Natural resource management is conflict management and vice versa
Natural resource management is conflict management.

This concept forms the basis of Pieter Vanwildemeersch award-winning 2016 Master’s thesis “Stakeholders blocking participatory natural resource management” (the original title is: “Los actores bloqueadores en la gestión participativa de recursos naturales”). It explores the relationship between participatory natural resource management (pNRM) and conflict management in an attempt to develop a process of integration and apply it to a restoration project.

It has been argued that the sustainable management of natural resources is one of the greatest challenges facing developing countries. Since the tragedy of the commons (Hardin, 1968), in which public and private ownership are declared to be the only possible sustainable management options for natural resources, the views of the international development community have revolutionized, indicating the exclusion of the local population as one of the main reasons of their unsustainable management. pNRM has since then gained strongly in importance. But pNRM sees the personal interests of local stakeholders as a factor limiting the construction of a good solution. Conflict management turns this upside down, using those personal interests as the basis for the solution construction process.

Vanwildemeersch’s paper expands on this idea, arguing that a sustainable natural resource management starts with a constructive conflict resolution. Using the insight that pNRM has many similarities with the proven conflict management technique of mediation, he integrates the founding principles of the latter in pNRM. He therefore proposes to abandon the obligation within pNRM to construct a common narrative on the situation of the local natural resources in favor of the inclusion of techniques to improve the relations between the different conflicted stakeholders and work towards a broad-based solution for their future.

Indeed, natural resource management is people management, and people management is, in fact, conflict management.