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close this bookReversing the Spiral - The Population, Agriculture, and Environment Nexus in Sub-Saharan Africa (WB, 1994, 320 p.)
close this folder10. Managing the natural resource base
View the documentProduction versus protection
View the documentForests
View the documentNatural resource management in farming areas
View the documentDryland and range areas
View the documentWater
View the documentCommon elements
View the documentThe role of governments
View the documentNational environmental action plans

The role of governments

There are important functions to be fulfilled by government agencies, and there is an urgent need to develop the requisite institutional and human capacity to undertake these. They include carrying out resource inventories and mapping, preparing land use plans, managing protected areas, and monitoring logging and the use of agricultural, pasture, wetland, and fisheries resources. Governments also need to develop the capacity to undertake environmental assessments of development projects in order to avoid unacceptably negative environmental impact.

Governments should focus their direct management efforts on a much smaller portion of the total national land and forest resources—i.e., those areas that provide public (and global) benefits and goods. This will consist mainly of parks and other protected conservation areas where there are important externalities that local populations cannot be expected to finance or otherwise support. Even there, local participation will be necessary. The local people should be given incentives to conserve the resource endowment of the protected area through the confirmation of exclusive hunting and gathering rights, the provision of employment opportunities in the various support services required to manage protected areas, and a share of any user fees that are collected from outsiders.

NGOs can play important roles in assisting local people in managing natural resources. Where they are ready and willing to assume this role, they should be given wide room to do so.

Governments should also intensify their efforts to provide effective and locally relevant environmental education through the school system and through mass media. Agricultural extension staff should similarly be utilized to spread awareness of environmental issues' and especially of soil, water, and tree conservation techniques, among rural populations.

A problem common to all natural resources is that financial returns to conservation are often lower than economic returns. Individuals and private enterprises will therefore tend to undertake less conservation and more exploitation than is economically optimal. In circumstances where the economic returns to conservation are high, but the financial returns too low to induce adequate conservation by private resource users, taxes on natural resource use (logging fees, mining royalties, water charges) and subsidies for conservation (free extension advice to farmers, costsharing for soil conservation activities) are likely to be justified to close the gap between economic and financial returns. Making this determination, and imposing the necessary taxes or providing the required subsidies, are functions of government.