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Year : 2022  |  Volume : 20  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 179-189

Why the Convivial Conservation Vision Needs Complementing to be a Viable Alternative for Conservation in the Global South

Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Dodoma, Dodoma, Tanzania

Correspondence Address:
Wilhelm Andrew Kiwango
Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Dodoma, Dodoma
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/cs.cs_45_21

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Date of Submission27-Mar-2021
Date of Acceptance25-Mar-2022
Date of Web Publication27-May-2022


Convivial conservation is presented as an anti-capitalist approach and alternative to current mainstream conservation as well as proposals for 'half-earth' and 'new conservation' approaches. This paper reviews these approaches and situates them in the global South conservation and development context. Using the Ruaha-Rungwa Ecosystem in Tanzania as a case study, it examines elements of the convivial conservation vision in relation to three critical conservation problems: path dependencies of state conservation agencies; heavy reliance on tourism revenue; and political interests in community conservation areas. The analysis draws on empirical data obtained from published studies and extensive field-based research by the first author in the study area. It demonstrates that while the convivial conservation approach may be considered a radical and plausible alternative to the 'half earth' and new conservation proposals, its implementation in the global South will remain challenging in the face of the existing conservation problems. The paper suggests a socio-ecological justice approach that complements the convivial conservation vision through a systemic incorporation of the rights and responsibilities of different conservation stakeholders from the perspective of procedural, recognition, distributive, and environmental justice.

Keywords: Convivial conservation, institutional path-dependency, tourism, community-based conservation, Rungwa-Ruaha ecosystem, Tanzania

How to cite this article:
Kiwango WA, Mabele MB. Why the Convivial Conservation Vision Needs Complementing to be a Viable Alternative for Conservation in the Global South. Conservat Soc 2022;20:179-89

How to cite this URL:
Kiwango WA, Mabele MB. Why the Convivial Conservation Vision Needs Complementing to be a Viable Alternative for Conservation in the Global South. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2022 [cited 2023 Mar 23];20:179-89. Available from: https://www.conservationandsociety.org.in//text.asp?2022/20/2/179/346207

Abstract in Swahili: https://bit.ly/3w91vm0

   Introduction Top

Convivial conservation is presented as an anti-capitalist approach and alternative to current mainstream conservation as well as proposals for 'Half Earth' or 'Nature Needs Half' ('half earth') and 'new conservation' approaches (Büscher and Fletcher 2019, 2020). While the ideas underlying convivial conservation are more compelling than the other proposed approaches, we argue that the concept is unlikely to have much influence in changing current conservation practices in countries that significantly rely on international wildlife tourism to fund both conservation and development projects. Using the case of conservation policies and practice in Tanzania, we show that path dependencies, reliance on international tourism, and competing political interests make it difficult to implement convivial conservation in any meaningful way.

In this paper, we review three new proposals which seek to address the current biodiversity crisis: 'half earth', new conservation, and convivial conservation. We go on to present a case study of the Rungwa-Ruaha ecosystem in Tanzania. We situate the case study within the context of mainstream conservation to explore how the path dependencies, political interests, and reliance on international tourism funding shape current conservation practices in Tanzania. In the fourth section we critically discuss the problems illustrated in the case study and how they undermine the vision of convivial conservation. We conclude by proposing a socio-ecological justice approach which is more likely to be effective in facilitating transformation of mainstream conservation in the global South. This approach includes three key features which are critically important for translating the idea of convivial conservation in the global South: promoting diversity of conservation knowledge and perspectives to embrace ecological integrity and social justice in policy and practice; promoting systemic recognition of the rights and responsibilities of different stakeholders in conservation agencies and benefits commensurate with the costs; and establishment of community-based conservation insurance as an alternative funding mechanism to reduce dependence on international tourism revenue.

   Radical Proposals for Saving Nature Top

Biodiversity crises and environmental degradation generated by the expansion of human activities and exploitation of the biophysical world continue despite global efforts to address them (Ceballos et al. 2017). The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (2019) has highlighted many of these problems and put forward concrete actions to reduce the intensity of the drivers of biodiversity loss. In the past decade, however, three radical proposals have been put forward to address the weaknesses of mainstream conservation and its inability to address the biodiversity crisis. These are 'new conservation' (Kareiva et al. 2012; Kueffer and Kaiser-Bunbury 2014), 'half earth' (Locke 2014; Wilson 2016; Dinerstein et al. 2017) and 'convivial conservation' (Büscher and Fletcher 2019, 2020).

Mainstream conservation refers to the dominant strain in conservation that maintains the western ideological perspective of human/nature dichotomy and adopts a 'fortress conservation' model which is based on protecting nature from people (Brockington 2002). It is premised on the close collaboration and intersection between state power, market-oriented approach, and philanthropic interests to generate revenue from tourism in protected areas (PAs) (Brockington et al. 2008; Büscher and Fletcher 2019).

The 'new conservation' approach argues that given the already great influence of people on nature, protecting biodiversity from people is a 'losing proposition' and the aim of conservation should be to protect a resilient nature within human populations (Kareiva et al. 2012; Kueffer and Kaiser-Bunbury 2014). The central argument is that human actions on nature are inevitable and the line that separates nature from humans is increasingly blurred. Hence it is necessary to think of shared landscapes between humans and nature and adopt alternative strategies such as rewilding to reduce biodiversity loss (Immovilli and Kok 2020). The proponents of new conservation support the promotion of economic growth and partnership with large corporations to minimise the impacts of development and steer it towards better conservation outcomes (Kareiva 2012).

The 'half earth' proposal epitomises the neo-protectionist movement that proposes to flatten the curve of the current biodiversity crisis by returning to strict exclusion of humans from large parts of the earth (Locke 2014; Wilson 2016; Kopnina et al. 2018). It calls for urgent action to mitigate the ongoing 'sixth mass extinction' of species on a mass scale (Ceballos et al. 2017). Its proponents argue that in order to halt the biodiversity crisis, about half of the earth's area should be set aside for biodiversity conservation through a system of strict PAs (Dinerstein et al. 2017). This would ensure that human beings live justly and prudently on one half of the earth (Cafaro et al. 2017) while preserving the other half for 'other species' (Goodall 2015). Other proposals, in a similar vein, include the Global Deal for Nature (Dinerstein et al. 2019) and the Global Biodiversity Framework (CBD 2020) which set a target of bringing 30% of the earth under protection by 2030.

The 'half earth' proposal has been criticised for 're-inventing the square wheel' (e.g., Wilshusen et al. 2002) and ignoring the root causes of biodiversity loss such as capitalist extraction and consumption, and for ignoring the enormous social costs of setting up such expanded PAs (Büscher et al. 2017). The new conservation proposal has been critiqued for relying on ineffective market-based instruments (Arsel and Büscher 2012; Fletcher et al. 2016), and for potentially exacerbating profit-driven changes in land uses (Caro et al. 2014).

Büscher and Fletcher (2019, 2020) draw on political ecology frameworks to show the flawed and the socio-ecologically problematic human/nature dichotomy underlying the neo-protectionist 'half-earth' approach and the capitalist rationale of the 'new conservation' approach that relies on continual economic growth via intensified consumerism. They put forward the alternative concept of 'convivial conservation' as “a vision, a politics and a set of governance principles that realistically respond to the core pressures [of biodiversity loss] of our time. It builds on the politics of equity, structural change and environmental justice” (ibid: 283–284). They outline more equitable ways for transforming mainstream conservation into new just socio-ecologies for both humans and non-humans (Massarella et al. 2021).

Büscher and Fletcher (2019) define their alternative concept of convivial conservation through five elements. First, they challenge the human/nature dichotomy inherent in PAs and propose a fundamental shift in thinking from 'protected' to 'promoted' areas. Instead of a conservation mentality centred on protecting nature from local people, they emphasise the need for creating areas which are promoted and conserved by and for the people without involving capitalist market mechanisms. Second, they propose a conservation approach that saves and equally celebrates both human and non-human nature. Third, they call for a move away from short-term voyeuristic tourism towards more long-term engagement with the 'wild'. Fourth, they emphasise appreciation of 'everyday' nature and environments rather than on tourism that focuses on 'spectacles of nature'. Finally, they envision a shift from a privatised conservation expert technocracy towards a common democratic engagement that enables all people to live with all nature.

Although the three proposed conservation approaches are presented as radically different from mainstream conservation, they cannot avoid some of its underlying features. While convivial conservation may be a more socio-ecologically preferred alternative to the 'half earth' and new conservation proposals, it still reflects a global North perspective of conservation. It does not recognise three critical problems faced by countries of the global South for pursuing conservation. First, most conservation agencies in global South countries are burdened by institutional path dependencies that were established under European colonial rule according to the fortress conservation approach and have continued to do so in the post-independence era. Second, many of these countries heavily rely on generating foreign exchange earnings from the 'export' of nature tourism for funding national economic development. Third, there are various political interests at the national level that often undermine efforts to promote democratic governance and decision-making for conservation activities at the community level. Hence, from the perspective of the global South, we argue that convivial conservation is a promising 'work in progress' which needs to find new ways of addressing these critical problems. We thus ask: how can we build on the elements outlined in the convivial conservation proposal to address these problems of conservation in developing countries of the global South?

In the following sections, we illustrate these issues through the empirical case of the Rungwa-Ruaha ecosystem in south-western Tanzania. We selected the Rungwa-Ruaha ecosystem as our conservation case study due to its ecological, social, and economic significance at the ecosystem and national levels. Another important reason was the rich research experience gained by the first author over six years in understanding the Rungwa-Ruaha ecosystem and associated social, economic, and political dynamics. We reviewed and analysed the content of Tanzanian government policies, laws and regulations, media reports, and election manifestos related to national parks and wildlife conservation. We obtained data from reports published by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, the Wildlife Division, and Tanzania National Parks, and Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs).

   The Rungwa-Ruaha Ecosystem Top

There are six categories of PAs in Tanzania: 1) National Parks; 2) Game Reserves; 3) Game Controlled Areas; 4) Conservation Area; 5) Ramsar/Wetland Sites; and 6) Wildlife Management Areas. Four of the six categories of PAs are represented in the Rungwa-Ruaha ecosystem: National Parks, Game Reserves, Game Controlled Areas, and Wildlife Management Areas. National Parks represent the highest category of protection under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN, category II). In this category, significant uses include photographic tourism, wildlife research, education, cultural and spiritual activities. Consumptive1 uses such as tourist hunting are not allowed. Game Reserves represent the second category of PAs where wildlife utilisation is allowed such as tourist and resident hunting, as well as photographic tourism. Game Controlled Areas represents an area outside village land and with definite boundaries where activities detrimental to wildlife such as livestock grazing and crop cultivation are not allowed. Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) is a relatively new PA category comprising village land with significant resources that have economic value. WMA must form, or be part of, an ecologically viable ecosystem (MNRT 2012). The four categories of PAs are under different governance arrangements in Tanzania. While National Parks are under the Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA), the Game Reserves and Game Controlled Areas are under the Tanzania Wildlife Authority (TAWA); and the WMAs are administered by both, the local governments and the central government, through TAWA. These different conservation agencies shape management and use of these areas.

Rungwa-Ruaha forms an important ecosystem spanning an area of about 50,000 sq. km in southwest Tanzania (Abade et al. 2020). It is located between 6°15'00” to 8°20'00” S and 33°45'00” to 35°50'00” E (Abade et al. 2014). It comprises several PAs: Ruaha National Park (RUNAPA), Rungwa, Kizigo and Muhesi Game Reserves, Lunda-Mkwambi Game Controlled Area; Idodi-Pawaga (MBOMIPA), Waga and UMEWARUA Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) (see [Figure 1]).
Figure 1: A map showing the Rungwa-Ruaha ecosystem with associated PAs. Purple dots indicate villages surrounding the ecosystem Source: Field data, QGIS

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The climate of the Rungwa-Ruaha ecosystem is primarily semi-arid to arid with mean annual rainfall ranging from 500-600mm (Walsh 2000; SPANEST 2016). Rainfall occurs between December to January and March to April and tends to increase with altitude (Abade et al. 2014; SPANEST 2016). Temperatures range from 15°C to 35°C (Abade et al. 2014) but can occasionally reach up to 44°C (MBOMIPA 2014). The ecosystem is traversed by several rivers, the major ones being the Greater Ruaha in the south and Mzombe River in the north. These sustain the ecosystem by providing water for both wildlife and livestock, particularly during the dry season. The upstream PAs serve as catchment areas to ensure a stable flow of water throughout the year. The Rungwa-Ruaha ecosystem is critical for ensuring biodiversity connectivity between the different PAs. It encompasses migratory routes and species which would not otherwise be protected in isolated PAs (Abade et al. 2014; Kiwango et al. 2018). The Park is bordered by villages and WMAs. The WMAs form a buffer zone between the villages and the core PAs, and wildlife, including elephants (Loxodonta africana) and large carnivores freely move between PAs and WMAs (Abade et al. 2020).

Since the colonial times, Rungwa-Ruaha's uniqueness has been used to justify applications of coercive and repressive conservation policies that follow the 'fortress conservation' model (Brockington 2002). This is evidenced by the creation of the aforementioned PAs with different management regimes, but with the same principle of maintaining strict separation of humans from nature. [Table 1] presents the categories and basic characteristics of the PAs that form the ecosystem. These PAs are classic manifestations of strict protectionist ideas.
Table 1: Categories of protected areas, their governance structures and their land use classification in the Greater Rungwa -Ruaha ecosystem (GRRE)

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Path dependencies and intensified protectionism

The concept of institutional path dependency offers a way of understanding how the PA-system shapes biodiversity conservation in Tanzania. Path dependency refers to the institutional practices and political cultures that become systemically entrenched to favour the interests of powerful actors (Berkes 2007). Although institutions are not static and change over time, powerful actors influence these changes to further their interests over the less powerful actors (Petursson and Vedeld 2015, 2017). The laws, rules, policies and practices that define PAs and their management in Tanzania were instituted under European colonial rule and reflected their values and interests in wildlife conservation (Adams and Mulligan 2012). This was manifest in the colonial government's use of militarised tactics and violent force to evict local farming and pastoral communities for creating PAs (Brockington 2002; Brockington and Wilkie 2015). After independence from colonial rule, the Tanzanian government agencies have continued to pursue the colonial protectionist paradigm in the name of economic development through wildlife tourism development and more recently through the narrative of biodiversity crisis (Adams 2020).

The Ruaha National Park (RUNAPA) is at the heart of the Rungwa-Ruaha ecosystem; it exemplifies this path dependency. It was formally created in 1964 (MNRT 2013)2, covering an area of about 10,300 sq. km by 1974 (Kashaigili et al. 2005; Zia et al. 2011). In 2008, the Usangu Game Reserve (9,926 sq. km) was annexed and added to RUNAPA, bringing its total area to 20,226 sq. km and making it the largest National Park in the country. The former Usangu Reserve included the Ihefu wetland, an important catchment area for the Great Ruaha River. In 2006, the government made the decision to evict a large number of livestock herders, mostly Sukuma agro-pastoralists, claiming that pastoral activity and rice cultivation was causing environmental destruction of the Ihefu wetlands (Sirima and Backman 2013; Walwa 2020). This led to a special operation by Park authorities to physically displace agro-pastoralists from seven villages and two hamlets (Sirima and Backman 2013) along with an estimated 300,000 cattle to Lindi and the Coast Regions (Walsh 2012). These displacements fuelled significant anger and resource conflicts between the agro-pastoralists and Park authorities and were condemned by civil society organisations in Tanzania and beyond (Walsh 2012; Walwa 2020).

Conflicts between livestock herders and the Park have persisted since the annexation of the former Usangu Game reserve into RUNAPA, and tensions remain high. While the Park authority has secured the boundaries, livestock incursions still occur, particularly in the Ihefu wetland area. This results in further eviction operations by the regional government administration. In January 2021, the Regional Commissioner for the Mbeya administrative region, which includes the Ihefu wetland, ordered voluntary relocations of livestock from the wetland within six days. He added that failure to comply would result in forceful eviction, even if it required using live ammunition by police or military troops to conduct the operation3. Although the majority of the herders removed their cattle within the specified period, about 200 cattle that remained in the wetland area were confiscated by the police force and park rangers (Lukonge 2021).

The government uses two main narratives to criminalise the use of the wetland by livestock herders. The first talks about protecting strategic national infrastructure for economic development. According to government authorities, the wetland is important because it contributes about 15% of the water requirement for power production in the Julius Nyerere Hydropower Project under construction on the Rufiji River as well as the Mtera and Kidatu dams located downstream (Lukonge 2021). The second narrative focuses on the seasonal drying of the river which is said to undermine 1) the Park's ecological integrity; 2) conservation of Kilombero Ramsar site downstream; and 3) the livelihoods of farmers who depend on river irrigation for rice production and livestock rearing (Lankford et al. 2004). Although the exact causes of the drying up remain contested (see Lankford et al. 2004; Mtahiko et al. 2006; Walsh 2012; England 2019), wetland degradation is mostly blamed on unregulated rice farming and the growth of human and livestock populations (Kashaigili et al. 2009; Kihwele et al. 2018). This narrative has been used by the government, international donors and conservation organisations like the World Wildlife Fund to develop projects for ensuring perennial flow in the river. In both narratives, the unregulated use of the wetland by livestock herders and rice farmers is criminalised and the state's use of militarised tactics and violence is justified to evict and displace them. It is, as Walwa (2020) points out, akin to 'licensed exclusion' by the government of the communities from their interests in the catchment.

Political interests and WMAs

The need for development in rural communities has led to the promulgation of policies that address poverty along with conservation. This represents a turn in conservation policy where nature can 'pay its own way' by being conserved through capitalist market mechanisms in a win-win scenario such as the WMAs (Dressler et al. 2010; Green and Adams 2015).

WMAs in Tanzania were created in response to criticism of the PA 'fortress conservation' model and increasing advocacy for community-based conservation initiatives. The stated objective of WMAs is to achieve both conservation and livelihood improvements for communities that have set aside their village lands for conserving wildlife.

The Tanzanian government undertook several policy and legal reforms to implement the WMA approach. The 1998 Wildlife Policy of Tanzania (revised in 2007), the 2002 Wildlife Conservation (Wildlife Management Areas) regulations (revised 2005, 2012), and the 2009 Wildlife Conservation Act were reformed to include WMAs. The reforms recognise the important role of wildlife resources in contributing to economic growth and poverty alleviation through tourism and justify the need for the government to promote “the development of village communities living in or close to wildlife and wetland areas…. through facilitating the establishment of WMAs” (MNRT 2007: 27). These are conceptualised as areas for tourism investment where communities can enter into agreements with potential investors and economically benefit from these business ventures. WMAs are established through a declaration by the Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism which permits local communities to formally delineate and set aside village lands adjacent to core PAs for promoting conservation and generating economic benefits through tourism (Nelson 2007; MNRT 2012; Kiwango et al. 2015). To date, about 38 WMAs have been created across the country, bordering National Parks and Game Reserves.

The Idodi-Pawaga WMA, commonly known as Matumizi Bora ya Maliasili Idodi na Pawaga (MBOMIPA, translated as Sustainable use of Natural Resources in Idodi-and Pawaga) is one of the PAs within the Rungwa-Ruaha ecosystem. It was one of the earliest pilot WMAs in the country, having benefited from funding and technical facilitation from an array of donors and conservation NGOs such as the former UK's Department for International Development, the World Wildlife Fund and the Wildlife Conservation Society. The MBOMIPA was modelled on the basis of experiences from other pilot areas in the Serengeti ecosystem and Selous Game Reserve in the 1980s and the early-1990s. It consists of 21 villages spanning Idodi and Pawaga divisions in Iringa District. The WMA is located on the eastern side of the ecosystem, forming a buffer between the villages and the core PAs. It relies heavily on trophy or sport hunting to generate revenue which is shared between MBOMIPA (75%) and the government (25%) (MNRT 2012). However, as with the experiences of other WMAs (Igoe and Croucher 2007), political interests have largely precluded the attainment of its objectives. Conflicts in revenue sharing, investment contracts and inadequate transparency and accountability have hampered the Idodi-Pawaga WMA's ability to operate profitably (Green 2016; Kiwango 2017). The significant losses in revenue prompted the Minister for Tourism and Natural Resources to dissolve the board in 2017 for its failure to deliver investment benefits from the WMA to local communities (TBC 2017).

WMAs represent the broader shift in government policies towards the neoliberal, market-driven approach to development and tackling poverty (Igoe and Croucher 2007). Conservation is viewed as part of business investment in wildlife tourism which can be promoted through partnership agreements between investors and local communities to maintain dedicated wildlife areas for economic benefit (Igoe and Brockington 2007). The WMAs thus operate on the same principles of the PA model which maintains a clear human/nature divide as the basis for conservation. Kiwango et al. (2015) regard WMAs as the fortress conservation approach in disguise, while Igoe and Croucher (2007) see the WMAs as a strategy of extending the core PAs by disciplining and excluding local communities from their own lands. Formo (2010) argues that despite being touted as community-based conservation alternatives to the PA approach, WMAs continue to function as instruments of power through which the economic and political interests of dominant conservation actors are consolidated. The economic benefits of the business partnership between investors and local communities promised by the MBOMIPA model have been largely elusive despite the expansion of total area under conservation in the form of protected migratory corridors, dispersal areas and buffer zones (Kiwango et al. 2015; Moyo et al. 2016). The driving market force in WMAs is the economic value of wildlife through the hunting system which creates rent-seeking opportunities for government officials (Benjaminsen et al. 2013; Humphries 2013). The WMAs have thus become the focus of power struggles as various officials and political elites seek ways to gain control over the substantial revenues generated from wildlife hunting and other related profitable activities (Humphries 2013).

The role of international tourism in conservation

Tanzania's economy relies heavily on income from short-term visitations by international tourists. Tourism accounts for about 17.2% of the country's total GDP, a large component of which is from nature-based tourism (URT 2016). In 2018, out of 1,170,564 visitor arrivals in national parks, international visitors accounted for 62% of total visitation, while domestic arrivals accounted for 38% (MNRT 2018). About 12% of the total employed workforce in Tanzania is directly or indirectly employed by the tourism sector (URT 2016). The government has progressively stepped up efforts to maximise tourism revenue and boost foreign exchange earnings. Its 2019-2025 target is to grow tourist numbers from 1.5 million to 5 million and tourism revenue from USD2.6 million to USD6 million (CCM 2020). Government agencies such as the Tanzanian Tourism Board and TANAPA are expected to play a major role in enhanced promotion of their 'tourism products' for both domestic and international tourists.

Tourism revenue is not only critically important for the national economy and development agendas, but the main source of financing for conservation. TANAPA, TAWA, and the WMAs rely on this revenue to operate and manage national parks, game reserves, game controlled areas and wildlife management areas for tourism and maintenance of related infrastructure. International tourists pay higher conservation fees per day to visit designated wildlife areas than domestic tourists. The differential pricing is aimed at encouraging domestic tourism by making park visitation affordable in line with local incomes. For example, an adult domestic visitor to RUNAPA pays USD2.16 as a conservation fee per day whereas an international visitor pays USD30 per day.4 Despite reduced budget allocations by the government and declining support from international donors (Watson et al. 2014), TANAPA, and specifically RUNAPA is expected to primarily operate on a breakeven basis with visitor income as the primary source of revenue. Hence there is greater pressure on TANAPA and other conservation agencies to attract and cater for the tastes of international visitors rather than domestic tourists.

The case of RUNAPA offers a clear illustration of the dilemmas faced by these agencies. Although the government has made allocations for the park in budget projections, it is expected to cover its entire operational expenses on a breakeven basis with visitor income.5 This has proved challenging for RUNAPA because it received roughly 2% of international tourists and about 3% of domestic tourists in 2018 (MNRT 2018). The low visitor numbers to the Park is due to its location in Tanzania's southern tourism circuit which has poor accessibility for international tourists compared with the northern tourism circuit. In addition, the Covid-19 pandemic drastically reduced international tourist visitations. As per the Central Bank of Tanzania data, foreign exchange earnings declined by 59.2% due to the drop in international arrivals from 1,527,230 to 616,491 for the year between December 2019 and December 2020 (Ndalu 2021). The effects of this massive decline in foreign exchange earnings further complicates the possibility of RUNAPA operating on a breakeven basis.

   Discussion Top

The proponents of convivial conservation have highlighted the weaknesses of the 'half earth' and 'new conservation' proposals by demonstrating their continued reliance on the PAs approach which uses a combination of capitalist market mechanisms and the regulatory power of state conservation agencies to maintain a strict separation between protected areas and local communities that live near them (Büscher and Fletcher 2019, 2020). While convivial conservation may be a welcome alternative to these proposals, it will prove challenging to implement its elements in a developing country context such as Tanzania.

First, although the suggestion to move from 'protected' to 'promoted areas' represents a radical shift in conservation thinking, it will need to confront the institutional path dependence of state agencies that have maintained the colonial era mentality towards local communities. The transformation to 'promoted' areas will need to be supported by all stakeholders, in particular the local communities that have largely borne the social and economic costs of PAs (West et al. 2006; Brockington and Wilkie 2015). Given the tensions between state conservation agencies and communities regarding natural resource use, livelihoods, conservation and management within and adjoining park areas, the process of creating 'promoted' areas may generate numerous disputes and conflicts. As we have shown, the violent evictions of pastoralists from the Ihefu wetlands within the Rungwa-Ruaha ecosystem indicate the resolve of regional government administration and state conservation agencies to justify militarisation tactics by invoking narratives of national development, watershed and biodiversity protection. Indeed, the TANAPA has upped the ante for militarisation by transforming both their conservation and support staff into a full-fledged paramilitary system which is likely to have far-reaching consequences for conservation policy and practice (see Duffy et al. 2019).

Currently, about 40% of Tanzania's total area is under some form of protected status (URT 2015) and national parks represent the highest category of protected areas in Tanzania under the management of TANAPA. In addition, the Tanzanian government has committed to creating more PAs under the banner to protect biodiversity (Weldemichel 2020). It has established six national parks in areas previously categorised as game reserves. These include Nyerere National Park (occupying approximately two thirds of the former Selous Game Reserve), Ibanda-Kyerwa, Rumanyika-Karagwe, Burigi-Chato, Ugalla River, and Kigosi national parks. Although in 2019 the government de-gazetted a few conservation areas and recategorised them as village lands6, it is likely to bring more areas under PA status and intensify its militarised approach as the pressure to address conservation issues mounts.

Second, the convivial conservation vision calls for “radical ecological democracy” (Büscher and Fletcher 2019: 288), the strengthening of democratic engagement between human and non-human nature over technical expertise. While it is possible to consider the creation of WMAs as a preliminary step in this direction, the reality is that local democratic engagement and decision-making about the values of nature are already curtailed by state authorities who act in response to global market forces, national development agendas, and rent-seeking interests (Humphries 2013; Homewood et al. 2022). Hence, as with the MBOMIPA scheme in the Rungwa-Ruaha ecosystem context, the policy and practice underlying the WMA model reproduces the protectionist approach and its attendant power hierarchies and socio-ecological inequalities. The state's neoliberal market-driven approach which requires WMAs to generate revenue to cover operational costs, fund conservation activities7 and local development initiatives makes it near impossible to promote any meaningful form of democratic engagement between all people and all nature. Although Büscher and Fletcher (2019) argue for renegotiating the value of nature beyond its 'capital' value, the combination of rent-seeking behaviour of local authorities, the control of WMA revenue by government technocrats, the poverty levels of local communities, and the prospect of economic profit from conservation as tourism enterprise make it difficult to look beyond the capital value of nature. Thus, despite being put forward as a community-oriented alternative to the PA approach, the WMA design and its reliance on partnerships with external investors for generating revenue from global tourism has been disappointing for local communities who bear the conservation costs.

Third, Büscher and Fletcher (2019) propose a more 'engaged' long term visitation that does not involve travelling long distances. This would encourage more democratic, long-term engagement and experience with non-human nature instead of short-term voyeuristic and commoditised tourism. However, as the preceding section illustrates, this approach cannot work in Tanzania and other global South countries which are heavily reliant on tourism revenue. While it may be possible to implement engaged visitation in global North countries, it is not possible to sustain conservation areas in Tanzania primarily from domestic tourism income. International tourism is a 'necessary evil' because foreign visitors pay a daily fee that is nearly 15 times more than what domestic tourists pay to visit PAs. The need for PAs such as RUNAPA to breakeven and contribute more revenue to the government coffers through tourism places a fresh impetus to expanding existing PAs and creating new ones. Although domestic tourists can potentially play a bigger role in long-term engagement with nature, attracting them is a greater challenge for national parks agencies due to remoteness, poor accessibility and affordable tourist infrastructure. It is only the relatively wealthy domestic elites who can afford long-term visits to these sites. Thus, conservation areas will continue to rely on short-term international voyeuristic tourists for the foreseeable future, at least in the global South context.

Finally, the proponents of convivial conservation advocate a Conservation Basic Income as a “fully unconditional payment scheme able to cover recipient's needs” (Fletcher and Büscher 2020: 5). In this mechanism, all individuals of communities in a given geographical space adjacent to conservation areas should be equally entitled to an amount of not less than USD5 a day for meeting their basic daily needs (Fletcher and Büscher 2020). Again, while this mechanism may be implementable in countries with well-established state welfare programmes, it is unlikely to work in global South countries where there are high levels of economic disadvantage and issues of distributive justice and equity for welfare schemes. In the case of Tanzania, conservation agencies are unable to effectively fund their own operations and will be unwilling to set aside funds for payments of conservation basic income. In addition, the wildlife sector is already dominated by the political and economic interests of powerful actors who are likely to manipulate the mechanism to their advantage (see Humphries 2013; Kisingo and Kideghesho 2020). There is also no precedent to indicate whether such payments would encourage or discourage resource use by communities in conservation areas.

   Conclusion Top

We agree with the proponents of convivial conservation that the 'half earth' and 'new conservation' proposals are more likely to exacerbate the biodiversity crisis than solve it. However, we have also shown that the convivial conservation approach they have outlined needs to be reframed to take into consideration institutional path dependencies, reliance on international tourism markets, and political interests which are embodied by the mainstream PA conservation paradigm. The three elements of the convivial conservation proposal, namely, 'promoted areas', 'radical ecological democracy' and 'engaged visitations', provide a good starting point for establishing socio-ecologically just alternative mechanisms to address the biodiversity crisis. But to make these elements implementable in countries like Tanzania, it is necessary to acknowledge that local communities experience the political, social, environmental, and economic costs and responsibilities of conservation in ways that are significantly different from those borne by communities in countries of the global North.

Based on our research and experience of conservation in Tanzania, we suggest four complementary ways to make the convivial conservation proposal more feasible for implementation in global South countries. The current debates regarding socio-ecological justice provide a useful way of introducing the idea of convivial conservation into the mainstream conservation paradigm without “throwing the baby out with the bath water” (Büscher and Fletcher 2019: 4). These debates have highlighted the importance of articulating socio-ecological justice through the relational concepts of procedural, distributive, environmental, and recognition justice, which provide a framework for a systemic recognition of the rights and responsibilities of different stakeholders in conservation and benefits commensurate with the costs (Blaikie and Muldavin 2014; Gustavsson et al. 2014; Martin et al. 2016; Ruano-Chamorro et al. 2021). First, procedural justice entails how decisions are made, who participates and on which terms, across all institutional levels of conservation administration and management (Okereke and Charlesworth 2014; Martin et al. 2016). This will, for example, ensure that conservation areas such as the WMAs can be truly promoted by the relevant communities and their voices not overwhelmed by the interests of the state, its agencies, officials, investors, and international conservation technocrats. It will help reduce the violation of human rights and lack of trust that often prevails between local communities and state conservation agencies. Second, recognition justice entails giving respect for local knowledge and culture and embracing diverse understandings and perspectives on how to realise both conservation and development, (see Martin et al. 2016; Ruano-Chamorro et al. 2021; Mabele et al. 2022) instead of imposing ideas and cultures shaped by world views developed in the Global North (Gurney et al. 2021). Government and non-governmental conservation agencies and officials must recognise that local communities have a rich source of customs and traditions that have been integral for living with wildlife and part of managing the conservation landscape.

Third, distributive justice and equity requires conservation agencies to move beyond standardised blueprints and 'one size fits all' solutions and develop context specific strategies for implementing conservation and benefit sharing with local communities (Ostrom 2008). In the case of countries like Tanzania, this would involve deliberative processes between the national and regional government administrators, conservation agencies, and local communities for appropriate allocation of operating funds, tourism infrastructure improvements, and equitable distribution of economic development benefits. Finally, from the perspective of environmental justice, we propose a community-based conservation Insurance as a scheme to compensate any unforeseen risks, social costs, economic losses, or ecological degradation borne by local communities due to unintended consequences of maintaining PAs for wildlife tourism. This may be a more effective scheme than Fletcher and Büscher's (2020) Conservation Basic Income, for protecting individuals and communities from the impoverishing effects of living in or around conservation areas, and possibly an alternative funding mechanism for a post-capitalist and convivial future for conservation in countries of the global South.

Supplementary information: https://bit.ly/3yMirQR


We thank Dr. Kate Massarella Dr. Judith Krauss and Prof. Robert Fletcher for their comments on earlier versions of this paper. Special thanks to Mr. Michael Kimaro for his technical assistance on the Rungwa-Ruaha Landscape map, Ms. Fatuma Juma from Iringa District Council (District Game Officer) and Dr. Halima R. Kiwango (Ecologist, Ruaha National Park) for logistical support and for sharing invaluable information. Finally, we are grateful to two anonymous reviewers for constructive comments and suggestions that greatly improved this paper.

Financial disclosures

WAK and MBM worked on this paper under the generous funding support from the International Science Council (ISC), under the CONVIVA Project (Grant No. ISSC-T2S2018-949). The authors are solely responsible for the thoughts shared in this paper. They do not represent the position of the ISC or any other organisation.

Author contribution statement

WAK and MBM contributed equally to the inception of the idea, data collection, analysis and writing of the manuscript.

Declaration of conflict of interest

The authors declare no competing interests in the conduct of this research.

Research ethics approval


   Notes Top

  1. According to the Tanzanian Wildlife conservation Act no 5 of 2009, consumptive use means the taking of flora or the hunting or capturing of fauna, while non-consumptive use means the use of scenery, cultural and natural resources that does not involve taking any specimen from the PA, photographic tourism, walking safaris, hiking, canoeing, boating, scuba diving, mountaineering and any other similar or related activity.
  2. Government Notice (GN) number 464 (9,500 sq. km). In 1974, 800 sq. km from south eastern part were added to the park (total 10,300 sq. km). GN number 28 of 2008 annexed the former Usangu Game reserve to RUNAPA, bringing the total area to 20,226 sq. km. Sources: RUNAPA park reports https://www.nemc.or.tz/uploads/publications/sw-1646119411-BROCHURE%20-%20THE%20ARUSHA%20MANIFESTO%202.pdf.
  3. ITV news, January 9, 2021. The statement by the Regional Commissioner can be accessed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MRM5y1eEL4M. Accessed on February 26, 2021.
  4. These tariffs are for the period August 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021, and are tax exclusive. The tariffs differ from one park to the other. They can be accessed here https://www.tanzaniaparks.go.tz/uploads/publications/en-1598856303-2020_2021%20TARIFFS%20Final%202%2011th%20August%202020.pdf.
  5. The projected budget for RUNAPA in 2021 was USD 4.3 million per year (about TZS 10 billion based on the exchange rate of USD 1 = TZS 2,310). Other parks have their own breakeven targets. The requirement to breakeven was directed by the Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism to national park authorities in attempt to reach the national target of USD 6 million by 2025.
  6. See for example https://therevelator.org/tanzania-farmers-livestock/. About 12 conserved areas have been de-gazetted totalling 707.6 acres. Further, 920 villages have been allowed to remain in the previous areas recognised as protected. More information can be found at https://habarileo.co.tz/habari/2019-09-235d89149d33ab2.aspx.
  7. For example, the Wildlife Conservation (Wildlife Management Areas) (Amendment) Regulations, 2019 establishes the Community Wildlife Management Areas Trust Fund. The WMAs are required to contribute 5% of their annual gross income to the fund to be used for facilitation of various WMA activities by the WMA consortium.

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