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From fortresses to sustainable development: the changing face of environmental conservation in Africa, the case of Zambia.

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  • Gf Human Ecology. Anthropogeography
  • G Geography (General)
  • H Social Sciences (General)
  • Agricultural Science
  • Design
  • Ecology
  • Geography
  • Linguistics
  • Political Science


Environmental conservation in many parts of Africa has for a long time been a centralized matter in which resource management was dominated by the application of the fortress conservation model which posits a sharp divide between people’s livelihoods and conservation. This highly centralised approach confined environmental decision making to bureaucratic circles and excluded local actors who live within or around conservation areas from participating in the resource governance process. In addition, environmental conservation was concentrated in areas designated as protected areas while human dominated landscapes were assumed to be of marginal ecological value. Over the past three decades, however, the rise of sustainable development as a new construct for environment and resource management has seen the emergence of new conservation strategies that challenge the dominance of the fortress conservation model. In Zambia, in contrast to the exclusionary discourse associated with fortress conservation, the embracing of policies derived from the sustainable development discourse has resulted in the adoption of new conservation strategies that emphasise local actors’ participation in resource management and extend conservation policy and practice to agricultural environments. In this regard, this thesis examines the changing nature of environmental conservation in Africa, using the case of Zambia. In particular, the research questions the way in which the new strategies are being contextualized and translated into practice at the local level. It examines the extent to which the new strategies represent the realities and interests of local actors who interact with environmental resources on a day-to-day basis. Drawing on political ecology and livelihoods’ perspectives, the research uses two local level studies from Chongwe district of Zambia to examine this shift in the direction of natural resource policy and practice. By combining insights from political ecology and livelihoods thinking, it links a critical review of conservation discourse and policy with field level studies and thus provides an enhanced understanding of processes of society-environment interactions. While the findings show a definitive shift in policy rhetoric from fortress conservation to sustainable development, the translation of sustainable development initiatives into practice is fraught with both conceptual and practical difficulties, such that the initiatives are far from representing the realities and interests of local actors.

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