Social Capital in Biodiversity Conservation and Management




Abstract: The knowledge and values of local communities are now being acknowledged as valuable for biodiversity conservation. Relationships of trust, reciprocity and exchange, common rules, norms and sanctions, and connectedness in groups are what make up social capital, which is a necessary resource for shaping individual action to achieve positive biodiversity outcomes. Agricultural and rural conservation programs address biodiversity at three levels: agrobiodiversity on farms, nearby nature in landscapes, and protected areas. Recent initiatives that have sought to build social capital have shown that rural people can improve their understanding of biodiversity and agroecological relationships at the same time as they develop new social rules, norms, and institutions. This process of social learning helps new ideas to spread and can lead to positive biodiversity outcomes over large areas. New ideas spread more rapidly where there is high social capital. There remain many practical and policy difficulties, however, not least regarding the need to invest in social capital formation and the many unresolved questions of how the state views communities empowered to make their own decisions. Nonetheless, attention to the value of social relations, in the form of trust, reciprocal arrangements, locally developed rules, norms and sanctions, and emergent institutions, has clearly been shown to deliver a biodiversity dividend in many contexts. This suggests a need to blend both the biological and social elements of conservation.


Resumen: El conocimiento y los valores de comunidades locales están siendo reconocidos como valiosos para la conservación de la biodiversidad. Las relaciones de confianza, reciprocidad e intercambio, reglas, normas y sanciones comunes y conexión entre grupos constituyen el capital social que es un recurso necesario para moldear la acción individual para alcanzar resultados positivos para la biodiversidad. Los programas de conservación agrícola y rural abordan la biodiversidad en tres niveles: agrobiodiverisidad en haciendas, naturaleza cercana en paisajes y áreas protegidas. Las iniciativas recientes que han buscado construir el capital social han mostrado que los habitantes rurales pueden mejorar su entendimiento de las relaciones de biodiversidad y agroecológicas y desarrollar, a la vez, nuevas reglas, normas e instituciones sociales. Este proceso de aprendizaje social ayuda a que se difundan ideas nuevas y puede conducir a resultados positivos para la biodiversidad en áreas extensas. Las ideas nuevas se difunden más rápidamente cuando hay un capital social alto. Sin embargo, aun permanecen muchas dificultades prácticas y políticas, como por ejemplo la necesidad de invertir en la formación de capital social y las numerosas interrogantes irresuettas sobre como percibe el estado percibe a comunidades facultadas para tomar sus propias decisiones. Sin embargo, se ha mostrado que la atención al valor de las relaciones sociales, a manera de acuerdos de confianza recíproca, reglas, normas y sanciones desarrolladas localmente e instituciones emergentes, rinden un dividendo para la biodiversidad en muchos contextos. Esto sugiere que existe una necesidad de combinar elementos de conservación biológicos y sociales.


For as long as people have managed natural resources, they have engaged in forms of collective action, collaborating on management of farm, forest, grassland, and aquatic resources. Collective action has been institutionalized in many forms of association, through clan or kin groups; traditional leadership; hunting, grazing, and fishing societies; women's self-help groups; youth and religious groups; and labor-exchange societies. The importance of local institutions has long been understood in the common-property literature but has only recently come to be recognized as important for biodiversity conservation and management (Ostrom 1990; O'Riordan & Stoll-Kleeman 2002). Policy makers and practitioners have tended to be preoccupied with changing the behavior of individuals rather than of groups or communities. As a result, local institutions have diminished in importance and often entirely disappeared, and so the state has increasingly taken responsibility for natural resources, often under the mistaken assumption that local resources are inevitably mismanaged by local people (Jodha 1990; Pimbert & Pretty 1995; Ghimire & Pimbert 1997; Gadgil et al. 2000; Samson 2003).

Since the world's first formal protected area was established in 1872 at Yellowstone, parks and nature reserves have become vital for the preservation of biodiversity and landscapes. According to the United Nations' List of Protected Areas (UNEP/WCMC 2002), in 2002 there were 12,754 protected areas (PAs) worldwide, covering an area of 13.2 million km2. The World Conservation Monitoring Center records an additional 17,600 PAs that are smaller than the UN 1000-ha minimum, adding another 28,500 km2 to the total. Of the 191 countries with protected areas, 36 have 10–20% of their area so designated and 24 have more than 20% so designated (Pretty 2002).

The predominant concept underlying many of these protected areas has been the conservation of a “natural” state (Nash 1973; Guha 1989; Oelschlaeger 1991; Gómez-Pompa & Kaus 1992; Posey 1999; Sloan 2002). Of the 7322 PAs in Africa, Asia, and Latin America—where many local people make use of wild resources for food, medicine, fuel, and feed—2226 (30.4%) are strictly protected areas. Such strictly protected areas, though, comprise 54% of the 6.07 million km2 designated as protected (Pretty 2002).

The designation of ecosystems for strict protection is partly driven by concerns over whether private actions can benefit the common good. Natural capital, or nature's goods and services (Costanza et al. 1997; Vitousek et al. 1997), at least partially tends to be a type of common-pool resource—something that when consumed cannot be withheld from others (Taylor 1982; Ostrom 1990). It is often difficult to say precisely who is at fault when natural capital is degraded, and this has led many to believe that the ruin of the commons is an inevitable tragedy (Hardin 1968). Without privatization or enclosure on the one hand, or enforcement of laws and regulations on the other, the rational tendency would appear to be that individuals will overuse and underinvest in natural capital. Yet the long history of successful management of the commons in many parts of the world suggests that there is third way to approach this conundrum. Could local people play a greater role in biodiversity conservation and management?

When natural capital is considered free, and so allocated no monetary value, the market signals that it is more valuable when converted into something else. Thus, the profit from converting a forest into timber is counted on the nation's balance sheet, but all the lost services—such as wild foods, fodder grasses, medicinal plants, climate regulation, water flow regulation—are rarely subtracted. Thus, an important question needs to be answered before natural capital is simply turned over for local management: how best can unfettered private actions be mediated in favor of the common good?

There is growing evidence from both the land and marine sectors to show that when people are well connected in groups and networks, and when their knowledge is sought, incorporated, and built upon during planning and implementation of conservation and development activities, then they are more likely to sustain stewardship and protection over the long term (Cernea 1991; Pretty 1995a; Singh & Ballabh 1997; Krishna 2002; Uphoff 2002; McNeely & Scherr 2003). There is growing recognition of the effectiveness of such local groups and associations in bringing about positive biodiversity outcomes, and the idea that social connectedness should be seen as an important capital asset is gaining strength. Here, we define the term social capital, indicate what role it can play in collective management programs at different scales (agrobiodiversity on farms, nearby nature in regions and landscapes, and in protected areas), and conclude with some lessons for socially inclusive biodiversity protection.

What is New about the Idea of Social Capital

Recent years have seen a rapid growth in interest in the term social capital. It captures the idea that social bonds and norms are important for sustainability. Its value was identified by Tönnies (1887), shaped by Jacobs (1961), later given a theoretical framework by Coleman (1988), and brought to wide attention by Putnam (1993, 2000). Social capital implies that there are aspects of social structure and organization that act as resources for individuals, allowing them to realize their personal aims and interests. Such institutions are effective because “they permit us to carry on our daily lives with a minimum of repetition and costly negotiation” (Bromley 1993).

As social capital lowers the costs of working together, it facilitates cooperation. People have the confidence to invest in collective activities, knowing that others will also do so. They are also less likely to engage in unfettered private actions with negative outcomes, such as resource degradation. Four central features of social capital have been identified (Pretty & Ward 2001): (1) relations of trust; (2) reciprocity and exchanges; (3) common rules, norms, and sanctions; and (4) connectedness in networks and groups.

Relations of trust lubricate cooperation. Trust reduces the transaction costs between people and so liberates resources. Instead of having to invest in monitoring others, individuals are able to trust them to act as expected, thus saving money and time. It can also create a social obligation—the act of trusting someone tends to engender reciprocal trust. But trust takes time to build and is easily broken (Gambetta 1988), and when a society is pervaded by distrust or conflict, cooperative arrangements are unlikely to emerge (Baland & Platteau 1998). Reciprocity and exchanges also increase trust, with specific reciprocity referring to simultaneous exchanges of goods and knowledge of roughly equal value, and diffuse reciprocity referring to a continuing relationship of exchange that is eventually repaid (Coleman 1988; Putnam 1993). Reciprocity contributes to the development of long-term obligations between people, which is an important part of achieving positive environmental outcomes.

Common rules, norms, and sanctions are the mutually agreed upon or handed-down norms of behavior that ensure group interests are complementary with those of individuals. These are sometimes called the rules of the game (Taylor 1982; Ostrom 1990) or the internal morality of a social system (Coleman 1988). Rules and sanctions give individuals the confidence to invest in the collective good, knowing that others will also do so, and sanctions ensure that those who break the rules know they will be punished. Communities with constructive rules and sanctions are those in which individuals balance individual rights with collective responsibilities (Etzioni 1995).

Three types of connectedness have been identified as important for the networks within, between, and beyond communities (Woolcock 2001). These are called bonding, bridging, and linking types of social capital. Bonding social capital describes the links between people with similar outlooks and objectives and is manifested in different types of groups at the local level, from guilds and mutual aid societies, to sports clubs and credit groups, to forest or fishery management groups, and to literary societies and mother's groups (Cernea 1991; Flora 1998; Woolcock 1998; Pretty & Ward 2001).

Bridging social capital describes the capacity of groups to make links with others that may have different views, particularly across communities. Such horizontal connections can sometimes lead to the establishment of new platforms and apex organizations that represent large numbers of individuals and groups. Linking social capital describes the ability of groups to engage vertically with external agencies, either to influence their policies or to draw on useful resources.

Evidence increasingly suggests that if these social capital conditions are met, then local people's economic and social well-being will improve. Households with greater connectedness have higher incomes (Narayan & Pritchett 1996; Krishna 2002; Wu & Pretty 2004), better health, higher educational achievements, increased longevity (Fukuyama 2000), improved social cohesion (Schuller 2001), and better links with government (Putnam 2000).

It is important, however, not to be too optimistic about the capacity of local trust and connectedness to deliver all economic benefits. A society may be well-organized and may have strong institutions and embedded reciprocal mechanisms but still not be based on trust but on fear and power; examples include feudal, hierarchical, racist, and unjust societies (Knight 1992). Formal rules and norms can also trap people within harmful social arrangements. Some associations may encourage conformity, perpetuate adversity and inequity, and allow certain individuals to get others to act in ways that suit only themselves (Olson 1965; Taylor 1982). Thus, social capital can also have its dark side (Portes & Landholt 1996).

To what extent is social capital necessary for long-term improvements in biodiversity? We know that natural capital can be improved in the short term with no explicit attention to local people. Regulations and economic incentives play an important role in encouraging changes in behavior (Nayar & Ong 1995), but although these may change practices, there is no guaranteed positive effect on personal attitudes. Without changes in social norms, people often revert to old ways when incentives end or regulations are no longer enforced, and long-term protection may then be compromised (Pimbert & Pretty 1995).

What, then, should be done to develop and spread forms of social organization that are structurally suited for natural resource management? For people to invest their time, they must be convinced that the benefits derived from collective approaches will be greater than those derived solely from individual ones. External management agencies, by contrast, need to be convinced that investments to develop social capital will produce sufficient benefits to exceed the often considerable establishment costs of social capital (Dasgupta & Serageldin 2000).

Collective Management Programs

Collective resource-management programs that build trust, develop new norms, and improve natural capital outcomes have become increasingly common and are described with such terms as community, participatory, joint, and decentralized management, and comanagement. Such advances in the creation of social capital that emphasize better bonding within groups and bridging between them have led to the formation of local groups in a variety of management sectors, including watersheds, forests, irrigated and drinking water, pests, wildlife, fisheries, farmers' research, and microfinance (Pretty & Ward 2001; O'Riordan & Stoll-Kleeman 2002; McNeely & Scherr 2003).

During the 1990s, some 408,000–478,000 new local groups were deliberately established in a wide variety of environmental contexts (Pretty & Ward 2001), mostly evolving to be of similar small rather than large size (as predicted by Olson 1982), typically with 20–30 active members, putting total involvement at some 8–14 million households. Table 1 summarizes the biodiversity outcomes of these various social capital–forming programs according to a hierarchy of target systems: (1) agrobiodiversity and farm-system diversity, comprising increases in numbers of components in the farm system (e.g., fish, trees, vegetables, animals); (2) nearby nature, such as nonfarm biodiversity on or near farms and fishing zones, including plants, animals and fish in hedgerows, forests, and fishponds; and (3) protected-area biodiversity, from which farming and fishing is excluded but extraction of wild produce may be permitted.

Table 1.  Biodiversity outcomes of collective action and group-forming programs according to a hierarchy of target systems.*
Collective action and socially inclusive programsTarget systems for biodiversity improvements
and farm system
nearby nature
(nonfarm biodiversity on or
near farms and fishing zones)

  1. *Microcredit programs are not included because they do not necessarily have a specific impact on biodiversity at a particular level.

Catchment and watershed management groups  
Joint forest management groups 
Water users' groups  
Integrated pest management groups 
Wildlife management groups 
Fisheries management groups 
Farmers' groups for farm and environmental improvements 


At the farm level, a variety of initiatives have shown that improvements to in-field agrobiodiversity can benefit local people. In these programs, the biodiversity improvements are at the farm level only and so do not affect protected areas. The initial focus is on improving knowledge and ecological literacy, which can then lead to changes in the likelihood of individuals to engage in collective action (Pierotti & Wildcat 2000).

One of the most significant initiatives is the advent of farmer field schools for rice management in Asia, in which farmers attend as individuals to learn about the value of beneficial insects for pest control rather than the use of pesticides, and later remain connected in groups to implement the necessary and difficult changes to their farm practices. As a result, many countries are reporting large reductions in pesticide use. In Vietnam two million farmers have cut pesticide use from more than three standard applications per crop to one. In Sri Lanka, 55,000 farmers have reduced pesticide use from three to less than one per crop; and in Indonesia, one million farmers have cut use from three sprays to one per crop. At the aggregate level, rice yields have been maintained or slightly improved (Heong et al. 1999; Power & Kenmore 2002). The key to agricultural success is enhanced biological diversity on farms. Pests and diseases thrive in monocultures because there is an abundance of food and few natural enemies. Traditionally, rice paddies were important sources of fish protein, and fish living in fields helped in nutrient cycling and pest control. But most pesticides are toxic to fish, and their increased use eliminated fish from paddies. But when the pesticides are not used, the fish can be reintroduced. In Bangladesh 150,000 farmers have been trained in 6000 farmer field schools run by CARE, and each hectare now yields an additional 750 kg of fish. Farmers themselves recognize the benefits of changes in farm biodiversity. One said to Tim Robertson, former leader of the CARE program, “our fields are singing with frogs again, after thirty years of silence” (Pretty 2002).

Once the idea is established that diverse systems can provide enough food, particularly for farmers with few resources, then whole new systems of biodiversity-friendly food production can emerge. More important, the bringing together of farmers to deliberate on how to make changes helps to foster new social relations and thus to build social capital, which in turn helps to sustain the changes (Pretty 1995b). Important examples include: fish, shrimp, and rice farming in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam; improved fallows in Kenya and Zambia, where 2-year-old tree fallows introduced to monoculture farm systems have increased diversity and soil regeneration; fair trade and organic coffee in Mexico, where socially inclusive cooperatives have adopted organic methods and reinvested returns in local social projects; soil-improving legume-based systems in Guatemala and Honduras, which encourage farmers to remain settled in one place rather than continue with shifting systems that require burning of forests; traditional dehesa and montado agrosylvopastoral systems in Spain and Portugal, with high farm and wild biodiversity supported by national schemes aimed at maintaining traditional social structures; and national park farm schemes fashioned by farmers' groups in the United Kingdom that protect important upland landscapes (Pretty 1998, 2002; Uphoff 2002; McNeely & Scherr 2003).

Nearby Nature in Regions and Landscapes

An increasing number of initiatives are focusing attention on transformations in water, soil, and biodiversity resources across whole landscapes. Except for rare contexts where one individual owns a whole landscape, these programs require changes in social relations between many landowners prior to achieving widespread improvements in natural capital. External agencies increasingly realize that the protection of whole regions cannot be achieved without the willing participation of local people, which in turn needs investment to bring people together to deliberate on common problems and to form new associations capable of developing and sustaining practices that result in common benefits.

One area of success has been programs focused on microcatchments—areas of several hundred hectares within which people know and can trust each other. It is estimated that some 50,000 catchment or watershed groups have been formed during the 1990s in Australia, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Kenya, Niger, and the United States (Hinchcliffe et al. 1999; Uphoff 2002). Most programs report yield improvements, together with substantial public benefits, including groundwater recharge, reappearance of springs, increased tree cover, common land revegetation, and microclimate change. Significant examples include the Kenyan government's catchment approach, which has formed some 4000 social groups; the Australian National Landcare Program, which has formed some 4500 groups; and the microbacias programs of southern Brazil, which have formed several thousand friends-of-the-land clubs. In these cases, it is the establishment of new social relations that bond and bridge these institutions that has enabled innovation in sustainable practices to spread across whole landscapes (Pretty 2002).

Joint forest management in South Asia has been another success. Governments have come to realize that forests cannot be protected without the willing involvement of local communities, who are increasingly being granted rights to use timber and nontimber products and allocated joint responsibility for protecting and improving degraded land. The most significant changes have occurred in India and Nepal, where governments issued new policies for joint forest management in 1990 (India) and 1993 (Nepal). There are now some 40,000 forest-protection committees and users' groups in these two countries, managing more than 10 million ha of forest with their own rules and sanctions (Malla 1997; Poffenburger & McGean 1998; Agarwal & Clark 1999). Government and nongovernment agencies play a critical role in bringing people together to help form groups. Benefits include increased fuelwood and fodder productivity, improved biodiversity in regenerated forests, and more income for the poorest households. Old attitudes are changing as foresters come to appreciate that degraded lands are regenerated following community protection.

Other important regional schemes that involve collective changes across landscapes include the marsh habitats of the Parcs du Marais du Contentin et du Bessin in France, which are protected through local working groups involving all stakeholders; traditional methods of rice farming reintroduced by groups to a valuable wetland in La Albufera National Park in Spain; the collective protection of diverse ecological and farm systems in the Darby watershed of Ohio (U.S.A.); the Red Kite project in Wales, where novel partnerships between farm, environmental, and economic development agencies have encouraged new tourism, with visitor numbers up and farm incomes improved; and various reef-guardian schemes involving whole fishing communities in coral reef protection (Pretty 1998, 2002; McNeely & Scherr 2003). Once again, it is the changes in local values that emerge from new social relations that offer hope that stewardship and protection of natural capital can occur over the long term.

Protected Areas

Socially inclusive programs are also becoming increasingly successful for some protected areas (Posey 1999; O'Riordan & Stoll-Kleeman 2002). The central idea is to permit local people to derive some value or income from wild resources and so increase their collective incentives to manage resources for the long term. The opportunities include use of natural resources for food, medicine, and fuel; sale of selected wild plant and animal products for income; and access to money spent by ecotourists and hunters. Social capital is important in these contexts because these activities are best managed and mediated by communities and groups themselves, both to prevent free-riding and to encourage individual investments for the collective good.

But there are dangers. Some people may become organized precisely to strip land of its assets more effectively, and putting a monetary value on wild biodiversity services may simply cause these resources to be diminished more rapidly. Income from ecotourism may be captured by only a few members of communities, leaving the majority with no particular reason to engage in sustainable management (Duffy 2000). Long-term success may also rely on the capacity of local communities to exclude others from the wild resources with high value (Olson 1965). Despite these difficulties, a number of positive experiences have occurred in which developing new social norms and trust has helped pay both biodiversity and livelihood dividends.

A constructive way to protect biodiversity is emerging through both ecotourism and sales of permits for hunting. These principles underpin the C.A.M.P.F.I.R.E. program in Zimbabwe, where people involved in community-based wildlife management derive increased income from both ecotourism and hunting permits. Despite many institutional challenges (Duffy 2000), and the ethical challenges of agreeing to hunting permits in return for income, the program has developed new social norms, in the form of a new understanding about the value of wildlife, in many local and professional communities. In the Philippines, new management committees of fisher families agreed to close key areas to allow for fish regeneration, and these marine no-take reserves have helped improve fish productivity and diversity. A key prerequisite to this blend of use and protection has been the government's devolution of fish policy to local authorities (McNeely & Scherr 2003).

The Royal Chitwin National Park in Nepal has pioneered benefit sharing, with income from ecotourists willing to pay to see tiger and rhinoceros being given to local communities (McNeely & Scherr 2003). Initially, the 93,000-ha park led to crop losses and economic damage for people living in the buffer zone. Now, though, some US$200,000 is returned to local people each year, and this has transformed local attitudes about biodiversity, which was formerly seen as having little value. The program relies on the continuing progressive policies and attitudes of national park policy makers, forestry department officials, and local people, plus, of course, on the continuing flow of tourists.

These examples show the value of establishing strong relations of trust institutionalized into formal groups who have developed their own rules, norms, and sanctions. Without such trust, there is little likelihood that resources and sustainable rates of offtake could be maintained in the long term, nor that individuals would restrict their own potential to capture all the benefits of free-riding in favor of the collective good. Once again, this indicates that Hardin's (1968) dire predictions will not necessarily come to pass if the local institutional context is strong and itself trusted.

Some Implications for Socially Inclusive Biodiversity Protection

There has been promising progress in developing social capital to produce positive biodiversity and livelihood outcomes. But action will be required at all levels to achieve significant biodiversity improvements across whole ecosystems and landscapes, in particular the participation of many different people and institutions.

In conventional development, participation has commonly centered on encouraging local people to contribute their labor in return for food, cash, or materials. Yet material incentives distort perceptions, create dependencies, and give the misleading impression that local people are supportive of externally driven initiatives. When little effort is made to build upon local skills, interests, and capacity, then local people have no stake in maintaining practices once the flow of incentives stops. The dilemma for authorities is that they both need and fear people's participation. They need people's agreement and support, but they often fear that such wider involvement is less controllable and less precise. If this fear permits only stage-managed forms of participation, distrust and greater alienation are the most likely outcomes.

Nonetheless, the term participation has now become part of the normal language of most development agencies. Yet the term has been used to justify the extension of control of the state as well as to build local capacity and self-reliance; it has been used to justify external decisions as well as to devolve power and decision making away from external agencies. It is therefore important to determine exactly what sort of participation should be sought for positive biodiversity outcomes. The term participation has been resolved into six distinct types (Pretty 1995b):

  • 1passive participation, in which people participate by being told what has been decided or has already happened;
  • 2consultative participation, in which people participate by being answering questions, with the process not conceding any share in decision making;
  • 3bought participation, in which people participate in return for food, cash, or other material incentives;
  • 4functional participation, in which participation is seen by external agencies as a means to achieve their goals, and people form groups to meet predetermined objectives;
  • 5interactive participation, in which people participate in joint analysis, development of action plans, and formation or strengthening of local groups or institutions; and
  • 6self-mobilization, in which people participate by taking initiatives independently and retain control over how resources are used.

What has become clear is that positive biodiversity outcomes do not emerge with passive, consultative, and bought types of participation (O'Riordan & Stoll-Kleeman 2002; Pretty 2002). What, then, can be done to encourage the greater adoption of processes that create social capital for biodiversity improvements? Social learning involves building the capacity of communities to learn about the complex ecological and physical complexity in their ecosystems, and then to come to decisions to act in different ways. The process of learning, if it is socially embedded and jointly engaged upon, provokes changes in behavior (Argyris & Schön 1978; Habermas 1987) and can bring forth a new world (Maturana & Varela 1982).

It will also be vital that international agencies, governments, banks and nongovernmental organizations accept that investment in the creation of social capital pays. Thus, the costs of development assistance could increase (James et al. 1999), though not the cost-benefit ratios if the outcomes prove to be positive. One way to ensure the stability and persistence of social capital so as to ensure long-term benefits is to encourage the federation of groups to influence regional and national bodies. These networks can open up economies of scale to bring greater economic and ecological benefits. The emergence of such federated groups with strong leadership would also make it easier for external agencies to develop direct links with poor and excluded groups. This could result in better access to public services, though the greater empowerment of poor households may not necessarily follow (Baland & Platteau 1999).

Group-based approaches centered on social learning are a necessary but not sufficient condition for achieving long-term biodiversity conservation. Policy reforms, in patterns of ownership, new incentives, and protective regulations, and the removal of destructive subsidies are additional conditions for structuring the wider economic and social context (Nayar & Ong 1995). There are further pressing questions. What happens to state and community relations when social capital in the form of local associations and their federated bodies spreads to very large numbers of people? What are the wider outcomes of improved social capital, and will the state seek to colonize these new groups? What new broad-based forms of governance could emerge to support a transition to more positive outcomes for biodiversity? Important concerns also relate to the groups themselves because promising programs may falter if individuals start to burn out,” believing that investments in social capital are no longer paying.

There are also concerns that the idea of new community institutions will simply become the subject of new rhetoric. If, for example, joint forest management becomes the new order of the day for foresters, then the danger exists that local people will be coerced into forming groups simply to meet quotas (Sarin 2001). Yet this spread of ideas and concepts is also an inevitable part of any transformation process (Callicott et al. 2000). Just because some groups are captured by the wealthy or run by government staff with only passive participation does not mean that all groups are flawed. It is important that policy makers and practitioners continue to seek ways to support processes that help local people play a proactive and positive role in biodiversity conservation, however complex and uncertain this may be.


We are very grateful for valuable comments on earlier versions of this paper by T. O'Riordan, J. B. Callicott, and two anonymous referees.