Community participation in integrated conservation and development projects : a case study in the Hlatikulu Valley, KwaZulu-Natal.
Successful and convincing examples where local peoples' development needs have been effectively reconciled with biodiversity conservation remain difficult to find. One important reason for this is that little progress has been made in researching critical new areas such as developing indices to monitor qualitative concepts such as local participation. In this study, current approaches to the problems with measuring participation in Integrated Conservation and Development Projects (ICDPs) are reviewed. A theoretical framework combining the works of several practitioners is used to monitor the Nsonga Valley Forum (NVF), in the Hlatikulu Valley, Kwazulu-Natal as an example of an emerging ICDP. The NVF was formed in 1997 after a visit by the provincial parliamentary committee on Conservation and Environment. The Forum aims to act as a mouthpiece for the local Nsonga community and as a capacity building structure, while maintaining the ecological integrity of the Hlatikulu Vlei and adjacent Afromontane Hlatikulu Forest. Two sets of indicators are used in this framework. The prevalence indicators trace the nature of participation in the various stages of the development of the NVF's operation - i.e. in decision making and implementation, in benefit sharing and evaluation. The opportunity indicators refer to the level of opportunity or access available to the local people through the implementation of the Forum by analyzing its organisation and access to resources. According to this framework, the NVF would currently be classified as falling into the 'participation by consultation' category of an assumed legitimate typology of participation. Ultimately, empowerment properly defined, would be the goal of community development in the Hlatikulu Valley but would require a much greater participation of the community than is evident as present. In order to prevent biodiversity conservation and sustainable economic development from becoming no more than an attractive slogan, participatory development research needs to be replicable, cost-effective and realistic. Recommendations are accordingly made for the future assessment, monitoring and evaluation of the progress of the NVF and other similar ICDP projects.