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Communities, conservation, and tourism-based development: Can community-based nature tourism live up to its promise?


This working paper draws from research on the Makuleke Region of Kruger Park, South Africa, to analyze the opportunities and tensions generated by efforts to use conservation-based tourism as a catalyst for community development. By attending to the political economies in which effort is embedded, I seek to enrich our theorizations of community-based natural resource management. This paper represents an initial step in that direction; the Makuleke case is used to identify and think through the implications of nature tourism for participating communities. Like many other protected areas, the origins of the Makuleke Region lie in convergence of dispossession, forced removal, and conservation. The Makuleke, who consider the land their ancestral home, were forcibly removed in the late 1960s so that the land could be incorporated into Kruger National Park. They regained title in 1998, and have subsequently pursued economic development through conservation. While co-managing the Region with SANParks, the parastatal that manages all national protected areas, the Makuleke have sought to develop a tourism initiative that will produce economic self reliance and development. In adopting this strategy, the Makuleke are engaging with local, national, and international political economies over which community actors have limited room for maneuver. This case brings three factors to light. First, the legacy of fortress conservation may make it more difficult for community actors to engage with their partners on an equal basis. Second, sectoral attributes of tourism pose special challenges to CBNRM initiatives; it is not clear that tourism projects will produce substantial benefits. Third, the coincidence of the shift to CBNRM with liberalization and democratization has altered the landscape on which all conservation efforts are situated. The confluence of these factors have created an environment in which state protected areas, community controlled conservation areas, and private game parks are competing for domestic and international tourist revenue.

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