Steven Greenleaf leading a community meeting in Tobago

Steven Greenleaf leading a community meeting in Tobago


by Steven Greenleaf          02 October, 2015

More than one point two billion people live in what the United Nations calls “extreme poverty.” This means that more than one in every six people on Earth are living on less than $1.25 per day. Try to imagine for a moment surviving on that amount, feeding your children, clothing them and providing them with shelter on that amount. The UN says that these people are in very real risk of death on a daily basis from lacking the barest necessities for survival. In a future article we will consider that this marker of $1.25 per day is absurdly low, but it is a standard and a place to start for targeting aid, development funds, and overall priorities.

Although the human population of the planet is increasingly urban, the extremely poor are still primarily living in rural areas, their livelihoods closely linked to the land and the natural resources it provides. The use of natural resources, soil, water, biodiversity, minerals and so on, is frequently what determines survival and growth in communities around the world, the vast majority of these communities located in the tropics, within a thousand miles of the equator, the “Global Middle.” People displaced by poverty in rural areas migrate to cities, usually overburdened mega-cities struggling with their own development challenges. These migrants often sacrifice their cultures and even their families for the hope of survival and arrive in the new urban homes already established as “at-risk,” populations.

Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) provides tools and approaches to human development in rural and semi-rural areas that are loaded with potential and real life examples of successful sustainable development.
The wise use of natural resources is the foundation for the rural poor to climb out of poverty. To do this they need equitable access to the resources and the technology to use them sustainably. Thankfully there are hundreds of examples globally of CBNRM success stories which also have positive impacts on cultural, gender, national security, and public health issues.

Both national and local governments have crucial roles to play in providing assistance, information, and enabling policies to promote sustainable rural development, including supporting access to markets. Knowledge transfer is often the key to success. Learning new methods of farming, particularly dry-land farming, re-vitalizing the production of indigenous crop species over imported varieties, and creating value-added products from local crop production are normally key ingredients to successful CBNRM.

Communities can access a range of international development funding, although indigenous finance and micro-finance are most effective and reliable when properly structured. Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) frameworks can also help rural communities to gain from the valuable services they provide to other living outside, even in cities; services such as fresh air and water, runoff and erosion control, habitat conservation which preserves wildlife and thereby helps to build tourism, and all the other valuable and not easily replaced services that healthy functioning ecosystems provide.

Community Based Natural Resource Management will continue to be part of building a sustainable future, starting with the people most in need of an equitable chance for a better life for themselves and their children.