chapter  8
15 Pages

Community participation in biodiversity conservation: emerging localities of tension


The 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity has created a path of interaction between the local and the global, the consequences of which are now beginning to emerge. In a 2007 message, the executive secretary of the Convention characterized indigenous and local communities as ‘environmental managers with immense ecological knowledge’ and ‘crucial partners’ in both conservation and the sustainable use of biodiversity (Djoghlaf 2007).1 This statement reveals a belief that these communities can make a significant contribution to the project of biodiversity conservation. It also signifies the emergence of a new locality to form a significant part of the legal discourse produced by the Convention. Combining elements of natural-resource management and community participation, this new locality aspires to become a multi-stakeholder multiplicity of plants, animals and people. In fact it is a site of confusion in which meanings of environment, nature and community are at once imposed from above and contested from below. This chapter explores two significant, interrelated, aspects of the establishment

of this link between ‘biodiversity’ and ‘community’. First, it argues that this link suggests a discursive and spatial shift in the focus of biodiversity conservation activities and debates,2 from the global and the North, towards the local and the South. These newly delineated discursive and spatial boundaries offer an alternative to the state regulation and, subsequently, market mechanisms which failed to deal with the complexities of the ‘environment and development’ debate (Li 2005). Second, this chapter argues that this linking of biodiversity to community is part of a tendency in environmental discourse to extend the management of biodiversity as a system of biological and genetic (biogenetic) resources: hence the ubiquitous use of the term ‘community-based natural resource management’ when referring to community approaches to conservation. Drawing these two arguments together, this chapter concludes that even as

the conceptions of biodiversity and community are employed to include local, rural or indigenous communities within an emerging global environmental discourse, they may, through their inherent contradictions and conflicts, actually serve to exclude them. This is because, although this form of community participation discourse ascribes a political and cultural ‘otherness’ to the traditional

community, symbolized by the image of the biodiversity ‘steward’, it also forcibly attaches a ‘managerial’ – biological and economic – approach to the environment. The first section outlines the ‘managerial’ approach that dominates current

biodiversity thinking. Next, some of the difficulties posed by the entry of community-based approaches into biodiversity discourse are exposed. Finally, the last section describes three primary effects stemming from the link between biodiversity and community; effects that extend beyond the confines of the biodiversity discourse to pose questions regarding the role of a newly created locality in the development of international environmental law in the era of sustainable development.