Karol Boudreaux on Wildlife, Property, and Poverty in Africa
Sep 22 2008

Karol Boudreaux, Senior Research Fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about wildlife management in Africa. Their conversation focuses on community-based wildlife management in Namibia, a policy to give communities the incentives to protect wildlife and avoid the tragedy of the commons.

Explore audio highlights, further reading that will help you delve deeper into this week’s episode, and vigorous conversations in the form of our comments section below.


Sep 22 2008 at 8:16am

Is an EconTalk on financial regulation in the works?

Russ Roberts
Sep 22 2008 at 9:09am


Coming next week is an interview with Arnold Kling on the history of the lending market and particularly the history of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

jeremy richey
Sep 25 2008 at 7:01am

are you kidding? Cancel this show and find a guest on topic. Economics are the only thing in the news these days and there is so much opportunity to try and make some sense of what in the hell is happening in a format that offers a platform more effective and detailed than 500 word articles or soundbites. This subject matter is a lost opportunity and a disappointment.

Lauren (Econlib Editor)
Sep 25 2008 at 8:43am

Hi, Jeremy.

We deeply appreciate your request. We put a lot of thought into releasing this podcast. Please be assured that we realize how very much listeners want information on the current U.S. financial situation.

Please consider that many of EconTalk’s listeners do not actually live in the United States. Some live in the areas of Africa addressed in this podcast, and in other areas of the world that similarly are not heavily invested in U.S. markets. The world is a diverse place. (In fact, diversification into learning about and holding uncorrelated assets elsewhere in the world may be a lesson of the recent financial crisis; but I digress.)

Second, EconTalk podcasts are typically recorded a week or two in advance. We want to maintain our weekly schedule on Monday mornings, but in circumstances as rapidly moving as that of the week preceding this podcast, we could not have anticipated or prepared a podcast on the details of the U.S. financial situation.

Third, we do not want to throw away the excellent podcasts that happened to be recorded before the U.S. financial crisis broke, just because those podcasts are suddenly not hot news. Sometimes a podcast may not be in the news one week, but may become newsworthy a few weeks or months later. EconTalk is about economics education, not news commentary. What is educational remains educational for years or even decades. We keep our archives open and free for precisely that reason. We have in our archives quite a few podcasts that are relevant to the current crisis, including Shiller on Housing and Bubbles, recorded and released only a few weeks ago.

Lastly, please be assured that we’re working on your request and are deeply sympathetic to your frustration. U.S. economists and non-economists alike are swamped right now. Our goal is to make sure that whatever is released here as a podcast on the subject is worth listening to. Sometimes taking a week or so to think things over so they can be explained well is exactly what is needed, particularly when economic events are moving so quickly. When we do release a podcast on the financial situation, which we hope will be soon enough, with some material even in the next week, we want it to be thought-provoking, clarifying, and satisfying intellectually.

So, please, bear with us. And maybe listen to Karol Boudreaux’s excellent podcast as a diversion to the pressures. It’s actually quite enlightening. Property rights are just as fundamental an issue in U.S. business ownership as African business ownership. To think that the United States is somehow completely different is to bypass thinking about the underlying economics. Stepping back to look at a broader perspective is sometimes the most relevant and clarifying exercise of all.

John Turner
Sep 25 2008 at 12:55pm

I disagree with Jeremy. There is a substantial amount of information regarding the current financial crisis available online, and this podcast with Karol Boudreaux was a welcome and refreshing change to all the dreadful happenings as of late. I have come to really appreciate the work that Karol is doing because her analysis and expositions of the undertakings in Africa demonstrate the principles that I hold dear first hand, and show what a difference can be made in this world with the right incentives and policies.

Thank you for this podcast. I greatly appreciate the dialogue and insights Karol provides, and I sincerely hope the message she delivers gets out to a broad audience.

Salaam Yitbarek
Sep 26 2008 at 9:13am

I, too, appreciated this podcast. Development economics provides remarkable insights into human behaviour, especially on how similar incentives in different contexts and societies have different results.

Looking at it one way, it seems to me that the Namibian example does contain in it some amount of paternalism. I mean, folks like Smith and the Minister (Beddinger, is it?) helped create a policy and program that the people on the ground may not have been able to. Would they have known the long-term benefits of tourism to them? Are some societies/cultures better at such cost/benefit analysis than others?

Jean-Philippe Platteau writes on these issues. I believe he’s got an NGO too, so he’s got both theory and practice covered. May be a good interview. Once you’re done with the current black swan, that is.

Sep 27 2008 at 6:27am

Great podcast.

I’m always impressed at what is possible with private property rights. The Economist last week gave an example in fisheries.

About this week's guest: About ideas and people mentioned in this podcast:

Podcast Episode Highlights
0:36Intro. Wildlife management. Topic introduced by Free Market Foundation, Namibia and wildlife resources. Community-based natural resource management (CBNRM): What is it? What are alternatives? Shift of focus from national or state level down to community level. Can take variety of different forms. Zimbabwe, Campfire program, 1980s-1990s, gave some authority at a more local level. Locus of control was at a district council level that had a political element; in Namibia, local level that has non-political structure. Chickens and whales: plenty of chickens, not about to go extinct, no one worries; do worry about whales. You'd think encouraging people to eat chickens would encourage them to go extinct. Henry George essay: man is unlike chicken hawks because the more hawks, the fewer chickens, but not so with man. Harder to profit from whales, can't fence them in. Campfire program was attempt to make elephants a little more like chickens and a little less like whales. Not really private property like chickens, but not really like whales. Attempt to create a relatively thick but not completely full body of property rights. Shift incentives that people have. Before the 1980s, wildlife typically seen as an open access resource, a thing that nobody owns. People have incentive to go out and poach them. Elephants roam over large territories. In many places animals are fenced in, very large farms. In Namibia, they do roam. CBNRM movement builds on the idea that incentives matter. Freehold property: individuals hold to fee-simple property in Anglo-Saxon tradition, including right to exclude people, benefit from the use of resources; and right to sell and bequeath them, which you can't do with communal property. Communal property, like condominiums. Freehold property is like your house. as opposed to lease-hold property. Lots of rights. CBNRM program: government gives up some rights, either to district level as in Zimbabwe or local level as in Namibia.
8:57Why would governments give up the right to manage a particular resource? When the government was managing the animals, they were being poached. Virtually no wildlife left in NE area of Namibia. Namibia is the second newest country in Africa, fought a civil war through the 1980s. Why didn't the government crack down on poaching? Some poachers were government officials. Somebody has to monitor and stop. Very far from Pretoria, few roads. In Namibia, in 1980 a SA gentleman, Garth Owen-Smith, went to the NW area and started working with local communities and realized the wildlife was missing, benefits lost, from use, manure, and spiritual/cultural connection. Asked what could be done. Told the local people were powerless. Set up a community gain-guard system which paid locals to identify poachers and bring them to justice. Change in social norms. Legalized changes came later. Like a block patrol keeping an eye on things. Buy-in from the local community. Outside donors funded it, paying people to be those guards. At first food or uniforms, but then it went beyond that: First, SA-controlled Namibian government had given white farmers legal rights to control wildlife, starting in the 1960s. Hunters would come onto these farms, engage in trophy hunting or photo safaris; demonstrated that there was money to be made. Did some pool their farms? Farms tend to be very large; had to fence to keep the wildlife inside and profit from it. Could exclude people, could benefit from the use of: freehold. Incentives to be stewards of a valuable asset. In 1990, independence; new government could say, why not the black citizens too? Also had experience from Owen-Smith and partner, Margaret Jacobsohn of guard system which seemed to be working. And people had read Elinor Ostrom's work: deal with common-pool resources by creating property rights.
17:57So, what happened? The government changed in 1990, new minister. Ministry of Environment and Tourism did some studies; by 1996 passed amendment to legislation allowing local people to create a conservation conservancy if you met four criteria. Had to identify membership--who in their community wanted to be a member. Had to define its boundary--most land in Namibia is titled to government. Had to create a constitution, including provisions for dealing with wildlife and distributing benefits. Had to create a representative management committee. How did people do it? Not much education, rural subsistence level people. Worked better in Namibia than it may ever have worked in America. Have nevertheless created 50 conservancies. Can be a lot of haggling, especially in early stages. Had to work out boundaries, had to work out constitutions, in early days concern over being dominated by certain individuals, etc. Non-governmental organizations (NGO): IRDNC, Owen-Smith's organization suggested how to work these details out. U.S. AID has also helped at fairly low cost. Sounds like a luxury hobby for wealthy folks with time on their hands, but it turned out to be quite important. Conservancies have to have annual general meetings. But local people believe it's worthwhile because there are increasing benefits. In first years, about $600,000 Namibian dollars (less than $100,000 US) in benefits generated, mostly from fees for camping overnight. Over time, fees paid to do trophy hunting. Also benefits because they themselves can hunt the animals, distribute the meat. This year almost $40 million Namibian dollars. Some conservancies generating more income than others. Standards of living, per capita income up more than 30%, corrected for inflation.
25:13Incentives. Idea of encouraging wildlife preservation by encouraging people to hunt seems like a contradiction. Amount of hunting is now controlled instead of uncontrolled; don't want to overhunt. Can reduce hunting to a level that of animal population that is sustainable. Want to keep resources like trees healthy. Works for individual ownership, but what about the community level? What's going on on the ground that is monitoring this, and who is distributing the money? The Namibian conservancies must create wildlife management plans. Ministry of Environment and Tourism still sets the quotas for some animals. In the case of leopards, conservancy may have a 1 quota or a 0 quota for a given year; that level is not locally determined. For other animals, antelope-type animals, the conservancy can decide, say, to use them for tourists to see, or for food--called own-use. Community can decide; do their own hunting. Raises issues: because they are created on government-titled land, they do not have the right to exclude. They can identify on their own land who might have been poaching and bring that person to justice. But if someone from outside want to come in and disturb the animals or groups from elsewhere in Namibia come in and hunt, the conservancy doesn't have the ability to exclude them. Stick in the bundle of rights the conservancy doesn't have. The way they can charge are through lodges. Actually works reasonably well on the ground because the community members do have voice and can express displeasure within the local community. Virtually no poaching on conservancy land, but there is poaching on non-conservancy land. Send people out in a jeep to see what's going on; also developing community relations and social norms. What's the size? About 220,000 out of the 2 million in population live on a conservancy. In suburban America, the politically powerful people would want to have a say relative to the others. How democratic are these plans? What's keeping the average person involved? Back when the legislation was being discussed the Ministry was controlled by the South Africans. The control was given up in the aftermath of an independence. The people who wanted to keep control over the new resources they could possibly be thrown out by the new government. Plus there wasn't a lot of wildlife at the time of independence. Now people realize there is a huge amount of revenue and rents to be had. Local elites sometimes dominate, but annual general meeting process and having to explain how the benefits are being used and voting. Tocquevillian experiment. People do get voted out of office. Women more and more in control, seen as better financial managers. Education not a necessary component for anything productive.
35:45Lodges. Some in the past, but not required to pay benefits to local people; run by commercial hospitality folks. Torra Conservancy initiated: if an outside safari company wants to create a lodge on conservancy land, they have to consult with conservancy leadership. Can require hiring local people, train local people; give percentage of bed/night levies; at end of a 20-year period ownership reverts to conservancy. Local people have a pretty significant stake in learning how to run it. Wilderness Safari, based in SA, has trained local people to become managers and fill a variety of functions for individuals. Spreads through whole family. In 2006 there were 10 tourist lodges. Legal Assistance Center, an NGO, helps conservancies negotiate these arrangements. Torra Conservancy became a best standards situation. Why not just charge a big fee and give a royalty to use the conservancy? Seems like some of these contracts might reduce the flow or revenue. On the conservancies, tourist revenues are skyrocketing. Might be a Bastiat concern. So, local people may not actually be the best people for those jobs, but by employing them you get a "multiplier" effect, learning skills they use to start other businesses. Human capital. Corporate social responsibility angle. Seems to be a good thing. Lodgers love the fact that there are local people hired in the lodge who they can talk to. Could be the case that the contractual condition is unnecessary and it would be that way anyway. Tourism is the major income generator, trophy hunting second. Immense increase in the amount of wildlife. Marries two important international development goals, with local governance institutions and skills as extra benefits. Not-very-complicated change to the legal environment that had major positive results. Animal numbers up in Namibia, including predators. Whole different set of problems being dealt with.
44:14What are some of the implications for more developed countries, say Fish and Wildlife Service in United States. People think it could never happen in the United States. Not a lot of us here want a whole lot of wildlife in our backyard. But some large areas. Local people can do a fine job if given the incentives. Suburban Maryland wildlife: hawks, squirrels, deer which in some parts is quite a nuisance; not much wilder than a deer on the ground. Romance with bear, etc. Most of the interesting wildlife is in national parks. Wouldn't we need a different model of national parks? There are still wild areas in which there are communities not far from parks. Seventy different delegations have gone to Namibia to see how they could learn. Great Plains based delegation. Maybe farmers will move out. Yellowstone: we have an EPA, steward of air and water; but land managed by a bunch of different organizations, Departments of the Interior, Agriculture. Romance about Yellowstone but for years it was run like an amusement park. Made sure there weren't any wolves, which killed elk, which were easy to see for tourists; but elk kept the grasses in check. Namibia example suggests turning the communities surrounding Yellowstone into groups that can profit from some of these animals. State level and local level parks, similarly. State parks tend to be managed better than national parks to begin with, though. Unease about the profit motive. Average person in Namibia may not have a predisposition against profit motive; also living on the edge of subsistence may make profit look appealing. Mixed reactions: Namibia has done such a good job with some populations, such as elephants; would like to cull for ivory. Puts trade restrictions in the cross-hairs. Traditional conservationists have a very commanding approach are threatened by the idea or concerned that other pieces of their agenda such as the CITES treaty may be jeopardized. Cannot deny what has happened in Namibia though. There in 2006, Year of the Great Rain; amazingly breathtaking beautiful. May 2008 [taping in early September 2008], back. Own-Smith and Jacobsohn are still around. Do average citizens have a good understanding of this transformation? Yes, special to them; very positive feelings toward the project, women especially, occupying up to 37% of the management positions, seen as leaders in their communities. Schools are being improved. Communities can buy an ambulance instead of a rickety car or bus to hospital that may be far away. Proud to show what is happening on the ground to foreigners.

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