This article argues that there is substantial optimism to be found in the way that the challenges of rural resource management in Africa are currently understood and responded to that was not evident at the time of the Rio conference. It is suggested that the source of the optimism lies in the multi-disciplinary research of the last decade. This has changed quite fundamentally the ways in which society-environment relationships in Africa are understood with significant development of common policies. The first section of the article reviews aspects of research that has challenged the 'Africa in environmental crisis' scenarios, which has exposed the adaptive capabilities of African farmers and herders in natural resource management and is promoting an understanding of environmental change based on non-equilibrium dynamics. In short, these changes have opened up policy opportunities based on communities as agents for conservation rather than inevitable despoilers of natural resources. Community-based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) in Africa encompasses a variety of experiences on the ground and the activities of diverse agencies in relation to a range of resources. The article details a number of directions within the same areas of social and ecological science reviewed earlier that are shaping improvements in CBNRM. Communities(and ecologies) are now understood as internally differentiated and dynamic; research is identifying also the external social, physical and institutional environments that influence the operation of local institutions operating at the local level. Through these directions it is demonstrated that the challenge for sustainable resource management in Africa cannot lie solely with local communities.
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|Published - Jul 2002