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Achieving Environmental and Economic Sustainability Through Community-Based Natural Resource Management

Shivani Lakshman
HAF-UVA Intern

Lake Ifni at the Toubkal National Park; Morocco’s oldest and largest protected area. Courtesy of the High Atlas Foundation, 2018.

The Moroccan government recently laid out a new forestry strategy intended to meet five major goals: sustain natural resources in forests and National Parks, engage local users in forest management, promote rural development, strengthen forests’ productive potential, and preserve biodiversity. By 2030, Morocco aims to restore 133,000 hectares of forests, create 27,500 new forestry jobs, and increase the annual value of ecotourism from 2 to 5 billion MAD.

A key component of Morocco’s strategy is its plan to engage local users in resource management, making local populations the “first forestry partner.” This is a prime example of Community-Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM), a participatory approach to promoting nature conservation and sustainable livelihoods whereby the people of a community make collective decisions regarding their own use and management of local natural resources. These resources can include forests as well as wildlife, land, water, fisheries, and other natural systems that support local livelihoods or hold cultural or moral value. In Morocco, forests support local communities by providing firewood and grazing land, and its ten National Parks hold significant natural, cultural, and territorial value.

CBNRM arose primarily in rural communities in southern Africa in the 1960s as an alternative approach to top-down, centralized control of natural resources, which is often detached from local communities and dominated by government officials and external actors catering to the desires of elites and tourists. CBNRM also seeks to avoid the tragedy of the commons; without local involvement in management and accountability, individuals may try to maximize their benefits from common-pool resources, resulting in heavy overconsumption, depletion, and environmental degradation. Such resource depletion is exacerbated by high levels of poverty in rural areas where people are highly dependent on agriculture and other natural resources to secure income. In Morocco’s case, 17,000 hectares of forest cover are greatly degraded due to resource overuse, including severe overharvesting of firewood and overexploitation of grazing land. 

The community-based approach relies on several practical premises that contribute to its effectiveness, adaptability, and sustainability, achieving both environmental and economic outcomes. Local communities live in close proximity to the natural resources in question, their activities have direct impacts on the condition of these resources, and they have better knowledge of local resources than outside actors. Therefore, local communities have a better capacity to manage the natural resources around them and can better adapt to changing local conditions, improving the effectiveness, cost-efficiency, and longevity of conservation efforts. Furthermore, this approach acknowledges local people’s rights to hold sovereignty over the land and resources on which their livelihoods depend. The recognition of these rights, coupled with communities’ direct involvement in developing their own management systems, likely leads to greater short- and long-term compliance.

Devolving resource management to local communities also creates employment opportunities in rural areas, particularly for youth and women, which can alleviate poverty and environmental degradation. In its new plan, Morocco aims to promote rural development by creating 9,500 jobs in participatory forest management, as well as 6,000 in forest productivity and 12,000 in ecotourism.  

Moreover, the approach empowers communities through local governance and decentralization, building their skills and capacity to sustain their resources and livelihoods and initiate further community projects. Morocco plans to establish over 200 forest organizations and over 500 territorial leaders to manage its forests and National Parks. The national and regional governments will provide guidance and a space for dialogue, but provincial, communal, and local forest councils and organizations will take the lead, bringing together all stakeholders and allowing all users to participate in forestry management coordination. Furthermore, field professionals will mediate between small local associations and cooperatives and identify and engage new stakeholder and user populations. Empowering communities with knowledge and decision-making authority in this way supports a sustainable future, as community members can pass on skills and knowledge of resource management from one generation to another. 

Ultimately, local communities’ sovereignty over their natural resources is key to promoting sustainable development. Today, over fifty countries including Morocco have transferred natural resource management from centralized governments to local community groups. As climate change further strains natural resources and heightens the vulnerability of communities’ livelihoods, the need for effective, adaptable, and enduring management systems such as CBNRM will only grow stronger in Morocco and across the globe.  

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