captures key learning from a TNRC Learning Series Webinar on 21 May 2021 on Corruption & community-based conservation: Lessons and opportunities. This webinar addressed the following learning questions: 1) How has “community” been variously defined and what does this imply for conservation practice? 2) Which corruption challenges typically arise in community-based conservation approaches? 3) What can we learn from specific cases from Kenya and Indonesia? 4) What issues should practitioners consider in intervention design and implementation to reduce the impact of corruption on community-based conservation? This virtual learning event was attended by practitioners based in 26 countries. A TNRC publication on this topic is forthcoming, a recording of the webinar is above, and a PDF of slides can be downloaded here.

Key Takeaways

  • Corruption affects community-based conservation in a variety of ways: it may not always be fatal to a conservation project´s outcomes, but the risks of serious, unintended consequences is far greater where corruption is present than where it is not.
  • Deep analysis and understanding of the communities to be involved with conservation activities (including their composition and history, contemporary priorities and power dynamics) is an essential component of devising and implementing corruption-reduced conservation projects.
  • The methods that project implementers use to engage with communities, and obtain their consent for a particular approach, can themselves fall prey to corruption. To avoid this, methods such as Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) need to enable a holding-to-account of project implementers by a range of community members.

Global biodiversity goals are unattainable without full inclusion of indigenous peoples and local communities and their lands. Conservation projects invariably involve communities of many kinds and there are recent calls for conservation to be mainly led by indigenous peoples. Communities may lead conservation at specific sites or landscapes, they may be co-designers or co-implementers of conservation activities. Conservationists from outside communities must consult and engage with communities to gain their Free, Prior and Informed Consent for conservation work. Various forms of corruption can undermine conservation involving communities. This webinar unpacked the topic of corruption and community-based conservation, sharing lessons from research and experience, as well as identifying opportunities for addressing corruption.

How has “community” been variously defined and what does this imply for conservation practice?

Communities are typically defined as “communities of place” i.e., as entities socially bound by “a common cultural identify, living within a defined spatial boundary, and having a common economic interest in the resources of a particular area” (Pimbert and Pretty 1994). Such definitions, however, overlook the frequent heterogeneity of many rural development settings where conservation activities take place. In contemporary rural African settings, non-farming communities with communal claims to land and resources tend to be characterized by their multi-ethnic composition, competing interests and priorities (e.g., educated youth vs. herding), diverse and changing livelihoods, and complex claims and rights to resources. The application of one-size-fits-all understandings of “community” should therefore be avoided, because doing so could risk the outcomes of conservation projects, including triggering social conflict and/or local elite capture.

Which corruption challenges typically arise in community-based conservation approaches?

Research and experience shows that community-based conservation approaches have been affected by a range of corruption challenges. The corrupt practices encountered include: leakage/embezzlement (e.g., where project funds have been diverted from their intended purpose for private gain); local elite capture (e.g., where a community leader captures project benefits for themselves or family/friends); straight-out bribery (e.g., where forest guards are bribed to avoid their conservation duties); misallocation of benefit-sharing revenues (e.g., where project implementers collude with individuals to unevenly share a project´s benefits); policy capture (e.g., where political leaders collude with economic interests to frame conservation approaches in ways that unduly protect lucrative trades); and sextortion (e.g., where guards or rangers coerce vulnerable individuals into sexual acts in exchange for overlooking infringements of rules). Although not all forms of corruption may be fatal to a conservation project´s outcomes, the risks of unintended negative outcomes are much greater for a project when corruption is present.

What can we learn from specific cases from Kenya and Indonesia?

Case evidence from the implementation of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) measures for anti-deforestation REDD+ projects in provincial Indonesia, shows that FPIC can itself fall prey to corrupt practices. In one example, nepotism and local elite capture occurred in the FPIC process for a project. Although the project was not derailed and forest rehabilitation activities went ahead in the short term, ultimately, there was a loss of trust between the community and project implementers – partly due to the fact that promised forest carbon revenue payments were not forthcoming. In another case example, the FPIC process was derailed entirely due to common perceptions of misconduct and corruption on the part of a state body conducting an earlier forest gazettement process. Although this state body was not actually implementing the FPIC process, which was led by another organization, the REDD+ project and earlier forest gazettement process became fused in the perception of community leaders, who rejected the REDD+ project as a result.

In the creation of community-based conservation (CBC) projects in communally owned land in Kenya, corrupt practices have emerged in the establishment and operation of projects. Although corruption varies by project and context, most corrupt practices in CBC projects in Kenya occur through revenue leakages involving private sector partners and within project operations. This involves a series of interactions involving local elites and conservancy management in the investment of CBC project revenues. For instance, information on revenues collected by private tourism operators within the CBC project do not reach conservancy managers or communities as required in their partnership agreements. Experience from cases indicates that private operators often under-declare revenues. These corrupt practices are facilitated by the absence of accessible comparative information on the number of tourist arrivals and revenues collected by private operators. The risk of elite capture in the investment of revenues is another common corrupt practice in CBC projects. Conservation and local community based organisations supporting CBC projects report numerous incidences where local politicians conspired with conservancy management to provide business associates with confidential project specification materials before procurement processes. Allegations of payments of bribes to conservancy managers are also reported. These incidences have made communities ambivalent about conservancy revenues.

What issues should practitioners consider in intervention design and implementation to reduce the impact of corruption on community-based conservation?

To reduce the impact of corruption on community-based conservation interventions, the following considerations are important:

  1. Interventions need to consider how those who implement participatory measures can be held to account by beneficiaries: Case examples such as this one from Uganda show that collusion can occur between project implementers and beneficiaries, to the detriment of others. In order to avoid this, participatory measures such as FPIC need to be open to scrutiny and allow for reporting of any malpractice.
  2. Crucial groups to participate in community-based conservation interventions should be defined by their dependence upon the resource in question and the extent of the human impact of the intervention: Not all communities, even in the same immediate area, have the same economic dependence on, for example, non-timber forest products. Detailed analysis is needed of the human impacts of planned conservation activities which should ideally be led by the communities with the highest dependence on the resource in question.
  3. Double-blind monitoring and evaluation can be a useful mechanism for project monitoring: As can be seen, again, in this case from Uganda, double-blind techniques can be a mechanism to improve monitoring and evaluation of conservation activities that can potentially also reduce corruption risk. Double-blind monitoring involves staggered or autonomous supervisory visits from evaluators that are not otherwise familiar with each other, and who have limited opportunities to develop informal connections with project implementers;
  4. FPIC and other measures intended to enable community engagement, participation and consent, can themselves fall prey to corrupt, illegal or unethical acts: Corruption in FPIC may not immediately derail a conservation project, but where FPIC is mishandled the risks of poor conservation outcomes, rights violations, social conflict and forms of corruption will be far greater than if it has been done to a high quality.
  5. Projects need to be cognizant of the challenges of historical land injustices, unclear or disputed land tenure and supportive of legal attempts to clarify tenure: As shown by the Indonesia REDD+ case example above, state efforts to clarify land tenure (of which the forest gazettement process mentioned is one example) can be subjected to misconduct and perceptions of land grabbing and corruption, which in turn can undermine confidence in conservation projects based upon such efforts.
  6. Community-based conservation projects need to be based on a thorough understanding of localized power relations (and how these affect minorities, marginalized groups and women) and the pressures and constraints placed on the community from outside: This case study from Madagascar illustrates the need to view conservation challenges and corruption risks from a multi-level perspective.

What should a strong stakeholder analysis look like?

The first step in ensuring a strong stakeholder analysis is to identify all stakeholders that may be directly and indirectly affected by your work, even if they are deemed as low priority. This means thinking beyond the usual partners that you work with or traditional conservation stakeholders, and including all others who may have an interest in your work, who could influence or be affected by your project (individuals, groups/associations, organizations/institutions, actors in other sectors than conservation, etc). Stakeholder analysis is also a good opportunity to think about challenges you may be facing with certain stakeholders and if changes in the way that you engage with these stakeholders may be necessary in order to be more successful. This analysis may help prevent some forms of corruption, avoid exacerbating existing conflicts and find solutions to overcome them.

What things should you look out for in power analysis when stakeholder mapping? What common mistakes should be avoided?

During stakeholder analysis it is useful to conduct a power analysis (also referred to as a political-economy analysis or social analysis) to help identify the level of interest of stakeholders in your work, their rights, influence and/or vulnerability. This includes looking at different types of power, from economic to political to cultural, and understanding the positions of stakeholders and the relationships between your organization and stakeholders, as well between different stakeholder groups. This is especially important because power includes the extent to which the stakeholder is able to persuade or coerce others into making certain decisions or following a particular course of action.

What approaches should be taken in power mapping before a project is launched?

There are various methodologies that can be used to develop stakeholder power mapping, but whichever method is used, one of the main outcomes sought in developing a power map is to indicate where and how you might prioritize stakeholder engagement efforts. The results of a power map exercise might help identify those stakeholders with high power and interest, who you would need to monitor closely and engage in more active participation. Conversely, you might identify those stakeholders who have high interest in your work but very little power and, by understanding their level of vulnerability, this may help to develop more appropriate ways to engage with them to ensure their meaningful and active participation. A power analysis, conducted as part of a stakeholder analysis process, is a critical tool to use at the design phase of a project and throughout the project life cycle. The results of a power analysis help support the development of an action plan for stakeholder consultation and engagement and provide insights in the management of certain stakeholders, to prevent or reduce the risks related to corruption and conflicts that may surface later in the project implementation phase.

Further Reading

Barrow, E. and Murphree, M., 2001. “Community conservation: from concept to practice” David Hulme and Marshall Murphree (eds), African Wildlife and Livelihoods: the promise and performance of community conservation. Oxford: James Currey. pp.2437.

Mahanty, S. and C.L. McDermott. 2013. “How does ´Free, Prior and Informed Consent´ (FPIC) impact social equity? Lessons from mining and forestry and their implications for REDD+”. Land Use Policy. Vol. 35. pp. 406-416.

Pimbert, M., and J. Pretty. 1994. Whose Eden? An overview of community approaches to wildlife management. International Institute for Environment and Development, London, UK.

Western, D. and Wright, Michael R, eds. (1994) Natural Connections: Perspectives in Community-based Conservation. Island Press, Washington, DC.

Williams, D.A. 2021. Shaping Room for Maneuver: A Political Ecology of REDD+ in Indonesia. Doctoral Thesis. Department of Development Studies. School of Oriental and African Studies. University of London.

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