Co-management of protected areas: How does it help mitigate and prevent conflicts from escalating?
Although protected areas serve as refuges for wild plants and animals, they are also places of negative human–wildlife interactions, or conflicts. Such conflicts occur for example when farms are damaged by protected animals (Photo 1), and farmers do not receive compensation. Hunters engaged in illegal hunting being arrested or killed, and uncontrolled fires caused by local people, which threaten the wildlife within protected areas (Photo 2), are other causes of conflict and tension.
Protected areas are managed by a number of stakeholders, including traditional authorities acting as the custodians of land and overseeing land issues, local people who are the primary resource users, NGOs providing alternative livelihood sources to communities and state officials who are the protected area’s primary managers. Co-management involving multiple actors in protected areas offers great potential for conflict mitigation: when state agencies such as Park management involve local people and other actors who have an interest in the protection of natural resources, conflict management can be improved. Inclusive decision making and community empowerment lead to benefit sharing and ultimately enhance the livelihoods of local people. However, little is known about the extent to which co-management contributes to conflict prevention or mitigation and at what level of the conflicts such collaborative efforts are possible. In a study published in Oryx—The International Journal of Conservation, we analyse how co-management helps to mitigate and prevent conflicts from escalating in Mole National Park, Ghana.
We interviewed local traditional leaders such as village chiefs, Tendanas (the local customary authority overlooking land issues in northern Ghana) and park officials and held focus group discussions with farmers, hunters, women and representatives of co-management boards from several communities living in the surroundings of the Park (Photos 3 & 4). We found that conflicts are less likely to escalate when conflicting parties engage with each other in a transparent manner, using deliberative processes such as negotiation, mediation and the provision of economic incentives to local people. On the other hand, resolving conflicts through co-management becomes difficult when the dialogue between conflicting parties breaks down and different parties take entrenched positions and are unwilling to compromise on their core values and interests. For instance, local people at the co-management board have negotiated with the Park authorities to allow women engaged in shea butter processing to access the Park to collect shea nuts (see Photo 5). On the other hand, where people have been found to be hunting in the Park illegally and have been shot and killed by Park rangers without any recourse to co-management arrangements, this has led to reprisal attacks from local people, further escalating the conflicts.
We conclude that co-management contributes to successful conflict management, but factors such as understanding the context of the conflicts, including the underlying sources and manifestations of the conflict, incorporating local knowledge, and ensuring open dialogue, trust and transparency between conflicting parties are key to attaining sustainable conflict management in protected areas.
The paper From conflict to collaboration: the contribution of co-management in mitigating conflicts in Mole National Park, Ghana, is now available open access in Oryx, The Journal of Conservation
Image.1 (banner above): A field of food crops damaged by elephants from Mole National Park (Photo credit: Festus Courage Agya-Yao)
Image 2: Uncontrolled bushfire (Photo credit: Ophelia Soliku)
Image 3: Interview with a local chief (Photo credit: Ophelia Soliku)
Image 4: Focus group discussion with women engaged in small-scale agro-processing (Photo credit: Ophelia Soliku)
Image 5: Deshelled shea nuts (left) and processed shea nut also referred to as shea butter (Photo credit: Ophelia Soliku)