Savannah Kopp

Savannah Kopp is a senior economics major with a minor in international development and conflict management at the University of Maryland. She is passionate about using economic development to stabilize communities experiencing conflict. Savannah is excited to be working on projects to increase sanitation in schools, as all children should have the opportunity to pursue their dreams and increase their economic stability.

Conservation or Colonialism?

09 Jun

Lately, I have been compiling case studies on indigenous resiliency efforts against resource scarcity in collaboration with Children Peace Initiative-Kenya. Throughout this process, I am noticing my perceptions on development continue to be challenged and transformed. Underlying these transformations is the acknowledgement that many development interventions continue to suppress indigenous voices and exacerbate inequalities.

A large factor fueling resource scarcity is climate change. In the face of increasing scarcity, communities who derive their livelihoods from the land are forced to compete for dwindling resources. This can create tensions that lead to conflict. To alleviate the negative effects climate change has on the environment while attempting to reduce resource related crimes, international interventions have championed conservation efforts.

While initially, the environmentalist in me let out a little cheer, this changed upon discussing specific internationally backed efforts such as the Northern Rangelands Trust with our partners at CPIK. I went into our meeting with high regard for conservancies. Claims of community consent, diverse response teams, land preservation, and the protection of animals made me feel excited about their model. Sure, the fact that they were armed to the teeth raised some legitimate concerns for me, but the result was protecting the community’s resources, right?

Wrong! Unfortunately, the sparkling claims of community consent tends to blind one to the counterproductive measures often associated with these types of conservation efforts. For starters, conservancies such as the Northern Rangelands Trust, the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, and many others have historic ties to colonial presences. Specifically, large portions of Kenyan land have been restricted as Protected Areas, with much of it held privately by the descendants of colonists.

With international funding and northern ecotourism, conservancies generate large amounts of money while excluding most of the local citizens from the benefits of their own land. In effect, much of these “community-based conservancies” operate as a cover for land grabbing. This widens the inequalities faced by pastoralist communities and exacerbates the resource scarcity that threatens food security, economic livelihoods, and peace.

This brings us back to the age-old tale of international development in the global south. Despite the historic mutual relationship pastoralist communities maintain with the land, the international community promotes exclusionary practices to “save” them from problems industrialized nations largely created. It is not pastoralist communities who have fueled climate change, excessive rates of consumption, and destructive agricultural practices. Yet, pastoralism as a livelihood is being painted as incompatible with environmental sustainability.

The reality is that true conservation is rooted in upholding the indigenous practices which view sustainability as the foundation of life as opposed to just a cool buzzword that attracts donors. This requires true community consultation, advancing the rights of pastoralists, and building upon their generational knowledge to create resiliency systems in the face of climate change. Until this occurs, the only thing being conserved is a colonialist savior complex.

Posted By Savannah Kopp

Posted Jun 9th, 2021

1 Comment

  • Iain Guest

    June 26, 2021


    This is a really tough but good blog and it points to a dilemma that will surely get worse as climate change further restricts the range of wildlife and domesticated animals. The conservationists have a powerful grip in Kenya and have managed to cordon off large areas. We can all applaud that, except that it constricts pastoralists. There has already been fighting in Lenkipia. How can these two communities co-exist and flourish? Hope you can come back to the theme later in the summer with some answers!!!

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