Lindokuhle Khumalo

Beyond State-Protected Areas: The conservation encounter in South Africa's voluntary biodiversity protection sector

Introduction of Research Study:

With biodiversity increasingly under threat and the requirement for countries party to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to achieve conservation targets, the advance of conservation into private or communally-owned land is viewed as part of the solution to halting the degradation of the natural world. Emerging literature on this subject refers to the practice more specifically as ‘green grabbing’ (see Snijders, 2012, Holmes, 2014) and highlights the risk that land dispossessions will intensify. The inherent change in land use in such ‘green grabs’ makes it important to understand how land security is impacted and the nature of decision-making in general.

My research study aims to push the frontiers of political ecology by exploring beyond state-protected areas to gain insight on how ‘voluntary’ approaches to participation in community conservation impact the intended beneficiaries – local villagers. The study focuses on a range of initiatives including ‘community conservation areas’, all involving outside actors such as government agencies and environmental non-governmental organisations working on community-owned land. I am particularly interested in how these relatively new forms of land acquisitions or ‘land grabs’ for environmental ends impact land tenure security for local villagers. The study will analyse the different types of conservation partnerships that are emerging and crucially, it aims to determine what kinds of partnerships have potential to support meaningful empowerment and the inclusion of marginalised communities into decision making. Unless controversial but basic questions about power, land and tenure are addressed, there is a danger that the expansion of formal conservation beyond protected areas in the region will simply reinvent the colonial conservation model in a new rhetorical guise.