Conservation and Society

: 2023  |  Volume : 21  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 38--47

Compatible with Conviviality? Exploring African Ecotourism and Sport Hunting for Transformative Conservation

Amos Ochieng1, Niak Sian Koh2, Stasja Koot3,  
1 Department of Forestry, Biodiversity and Tourism, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda
2 Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden
3 Sociology of Development and Change, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands; and Department of Geography, Environmental Management and Energy Studies, University of Johannesburg, Auckland Park, South Africa

Correspondence Address:
Niak Sian Koh
Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Stockholm


Recent decades have shown the increased popularity of market-based instruments (MBIs) for conservation despite mixed social and ecological outcomes. This paper explores the extent to which two crucial MBIs, namely, ecotourism and sport hunting, are compatible with 'convivial conservation', a novel, integrated approach that explores conservation beyond capitalism. We developed an analytical framework of five key features for transformative change that can potentially contribute to conviviality: access and property rights, benefit-sharing, value operationalisation, institutional arrangements, and decision-making processes. We analysed the use of ecotourism and sport hunting in southern and eastern Africa in relation to the five features. Based on 'radical incremental transformation', we applied these features to analyse if, and if so how, incremental changes to these MBIs can be supportive in transitioning conservation towards (further) conviviality. With insights from our extensive research experiences in eastern and southern Africa, we highlight that the institutional design and contextual factors determining power relations are often more important than the choice of instrument in influencing its social and ecological outcomes. In conclusion, we propose a shift in the dialogue on conservation beyond its infatuation with commodification by integrating convivial elements into the design of conservation policies.

How to cite this article:
Ochieng A, Koh NS, Koot S. Compatible with Conviviality? Exploring African Ecotourism and Sport Hunting for Transformative Conservation.Conservat Soc 2023;21:38-47

How to cite this URL:
Ochieng A, Koh NS, Koot S. Compatible with Conviviality? Exploring African Ecotourism and Sport Hunting for Transformative Conservation. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2023 [cited 2023 Jun 11 ];21:38-47
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In this paper, we analyse market-based instruments (MBIs) in eastern and southern Africa that have proliferated in recent decades as mechanisms for funding biodiversity conservation (Hockenstein et al. 1997; Pirard 2012), namely, ecotourism and sport hunting. MBIs generally refer to policy instruments that attach a price to nature. The term 'market-based' is often used to describe a broad range of instruments such as payments for ecosystem services, sport hunting, ecotourism, carbon taxes, and species banking (Pirard 2012). The most common arguments in favour of MBIs are that they: (1) create financial incentives for conservation; (2) allow for better resource allocation and efficiency; and (3) enable an additional source of conservation funding (Pirard and Lapeyre 2014).

However, although the use of MBIs in conservation has grown over the years, their effectiveness is mixed. Numerous studies have noted the social and ecological risks that MBIs may pose, such as the clash of valuing nature with economic methods (Temper and Martinez-Alier 2013; Sullivan and Hannis 2017), overlooking complexities of ecosystem function (Muradian and Rival 2012), as well as reinforcing social inequities (McAfee 2012). To avoid such downsides, MBIs should be designed and implemented carefully (IPBES 2019), and their performance analysed in relation to the regulatory framework they are embedded in (Filoche 2017).

Given the pre-existing concerns on the effectiveness of MBIs in conservation, the ongoing biodiversity crisis should be seen as an opportune moment for conservation scholars and policy makers to rethink future conservation debates (Fletcher and Büscher 2020). Scientific evidence shows that transformative changes are needed away from business-as-usual approaches to biodiversity governance, with increasing calls to seek alternatives to economic growth (Otero et al. 2020; Turnhout et al. 2021). While reviewing the implications of growth is not very common in conservation research yet (for some notable exceptions see Otero et al. 2020 and Moranta et al. 2021), new proposals such as 'convivial conservation' call for a paradigm shift to revolutionise the global conservation agenda (Büscher and Fletcher 2020). Crucial in this shift to achieve the conservation and sustainable use of nature is that it requires biodiversity policies to be reframed beyond the economic growth imperative (Koot 2019; Otero et al. 2020), especially if policy instruments for biodiversity are to remain resilient to change and unpredictable events, such as COVID-19 that strongly affected (eco)tourism (Fletcher et al. 2020; Lindsey et al. 2020).

In this paper, a transformative change in conservation is conceptualised in line with convivial conservation, which entails living with nature and a post-capitalist approach (Büscher and Fletcher 2019, 2020). It refers to “a vision, a politics and a set of governance principles that realistically respond to the core pressures of our time” (Büscher and Fletcher 2019: 283). At first glance, it would seem as if convivial conservation is incompatible with MBIs due to its strong focus on possibilities beyond markets, but the current reality still claims a big role for MBIs. This raises the important question if, and if so to which extent, MBIs—that have been shaped by capitalist systems—can play a role in a transformation to post-capitalist convivial conservation. This paper addresses this research gap.

We use the concept of 'radical incremental transformation' that suggests incremental interventions towards a radical new idea (Göpel 2016). Though we advocate for new ways of thinking about biodiversity conservation, experimentation is needed when exploring which instruments are appropriate for transitions (Göpel 2016). Incrementality means that “only a fool tests the depth of the water with both feet” (old African proverb): unless the dominant system indicates a willingness to change, policy experiments that propose too large a change too quickly are more likely to get rejected (Göpel 2016). This paper contributes to debates on transformative change in conservation by examining whether two widely used MBIs can be aligned with a convivial conservation vision.

In the following sections, we first outline the concepts of convivial conservation and radical incremental transformation as a theoretical background to five key features for transformative change in conservation. Next, we examine ecotourism and sport hunting as MBIs and describe the social-ecological implications of their use. We then analyse their use in relation to the five features, to discuss the extent to which incremental changes could be made for ecotourism and sport hunting to be compatible with transitioning conservation towards conviviality. We then conclude with a consideration for institutional design and contextual factors as they influence the MBIs' social and ecological outcomes. We end with a call to move beyond infatuation with the commodification of nature, towards a convivial vision.

 A Transition to Post-Capitalist Convivial Conservation

Post-capitalist Convivial Conservation

There are two main ideas underpinning convivial conservation. First, the rejection of the nature-people dichotomy, prioritising integrated spaces where humans and non-humans co-exist together (Büscher and Fletcher 2019). As people and nature are interconnected (IPBES 2019), conservation approaches that acknowledge this can help design interventions for more sustainable outcomes in the long-term (Masterson et al. 2019).

In this paper, however, our analysis is focused on the second main idea of convivial conservation, which is a post-capitalist approach and the need to move beyond the economic growth paradigm (Büscher and Fletcher 2019, 2020). For ecotourism and sport hunting, this idea contains an enormous challenge, since both are constructed under capitalism, which is “inherently expansionary” and “driven by a demand for continual growth” (Büscher and Fletcher 2020: 78). Both ecotourism and sport hunting are fundamentally focused on expansion and growth.

As Büscher and Fletcher (2019: 284) emphasise, “[w]e need another conservation vision and movement, one that takes seriously—and so positively confronts—the structural, violent and uneven socio-ecological pressures of our current economic system.” This is confirmed by the IPBES Global Assessment Report (2019: 2, emphasis added), which notes how “[a] key component of sustainable pathways is the evolution of global financial and economic systems to build a global sustainable economy, steering away from the current, limited paradigm of economic growth.” This aligns with the convivial approach, in which it is critical to generate “funding mechanisms beyond tourism and other market-based instruments” (Büscher and Fletcher 2020: 196).

Such a transformation, however, “takes time” and therefore an important convivial conservation exploration is the adaptation of “existing conservation and development funding schemes” (Büscher and Fletcher 2020: 196). And although Büscher and Fletcher consider such an exploration especially relevant for cash transfers and payments for environmental services, we assume that it is unlikely—and even unrealistic—for ecotourism and sport hunting to immediately be abolished completely. As ecotourism and sport hunting are essentially MBIs that are based on economic growth, we will explore which incremental steps can potentially be taken towards a transformation to conviviality, a process we will now describe.

Sustainability Transformations through Radical Incrementalism

While the literature on sustainability transformations often contrasts radical versus incremental changes (Kates et al. 2012; Fedele et al. 2019), such a dichotomy can limit the range of responses. To allow for a variety of responses, we draw from 'radical incremental transformation' (Göpel 2016). 'Incremental' changes may rely on existing governance structures to alter social-ecological systems, such as instating pollution taxes, while 'radical' change may involve deeper systemic shifts that challenge current beliefs and values (Bennett et al. 2019).

According to Göpel (2016: 8), “a radically new purpose could inform which multiple and diversified incremental interventions can help to unlock path dependencies that keep the system in the old dynamic”. This can occur from new ideas that create a shift in mindsets at an individual and societal level, which then feeds gradually into institutional changes and eventually challenges the dominant paradigm (Göpel 2016). It is useful here to distinguish between the terms 'transition' and 'transformation': a transition is used when referring to a phase of change, that is a subset within a much larger transformation of a system (Herrfahrdt-Pähle et al. 2020). Thus, transformative change takes place across economic, political, and social factors and is needed to address the ongoing biodiversity crisis (IPBES 2019), for which convivial conservation is one 'radical vision' for guiding through transitions (Massarella et al. 2021).

Based on the elements of a convivial conservation vision (Büscher and Fletcher 2020) and literature from sustainability transformations (see some references in [Table 1]), we developed an analytical framework of five key features that can serve as foci for incremental change in sustainability transitions (see [Table 1]). These features provide a framework for analysing conservation initiatives by identifying intervention points to experiment and align them with conviviality. They are not mutually exclusive, nor are they exhaustive, but they represent relevant recurring issues that play out in the majority of conservation policies and environmental governance. Examining these features together enables an integrated discussion on the issues faced by conservation enterprises for a transformation to post-capitalist conservation.{Table 1}


We started by searching in the Scopus database between July to September 2022 for papers that included in their title, keywords, or abstract the word “conservation”, as well as one of ''ecotourism”, ''sport hunting”, “trophy hunting”, ''Africa”, “market-based instrument*”, ''transformation”, “transition*”, and “convivial*”, and that were published between 2001 and 2022. After limiting the scope to terrestrial ecosystems and eastern or southern Africa, 162 papers were produced. This sample was screened further to select papers that discussed at least one of the features related to convivial conservation and transformative change (see [Table 1]). The result was an initial sample of 36 papers, and these were complemented with snowball sampling (Wohlin et al. 2022) to identify and include any papers that were omitted from Scopus. The information was supplemented with the first and third authors' empirical research on ecotourism and sport hunting in eastern and southern Africa spanning well over a decade. In total, 49 papers were considered in the final analysis. These papers were not subjected to a formal or coded textual analysis, but rather a qualitative analysis of emerging patterns.

 Ecotourism and Sport Hunting as Market-Based Instruments

Both ecotourism and sport hunting are well-established MBIs that have been used in conservation for several decades (Mbaiwa 2018). We selected these instruments as they both represent direct market transactions, in which environmental products (i.e. nature-based recreation) are exchanged directly between producers and consumers (Pirard 2012). Both MBIs contain a strong colonial legacy, often leading to neo-colonial power structures, including contemporary states that are sometimes seen as new colonisers. This is especially prevalent in regions in eastern and southern Africa, which have gone through centuries of colonial rule, leading to strong racial inequality in ecotourism and sport hunting (Gressier 2014; Büscher et al. 2022).

Both instruments are also commonly located within (and help to fund) protected areas in eastern and southern African conservation strategies. They were introduced in response to large declines of wildlife numbers since the 1960s due to habitat loss and fragmentation, escalation of poaching, increasing human population, challenging wildlife protection in national parks, poorly regulated hunting, and prolonged periods of armed conflicts in countries such as Uganda and Mozambique. Regional and national differences aside, wildlife decline continued in the 1970s. Over the last few decades, both MBIs have become important economic incentives. The latter has already been functioning since the early 1900s (for a historical perspective on sport hunting and ecotourism in eastern and southern Africa see Holechek and Valdez 2018). A key difference between the two instruments, however, is the extractive use of wildlife in sport hunting, which is not applicable to ecotourism.


Ecotourism, according to the International Ecotourism Society, is “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education” (TIES 2015). Often considered as an antithesis of conventional mass tourism (Fennell 2014; Honey 2008), it promises to “minimise negative environmental impacts on pristine wildlife areas while maximising socioeconomic benefits” (Duffy 2008; Magole and Magole 2011: 203). Currently, ecotourism is widely considered a vehicle for sustainable economic growth, community development, and education (Duffy 2008; Fennell 2014; Magole and Magole 2011).

Nevertheless, ecotourism also comes with a large range of negative environmental and socio-economic consequences (Mowforth and Munt 2016). The many contradictions associated with ecotourism (e.g. Koot 2017; Fletcher and Neves 2012) position it as a mere “exercise in power that can shape the natural world and the people who live in it in ways that contradict some of the values that it is supposed to express” (West and Carrier 2004: 483). Studies from Botswana, which uses a high-cost low-volume tourism strategy, demonstrate how the industry is dominated by local political and business elites at the expense of local communities who were marginalised and forcefully removed from their lands (Mbaiwa and Hambira 2021). Moreover, ecotourism is often an important driver of climate change (Gössling et al. 2020); when involving aviation it is automatically highly carbon intensive, thus contributing significantly to climate change (Hickel 2020; Wiedmann et al. 2020), which in turn severely affects global biodiversity (Trisos et al. 2020; Pörtner et al. 2021).

As Fletcher et al. (2020b) summarised, a central paradox of (eco)tourism lies in attempts to conserve one aspect of nature, while drastically destroying the other. For instance, in the early 1990s, the Uganda government (with international support) promoted gorilla and chimpanzee tourism. Initially, only six tourists were allowed to visit an ape group per day. This has now increased to eight, and yet there is more pressure from the private sector for additional tourist capacity. Evidence suggests, however, that increased human pressure takes its toll on the tourist experience and poses a health risk for chimpanzees and people (Negrey et al. 2019). This continued pressure is probably responsible for the recent outbreak of respiratory diseases that resulted in the death of chimpanzees (Negrey et al. 2019), which highlights the importance of recognising biophysical limits and setting boundaries for markets to protect animals (Gómez-Baggethun and Muradian 2015). In another example from South Africa, one of the authors found between 2016 and 2019 how volunteer tourism organisations that ostensibly focus on rehabilitation are overstocked with cheetahs and rhinos that form the heart of the business model. For ecological reasons, rehabilitation of these charismatic species is undesirable, but it is equally undesirable for commercial reasons because they play a crucial role in attracting the volunteers. Such ecotourism, market-driven initiatives can thus hardly be considered 'conservation'.

Sport Hunting

One very specific form of tourism often articulated as relevant for conservation is sport hunting, which also goes by the name of safari, game, or trophy hunting. While the hunting of wild animals as a sport has existed in many countries since the early 1800s (Ochieng 2019; Mbaiwa and Hambira 2021), it was only in the 1970s that sport hunting was (re)introduced as an MBI on the African continent. Its aim was to generate funding for conservation and engage local communities in conservation by allowing them to derive monetary and non-monetary benefits such as meat and employment (Koot 2013; Holechek and Valdez 2018; Mbaiwa 2018; Ochieng et al. 2020). While Africa's sport hunting industry generates an estimated US$217 million annually for conservation (Lindsey et al. 2020), it is important to note that rural communities tend to derive only 3% from trophy hunting revenue through jobs; most of it goes to governments, airlines, hunting operators, and other intermediaries (EAL 2013).

A well-known example of sport hunting at the core of a financial mechanism is the 'Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources' (CAMPFIRE) project, developed in the mid-1980s in Zimbabwe. The project's goal was for the long-term management and sustainable use of wildlife in communal areas, and to improve governance and livelihoods of neighbouring communities. At the centre of the CAMPFIRE model is the devolution of rights to manage, use, and share benefits from natural resources. Districts offer hunting concessions within their administrative subunits, who then allocate revenue generated to resource management (monitoring, committee members, maintenance); infrastructure (schools, clinics, and roads); and household dividends (Taylor 2008). Between 1989 and 2001, high-value trophy hunting safaris became the crucial and primary revenue stream (about 90%) for the CAMPFIRE model, with ecotourism contributing additional revenue (Taylor 2008). The CAMPFIRE model was replicated and implemented elsewhere, for example in the form of Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) in Tanzania, Community-based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) in Namibia, and Private Game Reserves (PGRs) in South Africa (Sullivan 2006). In Uganda, sport hunting was reintroduced in 2001 and can be conducted in a government-owned protected area, on private land, or on community-owned land (Ochieng et al. 2015).

However, sport hunting is critiqued based on ethical, ecological, and animal welfare grounds (see Batavia and Nelson 2017; Hampton and Teh-White 2019). Scholars question its moral acceptability (Hannis 2016), while critiques from the animal rights perspective emphasise the principle of sanctity to life (Ochieng et al. 2015) and the welfare of the hunted animals (Wallach et al. 2018). Furthermore, the instrument's intended benefits to communities have mixed results. Employment created by the hunting industry is often based on neo-colonial and socio-economic power inequalities (e.g. Mkono 2019; Sullivan 2022). In some cases, its implementation has disenfranchised local people by denying them (traditional) hunting rights, while most of the revenues end up in the hands of private sector actors (EAL 2013; Cruise 2017; Koot 2019) and a few local elites, thereby further reinforcing local inequalities. Furthermore, policy on human-wildlife conflicts often works with compensation schemes, but acquiring compensation can be a very difficult process for local community members (Koot 2013). Thus, the use of sport hunting to conserve nature and promote local economic development must be critically examined to understand the social, cultural, economic, and political conditions under which it can be successful (Ochieng et al. 2018).


We now use the five key features to analyse if, and if so how, incremental changes to ecotourism and sport hunting can be made for a transformation towards a post-capitalist convivial conservation. [Table 2] provides a summary of the opportunities and limitations for each instrument.{Table 2}

Access and Property Rights

For a long time, Africa's conservation models were based on protectionism through the creation of 'enclosures', prohibiting indigenous inhabitants' rights to access and land use (Neumann 2004; Ochieng 2019). Thus, the fortress conservation model is criticised for its exclusion of communities (Brockington, 2015) from access to and use of land and natural resources (Boyd and Keene 2021), and disruption of pre-existing land tenure regimes and concepts of ownership. Since MBIs are in some ways a continuation of fortress conservation, we investigate the possibilities of moving away from “protecting nature to promoting nature” (Büscher and Fletcher 2020). Outside of protected areas, one approach to engage local communities in conservation is to allocate user rights and responsibilities for biodiversity to landholders or collectives (Gelcich et al. 2010). Devolving user rights has been found to incentivise landholders to engage in conservation actions such as the captive breeding of endangered species, restoring wildlife species with restricted distributions, and increasing wildlife abundance (Holechek and Valdez 2018).

An example from the CAMPFIRE program shows that it was used to establish collective property rights in communal lands by creating village-elected committees that decide on the management of wildlife (Taylor 2008). However, establishing property rights must be accompanied by a clear legal framework that strengthens both individual and communal rights (Frost and Bond 2008). Although the CAMPFIRE example is touted for conservation outcomes on many fronts, the absence of democratic governance arrangements in principle and practice could hinder future achievements.

Conservation interventions must be planned in accordance with the local community's needs. For instance, the managers of a rhino sanctuary in Uganda signed a collaborative agreement that recognises the communities' usage rights of the land to graze and access water for their livestock. Enabling livestock to graze helps keep the landscape open with short grass, which also benefits rhino populations to roam freely (Community representative pers. comm. 2017). In contrast, the recent trend in eastern and southern Africa of using more fences and militarisation to protect charismatic species seriously hinders community access and equal property rights, and in the long run is unlikely to benefit communities or support conservation (Lunstrum 2014; Duffy et al. 2019; Trogisch and Fletcher 2022).


Equitable benefit-sharing is a key factor in a 'just' transformation to sustainable conservation (Bennett et al. 2019; Martin et al. 2020; Massarella et al. 2022) and should serve to support the rights and well-being of local communities (Dawson et al. 2021). It is also important to match the expectations between the local communities and tourism operators in regards to how benefits are interpreted, as well as the preferred benefits' distribution strategies. Different strategies for benefit-sharing are available, such as a needs-based approach by prioritising economically vulnerable stakeholders (Grieg-Gran et al. 2005) or a merit-based approach relative to those who contribute the most to conservation outcomes (Loft et al. 2017).

When using a merit-based approach, local residents receive both monetary and non-monetary benefits as buy-in for the continued support for conservation activities. For instance, landowners around Lake Mburo National Park in Uganda have benefited up to 50% of the accrued revenue as the landowner on where an animal is shot and killed, with the association acting on behalf of the general community taking 40% and the government only 10% (Ochieng et al. 2018). This is mainly to encourage landowners to let wildlife freely graze alongside their livestock in exchange for the anticipated share of the revenue (Ochieng 2019; Ochieng et al. 2020). It is worth noting though that this revenue distribution percentage is not uniform across the various hunting areas in Uganda. For instance, a needs-based approach is being applied around Bwindi National Park; as noted by Bitariho et al. (2022), the long-term funding of community projects around Bwindi National Park has greatly contributed to reduction in illegal activities in the area. Other novel strategies include a conservation basic income, where monetary payment is allocated to individual community members living in or around promoted areas, which creates conditions for bottom-up forms of pro-poor development (Fletcher and Büscher 2020).

However, benefit-sharing agreements from (eco)tourism as well as sport hunting have been mostly operationalised as non-binding guidelines (Taylor 2008), which has been criticised for brewing conflicts and weakening the desired democratic governance, a key principle for achieving convivial conservation. There is a need for these guidelines to become binding and guarantee possibilities for legal redress in case of non-compliance, with legal support being available and institutionalised for those communities. Access to judicial remedies is important, as many biodiversity-rich areas are located in remote places where affected communities may have limited capacity to claim their rights (Ituarte-Lima et al. 2018). Currently in Uganda, the revenue sharing guidelines are undergoing revision with the hope of upgrading it to a regulation that is more binding to all the parties involved. In Namibia, guidelines on hunted meat distribution have perpetuated uneven distribution within and between communities (Koot 2013).

Value Operationalisation

Convivial conservation advocates for refocusing natural capital towards an 'embedded value' approach, where the multiple dimensions of nature are integrated into social, cultural, and ecological contexts (Büscher and Fletcher 2020). Enabling transformative change requires pluralistic governance approaches that acknowledge diverse values and knowledge systems by different stakeholders (Visseren-Hamakers et al. 2021). Conservation enterprises could incorporate their decision-making process to consider not only the economic value of nature, but also the “value embedded in daily life and non-capitalist needs, wants and actions” (Büscher and Fletcher 2019: 288). MBIs attribute a monetary value to nature, which presents a narrow frame for engaging with the multi-dimensional values of biodiversity (Turnhout et al. 2012; Horcea-Milcu et al. 2019).

For instance, an over-reliance on the economic value of wildlife use can pose social risks. At Uganda's Kibale National Park, local communities were very dependent on tourism revenue while ignoring other livelihood activities (e.g. agriculture) with potential to increase food security (Lepp 2008). An overemphasis on economic value creation (e.g. through employment) may lead to ignoring other welfare benefits such as the “labour conditions or the local communities' interactions with hunting operators, NGOs, and donors and what such interactions mean to them” (Koot 2019: 419). At the moment, ecotourism and trophy hunting generally disfavour other livelihoods based on farming, herding, fishing, or hunting and gathering (Agrawal et al. 2021); conservation enterprises should acknowledge these as important livelihood diversification options.

Additionally, recognising cultural diversity can help develop innovative approaches to conservation. In Uganda, local totems are linked to certain animal species making it abominable for clan members to participate in the killing of the animal or else they attract a bad omen. In such cases, clan members are likely to focus on ecotourism activities that promote sustainable conservation. This is in line with calls for promoting eco-cultural tourism development and aligns with the convivial call for rethinking human-animal relations in conservation. As emphasised by Guri et al. (2021: 458), “eco-cultural tourism development can spiritually revitalise and promote local traditions and cultural values, rejuvenate degraded ecological resources, and promote alternative livelihoods”.

Institutional Arrangements

Enabling transformative change will require structural changes in institutions (Turnhout et al. 2021). Institutions can be understood as a set of norms and rules that provide structure for decision-making (North 1990). We focus on examining the ownership structures of conservation enterprises and to what extent they enable more democratic forms of ownership needed for transformative change (Köhler et al. 2019; Büscher and Fletcher 2020). Exploring a conservation enterprise's ownership structure (Hinton 2021) can help to uncover its potential to contribute to incremental change.

Conservation programs that are embedded within existing local institutions, particularly indigenous peoples and local communities, are more likely to improve well-being and conservation outcomes (Dawson et al. 2021). In the CAMPFIRE example, decentralising decision-making power to community level was also a strategy to address wildlife conservation outside of protected areas, given inadequate government resources (Taylor 2008). Institutional structures can be designed to empower communities to participate in conservation in different ways, including giving them (democratic) decision-making power over the key features described under 4.1, 4.2, and 4.3. Local people should be involved in decision-making to decide their own goals of community-based conservation. As such, an institutional setting that enables collective decision-making and problem-solving is a vital component of governing social-ecological systems (Folke et al. 2005).

Institutions can emphasise community ownership and also enable the formal recognition of local customs and practices. While working on the continued use of tourism revenue to enhance conservation values and ensure continued local participation in wildlife conservation, it is prudent that local institutions be engaged for better results. Examples from tourism development in Botswana show that where communities are involved in ownership structures by jointly being given use rights over resources and the decision-making process, they are able to adopt their own rules for the sustainable use of sable antelopes, giraffes, and other resources in their local areas (Mbaiwa 2011). Enabling communities to decide on levels of sustainable use could help limit the risk of ecological overexploitation by tourism. Nevertheless, facilitating community ownership in conservation enterprises is limited by the legal structures of a country (Holechek and Valdez 2018).

Decision-making processes

Convivial conservation advocates for a shift from the privatised expert technocracy that often steers conservation decision-making, towards common democratic engagements (Büscher and Fletcher 2020). Democratising decision-making, policy processes, and enhancing dialogue amongst stakeholders is a key enabling factor for transformative governance in conservation (Colloff et al. 2017a; Moranta et al. 2021; Visseren-Hamakers et al. 2021). With MBIs, this entails examining conservation enterprises to determine how and by whom decisions are taken, including whether decision-making processes are conducted in a traditional hierarchical or a collective cooperative manner.

Attention must be paid to the implementation process of any conservation project. Although by its design, CAMPFIRE recognises the role of agency and actors by redistributing decision-making power on land use to local communities, the lack of willingness by governments and rural district councils to devolve power to the communities is common (Biggs et al. 2019)—something that is also visible at the core of ecotourism and sport hunting. Very often, donors, NGOs, and private operators maintain to have a much bigger say about on-the-ground politics and policies, often in subtle ways, including in community-based conservation (e.g. Koot and Van Beek 2017).


In this review paper, we used five key features to explore if, and if so how, ecotourism and sport hunting are compatible with convivial conservation. The answer to this question is not clear-cut. Our analysis examines what is currently going on in southern and eastern Africa in relation to the two MBIs and the prospects for transforming traditional capitalist conservation approaches towards a convivial vision. We highlighted several crucial constraints, most notably the absence of democratic governance arrangements in the operationalisation of the MBIs in the region, and how conservation enterprises in the region might challenge traditional capitalist relations. Already, a proliferation of scholars advocates for widespread shifts from the current growth-oriented MBIs toward worker or community-owned and operated conservation enterprises in the context of conviviality. It is not a given, however, that democratisation and/or community-ownership will automatically lead to a decrease of a growth orientation; also, at community level growth can be(come) the incentive to join ecotourism and sport hunting initiatives. Although we favour community democratisation, this does not automatically curb growth, and this would need implementation from the start.

A shift towards conviviality requires several changes to be made in the five key areas to achieve radical incrementalism. This could include a re-envisioning of benefits and benefit sharing in terms of non-monetary exchange within a care economy. We also note that the design and implementation of both ecotourism and sport hunting should be critically examined to safeguard both human and non-human nature, which is currently often not the case. As our analysis shows, opportunities exist to partly redesign them in line with convivial conservation, but these options are limited because they contain structural characteristics that are not compatible. This includes ecotourism's consumptive character that highly affects climate change (and thus global biodiversity) and both MBIs' neo-colonial and state power structures that are socially unsustainable.

Nonetheless, despite these structural limitations, there are areas identified above for rethinking ecotourism and sport hunting by drawing from existing conservation interventions, which demonstrate that there are practices available that can help improve social and environmental outcomes, at least to reduce short-term damage. For ecotourism, these include establishing collaborative agreements with local communities for their access to and use of natural resources, as well as reducing over-reliance on tourism revenue by diversifying income streams and providing a basic income. Both ecotourism and sport hunting could decentralise decision-making power to communities, design institutional structures that emphasise community ownership, recognise local customs and practices, as well as pay attention to the power relations that these instruments may be reinforcing. When designing policy instruments, conservation stakeholders could reflect on the suitability of the instrument in relation to the values of nature that the policy intends to conserve, as MBIs only capture instrumental ones.

These five features, access and property rights, benefit-sharing, value operationalisation, institutional arrangements, and decision-making processes, are focus areas for transitions that can help initiate a transformation in conservation towards conviviality. We argue that the institutional design and contextual factors determining power relations are often more important than the choice of instrument in influencing its social and ecological outcomes. To minimise potentially irreversible impacts on biodiversity and human development, there is an urgent need for a paradigm shift away from a pure growth model, in line with convivial conservation thinking (Büscher and Fletcher 2020). We thus do not deny that MBIs can in some cases and under certain conditions be useful for some people and/or ecosystems. However, the structural focus so far on economic growth has often done more harm than good. All stakeholders in conservation, particularly governments, conservation organisations, the private sector, and donor agencies, thus need to move the dialogue on conservation approaches beyond the infatuation with commodification by integrating convivial elements in the design of conservation policies.

Finally, even if these MBIs are applied 'correctly', there are structural inconsistencies that threaten biodiversity conservation: It should be accepted that ecotourism and sport hunting are not a silver bullet for conservation (cf. Ochieng 2019). Boundaries to markets must be established if we are to foster the transformative change needed to address biodiversity loss. For system-wide transformative change, integrated measures are needed across legal, political, economic, and other social systems (IPBES 2019). The ongoing biodiversity crisis provides an opportune moment to leverage opportunities and take the first incremental steps towards a transformative change for biodiversity conservation.


We are grateful to two anonymous reviewers and the editors for their constructive comments and suggestions that greatly improved this paper. We would also like to thank Sofia Käll, Thomas Hahn, and other colleagues at the Stockholm Resilience Centre for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper.

Financial disclosures

NSK received funding support from the Swedish Research Council (Formas) (Project No. 2016-01556 and No. 2019-01078). A. Ochieng and S. Koot were not funded by any agency.

Author contribution statement

AO and NSK conceptualised the idea together and wrote the first draft of the manuscript. Subsequently, all three authors (AO, NSK, and SK) contributed to collecting data, analysing, writing, editing, and proofreading the text.

Declaration of conflict of interest

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

Research ethics approval

This paper has had its research ethics aproved by the research-ethics committee of the Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) at Stockholm University under the ID: '2021-03_Koh_Rethinking MBIs for conservation'.


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