In attempts to reconcile conservation and development for poverty alleviation by establishing protected areas, economic values of nature and compensation for loss of access to resources are often prioritized over cultural and personal values. Additionally, conservation interventions in local communities are often hindered by contested visions of sustainability.
We explore the utility of place meanings to unpack diverse local interests by examining an intervention that proposed to establish a fenced protected area in a community on the Wild Coast, South Africa. We describe the narratives that argue for or against the project and how they make use of the place meanings attributed to parts of the landscape, including forest, communal grazing land and plantations. We then examine the coalitions behind narratives: groups of actors who share the meanings and constructs of the problem and who employ these for a particular strategy. This allows us to map the negotiation process, and understand how community dissent influences the project. We find that a focus on economic benefits from protected areas neglects alternative meanings, e.g. cultural and spiritual value of forests as well as potential alternative pathways for development such as investing in small-scale agriculture.
Our analysis reveals the tension that exists in the ‘win–win’ discourse of conservation between the rhetoric of sustainable resource use and co-management as well as a trend back towards ‘fortress conservation’. A community counter-narrative is successful in stalling the project which illustrates the importance of considering the plurality of meanings for interventions to be sustainable in the long term.
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