Tiempo Climate Cyberlibrary

Co-management of Resources in Russia's North


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A recent workshop held in Moscow bought together representatives of indigenous peoples to discuss the opportunities, constraints and the way ahead for an effective stewardship of the natural resources in the Russian North. Newswatch Editor Sarah Granich reports.

There is an urgent need for adaptive and sensitive approaches in resource management that would make life easier for marginalized indigenous peoples and local communities in Russia's Arctic.

A significant start toward addressing this need was made in Moscow at a workshop held in February 2005. The Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North and the Saami Council hosted the workshop, titled "Co-Management and Community-Based Natural Resource Management: World-wide Experiences and Perspectives Relevant to Challenges and Opportunities in the Russian North".

Organization of the workshop and identification of the priority issues for the agenda was undertaken with close cooperation from Thor Larsen, Tiina Kurvits and Hugo Ahlenius of UNEP's GRID-Arendal offices in Norway and Sweden.

The workshop was attended by approximately 40 people. Participants included representatives of indigenous peoples from several Russian regions and from Scandinavia, Russia's Ministry of Natural Resources, regional authorities, the oil industry and universities in Russia, Norway, Finland and Germany. Russian and international non-governmental organizations and representatives from the United Nations Environment Programme and the United Nations Development Programme also participated.

Experts in the field of co-management and community-based natural resource management from Africa were also in attendance so that participants could benefit from their experience.

Through these times of increased awareness as to the importance of nature conservation, there has also been a growing recognition that local stewardship and proper management linked with income-generation from wildlife, fish, forests, and rangelands is important. Devolution of resource tenure lies at the heart of what is commonly known as co-management and community-based natural resource management.

Experience from Western Europe and North America shows that such approaches can work, can do the greatest good for the greatest number of poor people, and that the hoped for synergy between conservation and development does indeed occur. The Scandinavian countries have supported local user rights and stewardship for centuries. The Inuit's legal rights to land and resources in Canada's Arctic (Nunavut) are equally important and challenging.

In Africa, experiments of market-led conservation with a strong human dimension have also proved successful. A number of African countries started to transfer resource management responsibilities from governments to local communities in the 1980s, when conventional conservation practices often failed.

Good lessons learned have, however, rarely been transferred to Russia. There are very few projects in Russia dealing with specific ecosystem management issues. Projects related to indigenous peoples' rights and roles concerning the sustainable use of wildlife and other natural resources are also scarce, and community involvement in self-government of wildlife is practically absent.

It was awareness of this rapidly growing importance of local stewardship and the need for local co-management that provided a background to the meeting and which also helped to make the workshop so successful.

Participants agreed that the time had come to test co-management and community-based natural resource management in the Russian Arctic.

Some progress is being made. Russia is now embarking on experimentation with the principles of co-management and community-based natural resource management at three pilot sites. The Global Environment Facility-funded ECORA project aims to sustain the biological and cultural diversity of the Russian Arctic. The full title of the project is Integrated Ecosystem Approach to Conserve Biodiversity and Minimize Habitat Fragmentation in the Russian Arctic.

In considering further development, workshop discussions addressed the following main issues:

  • the need for due recognition of indigenous peoples and other local residents who are dependent upon natural resources and who struggle to maintain traditional lifestyles in a fast changing world;
  • the varied capacity of stakeholders, for example, indigenous peoples, the private sector and government institutions, to exercise power and influence decision-making;
  • rampant conflicts between traditional users of lands and natural resources, and modern industries such as oil and gas development, mining, and so on;
  • the need for businesses/enterprises based upon wildlife and other natural resources (tourism and commercial hunting/fishing) that are owned and run by indigenous peoples. They should be supported by legislation and regulations and should be guided and advised by professionals in Russia and elsewhere;
  • the great requirement for interdisciplinary monitoring and research; and,
  • the need for training and education on integrated ecosystem management and co-management principles as well as business management and so on.

It was recommended that training and education be in cooperation with Russian and foreign institutions/universities under the auspices of the University of the Arctic. In the longer term, it might well be worthwhile building courses into a certified part of the University of Arctic's curriculum.

The importance of North/North and North/South exchanges of key personnel was emphasized. It is important for Russians to see and learn about co-management and community-based natural resource management in practice in other parts of the world, for example, Africa, and for experts from other countries to contribute towards the development of Russian approaches.

There are many similarities between Russia and southern Africa, not least being the challenges (failures/inefficiencies/inequities) of highly centralized control over widely disbursed natural resources. Other similarities include the potential for creating considerable economic growth by devolving control over resource management and allocation, the potential to retain management and benefits at local level to improve the economic and governances of often marginalized communities and the fact that local benefit nevertheless creates considerable national economic gain through economic multiplier effects.

It was clear at the meeting that, having been involved in a similar process for some twenty years, southern Africans would gladly share their progress in the design of devolved systems of governance, appropriate local natural resource management techniques and performance monitoring with Russians embarking on similar programmes.

Pursuing the link between Africa and Russia, it was surmised that there would be an extremely high rate of return on well-orchestrated visits by key Russians to southern Africa because of, firstly, a lack of exposure to such concepts, secondly, the relatively high level of education of Russians and, finally, the considerable potential to unlock natural resource potential in Russia.

Workshop participants agreed that visits to Africa should include at least the following:

  • exposure to private sector conservation to demonstrate natural resource potential;
  • exposure to governance issues such as how to organize communities, financial systems, accountability, legislation, policy, etc;
  • exposure to community based systems for monitoring resources;
  • exposure to new ways of managing protected areas, such as out-sourcing and contracting in neighbours, etc; and,
  • time for a general discussion of how these principles apply to Russia, and what steps can be taken once back home.

Careful selection of participants is considered important. Participants should include key government officials, key leaders of thinking such as from universities, and leaders from potential pilot sites.

In conclusion, the workshop recommended that co-management/community-based natural resource management principles for the benefit of marginalized indigenous peoples be tested in a pilot project in a region to be selected.

In discussing the way ahead and the criteria to be focused on in preparations for a pilot project, participants devised a number of priority points and issues to be used as a formal structure. The following nine points constitute initial requirements.

  • a pilot project based upon co-management/community-based natural resource management that will benefit indigenous peoples of the Russian North should be launched and led by the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North;
  • there is a need for overviews of appropriate Russian legislation and regulations that acknowledge indigenous peoples stewardship and user rights related to wildlife and other natural resources;
  • transfer of user rights from government to indigenous peoples, and their access to revenues therefrom, must be negotiated with relevant Russian authorities;
  • a pilot project should be modest and limited in time, for example, five years;
  • planning and preparations of a pilot project require selection of possible sites;
  • locally-owned enterprises based on the sustainable use of natural resources (ecotourism, tourist-based hunting, fishing, etc) must be established. Their access to markets must be facilitated;
  • the pilot project should allow for North/North and North/South cooperation with exchange of knowledge and experiences towards the project's success;
  • there must be room for monitoring and relevant research, which can facilitate adaptive planning and management; and,
  • there must also be room for appropriate training and education of indigenous peoples and other target groups, under the auspices of the University of the Arctic.

Further information
Further information regarding the February workshop outcome and the proposed pilot project can be obtained by contacting the following individuals:
Thor Larsen, Department for International Environment and Development Studies, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, PO Box 5003, 1432 Aas, Norway. Fax: +47-64-940760. Email: tholar@umb.no; thor.larsen@grida.no; tiina.kurvits@grida.no.
Hugo Ahlenius, Project Officer, UNEP GRID-Arendal Stockholm Office, c/o Department of Systems Ecology, Stockholm University, S-106 91 Stockholm, Sweden. Fax: +46-8-230441. Email: hugo.ahlenius@grida.no. Web: www.grida.no.

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Updated: May 15th 2015