CRC TRR 228 Project A04

Future Conservation

Towards an African Eden? Shifting bio-cultural frontiers and the (re)coupling of social-ecological relations in the conservation areas

A04 Future Conservation


We want to explore different manifestations of conservation and how conservation landscapes were designed and planned, as well as to understand what visions for the future are being formulated. We are particularly interested in ways that take the critique of existing approaches to conservation seriously and that explore new strategies of human and more than human coexistence.

Project Summary

Project A04 continues its work on practices of large-scale conservation in southern and eastern Africa. It will pursue research in both prior field sites (Namibia’s Zambezi Region and Kenya’s Baringo County) and widen its efforts in the KAZA transboundary conservation area including conservation areas in south-western Zambia. While the Namibian Zambezi Region is characterized by a declining significance of subsistence agriculture, increasing relevance of social transfers, continued significance of migrant labour, and a rapidly growing tourism sector, south-western Zambia’s population is highly dependent on agriculture, extractive resource exploitation (e.g. timber harvesting), and labour migration. In both settings, traditional authorities wield significant­ ­influence and conflict and cooperation between them, the government, and numerous NGOs shape environmental governance. In eastern Africa the project will concentrate on a large wetland conservation area, Lake Baringo and its savannah hinterlands (after successfully working on highland adjoining forest areas in the Lake Baringo catchment in the first phase). In contrast to the well-established conservation conditions of the KAZA conservation area, the situation in the Baringo region is highly fragmented. Lake Baringo itself has maintained a sizeable population of aquatic fauna, and the Lake Baringo wetland is of crucial significance for fishermen, and also for pastoralists and agro-pastoralists living along the lake and in its hinterlands, and eco-tourists visiting the lush savannah wetlands.

Research Regions: KAZA TFCA; Lake Baringo Area, Kenya

Social-ecological transformation in southern and eastern Africa is increasingly shaped by different forms of conservation: national parks, transboundary conservation areas, community-based conservation and conservation on freehold farmland. This project focuses on the coupling of social, cultural and material dynamics in social-ecological systems under various regimes of conservation from the perspective of political ecology, neo-materialist as well as multi-species approaches.

  • How and to what degree do households incur costs and benefits from conservation? How are such costs/benefits distributed within households and across communities?
  • In what way do incomes from conservation spur rural inequality? To what extent are they an option for rural poor to diversify their livelihoods and gain more security?
  • How are projects of conservation co-produced between local power brokers, national elites, governmental officers, and international actors?
  • How is conservation linked to other processes, such as economic intensification, infrastructure development, rewilding, ecological invasions, or defaunation?
  • What role do specific multispecies assemblages play in the planning and implementation of conservation projects and what insights can we, as anthropologists, gain by using the multispecies approach in the conservation context?

Qualitative ethnographic methods; structured and semi-structured interviews; household surveys; cognitive methods; cultural mapping; participatory observation; essay writing.

The conservation landscape and its environmental infrastructure in north-eastern Namibia has been shaped by the impact of administrative measures and the gradual decoupling of humans and wildlife in a vast wetland. The path towards today’s conservation landscape was marked and marred by the enforced reordering of human-environment relations. In Kenya, colonial and postcolonial governmental projects of conservation and development transformed forest landscapes, and still continue shaping their ecologies, the lives of their inhabitants and forest-people relations.

(2) Beyond conservation, cattle husbandry in the Zambezi Region is a project of the local population, being an expression of wealth and as a means of saving. At the same time, cattle can be used in farming activities, produce milk and meat for consumption and sale, and fulfil important social functions (i.e. bridewealth payments or cattle loans). However, the needs and practices of expanding cattle husbandry often conflict with the demands and challenges of conservation and conservation-related tourism.

(3) The travelling idea of conservation (and CBNRM in particular) is often detached from the lives of conservancy members who are confronted with the repercussions of conservation, such as human wildlife conflicts or past displacements. For most conservancy members conservation is by far not as relevant as other livelihood strategies, which raises the question to what extent community-based conservation, as practiced today, is a viable future option for many smallholders in the conservancies.

(4) In Baringo, despite rights that allow residents to use public forests in certain ways, they often feel cut off from the benefits of forest exploitation. In turn, some subsistence practices in the forest conflict with governmental conservation goals, in a highly politicized context.

(5) Communities that were displaced in the designation and making of a conservation landscape in the Zambezi Region complain about, protest against and legally contest their estrangement from their former homes that now have become protected areas. They are often relegated to supply cheap manual labour or engage in ‘cultural’ events to well-paying tourists who visit their former ancestral land, a region that is now inhabited by large herds of wildlife and where little or nothing reminds visitors of earlier inhabitants. In Baringo, former forest dwellers are claiming justice for historical evictions from forest areas by colonial and post-independence governments for conservation and exploitation purposes. We argue that conservation of biodiversity can only be successful if issues of past and present environmental injustices are addressed comprehensively.

(6) In Baringo, despite formal dispossessions of forest areas, local populations continue living with the forests. Extensive ecological knowledge and practices of care bind residents to the forest and structure the local economic and social life.

(7) Intimate relations between people and natural environments are determining in the negotiation of future conservation and livelihoods. In Baringo, Kenya, forest histories are reappropriated in political claims. In these struggles, the role of traditional authorities regains significance and cultural identities are being reframed.

Project A04 is the only project that directly focusses on the political ecology of various conservation measures as major trajectories of future-making in rural Africa. A04 aims to contribute relevant data on social-ecological coupling for all other projects engaged in research in the southern African KAZA area and the Kenyan Baringo area.

Our project is strongly linked to the ERC Rewilding ( that is conducting research on a variety of multispecies assemblages in the KAZA TFCA in southern Africa.


Basukala, A.K., Vehrs, H.P., Bollig, M., Greiner, C., Thonfeld, F. 2019. Spatial-temporal analysis of land-use and land-cover change in East Pokot, Kenya. Documentation, ZFL, Bonn, Germany. DOI: 10.5880/TRR228DB.2

Basukala, A.K., Vehrs, H.P., Bollig, M., Greiner, C., Thonfeld, F. 2019. Dataset: Spatial-temporal analysis of land-use and land-cover change in East Pokot, Kenya. CRC/TRR228 Database (TRR228DB). DOI: 10.5880/TRR228DB.1

Bollig, M. 2018. Themenheft “Naturschutz – Teilhabe und Konflikte.” Geographische Rundschau 70 (12), darin: Naturschutz und Naturschutzgebiete weltweit: Chancen und Herausforderungen” (p.4-9) und “Gemeinschaftsbasierter Wildschutz in Nord-Namibia” (p.30-37).Link

Bollig, M. 2018. Afterword: Anthropology, Climate Change and Social-Ecological Transformations. Sociologus 68:85-94. Link

Bollig, M. 2019. The Anxieties, Thrills, and Gains of Rarity and Extinction: From Discourses on Remnant Fauna to the Globalized Protection and Marketing of Endangered Wildlife in Namibia’s “Arid Eden”. In S. Gänger & Bollig, M. (eds). Forum: Commodifying the “Wild”: Anxiety, Ecology and Authenticity in the Late Modern Era. Environmental History 24 (4). Link

Bollig, M. Future Conservation in Africa: Conserving what, and for whom, and how to do it? In: Greiner, C., van Wolputte S., & Bollig, M. (eds), African Futures. ECAS 9. 2021. Leiden. Brill.

Bollig, M. 2021. Materiality, inequality, and future‐making as focal points of future engagement of economic anthropology with climate change. Economic Anthropology 8:180-182. (Contribution to the Forum “What does economic anthropology contribute to the understanding of climate change?). DOI

Bollig, M. 2020. Shaping the African Savannah: From Capitalist Frontier to Arid Eden in Namibia. Cambridge University Press. Link

Bollig, M., Mosimane, A., Nghitevelekwa, R., Lendelvo, S. 2023. Conservation, Markets & the Environment in Southern and Eastern Africa, Commodifying the ‘Wild’. Boydell & Brewer, Woodbridge. Full Text.

Bollig, M. & Vehrs, H.P. 2020. Abundant herds: accumulation, herd management and land-use patterns in a conservation area. Pastoralism: Research, Policy and Practice. Vol 10. Link

Bollig, M. and Vehrs, H.P. 2021. The Making of a Conservation Landscape: The Emergence of a Conservationist Environmental Infrastructure Along the Kwando River in Namibia’s Zambezi Region. In: Africa. 91. No. 2: 270-95. DOI

Casimir, M., Vehrs H.P. 2019. Commenting on the article: Comparative Study of Pastoral Property Regimes in Africa Offers No Support for Economic Defensibility Model, published by Moritz, M., Gardiner, E., Hubbe, M. und A. Johnson. In: Current Anthropology. 60(5): 609-36.

Greiner, C., Vehrs, H.P. & Bollig, M. 2021. ‘Land-use and Land-cover Changes in Pastoral Drylands: Long-term Dynamics, Economic Change, and Shifting Socioecological Frontiers in Baringo, Kenya’, Human Ecology. DOI

Kalvelage, L., Revilla Diez, J., Bollig, M. 2023. Valuing Nature in Global Production Networks: Hunting Tourism and the Weight of History in Zambezi, Namibia. Annals of the American Association of Geographers. DOI

Kalvelage, L., Bollig, M., Grawert, E., Hulke, C., Meyer, M., Mkutu, K., Müller-Koné, M., Revilla Diez, J. 2021. ‘Territorialising Conservation: Community-based Approaches in Kenya and Namibia’, Conservation and Society. Access Link

Lacan, L. 2023. In the ruins of past forest lives: remembering, belonging and claiming in Katimok, highland rural Kenya, Journal of Eastern African Studies, DOI

Mosimane, A., Matengu, K. & Bollig, M.  Traditional authorities, conservation and commodification of the wild: a Namibian perspective. A Namibian perspective. In: Bollig, M., Mosimane, A. W., Nghitevelekwa, R., V. & Lendelvo, S. (eds), Conservation, Markets & the Environment in Southern and Eastern Africa Commodifying the ‘Wild’. 2023. Suffolk. James Currey.

Van Dam, A., van Engelen, W., Müller-Mahn, D., Agha, S., Junglen, S., Borgemeister, C., & Bollig, M. (2023). Complexities of multispecies coexistence: Animal diseases and diverging modes of ordering at the wildlife–livestock interface in Southern Africa. Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space, 0(0). Full Text

Vehrs, H.P. 2022. ‘Pokot Pastoralism: Environmental Change and Socio-Economic Transformation in North-West Kenya’, James Currey, Future Rural Africa Series. Access Link

Vehrs, H.P., Kalvelage, L., Nghitevelekwa, R. 2022. ‘The Power of Dissonance: Inconsistent Relations Between Travelling Ideas And Local Realities in Community Conservation in Namibia’s Zambezi Region‘, Conservation & Society, [Epub ahead of print], Link to preprint

Vehrs, H.-P., Zickel, M., 2023. Can environmental injustices be addressed in conservation? Settlement history and conservation-induced displacement in the case of Lyanshulu in the Zambezi Region, Namibia. Human Ecology (2023) Full Text

Project News

Logo der Boas Blog Serie Contested Knowledge

[DE] Boas Blog: “Content Warning? Kritische und sensible Wissensvermittlung in der ethnologischen Lehre”

In dieser Ausgabe der “Contested Knowledge” Serie der Boasblogs befassen sich Hauke-Peter Vehrs (Future Rural Africa Projekt A04 “Future Conservation”), Lamine Doumbia (Universität Bayreuth) Katrin
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Cover Image with the Logos of the CRC "Future Rural Africa"

Publication: In the Ruins of Past Lives – Remembering, Belonging and Claiming in Katimok, Highland Rural Kenya

By Léa Lacan, Project A04 “Future Conservation” Abstract This article explores how local inhabitants living near the Katimok Forest in Baringo County, Kenya, engage with
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cover image with the logos of the crc future rural africa and the ERC rewilding

Cologne International Forum: Project Interview ERC Rewilding

The Cologne International Forum met with Léa Lacan, who is a researcher in the ERC Rewilding project and an associate team member of CRC-TRR 228
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CRC-TRR Future Rural Africa at ECAS 2023

As ECAS 2023 is set to begin in Cologne on May 31, we are not only thrilled to announce that the CRC Future Rural Africa
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Picture showing the warning sign of a foot and mouth disease checkpoint

Collaboration between CRC Projects B02, C03, A04 and the ERC Rewilding leads to new interdisciplinary publication on “Complexities of multispecies coexistence”

By Arvid van Dam (Project B02), Wisse van Engelen (ERC Rewilding), Detlef Müller-Mahn (Project C03), Sheila Agha (Project B02), Sandra Junglen (Project B02), Christian Borgemeister
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Team Members

Portrait image of paula alexiou of project A04

Paula Alexiou

University of Cologne

portrait michael bollig

Prof. Dr. Michael Bollig

University of Cologne

portrait image of manuel bollmann

Manuel Bollmann

University of Cologne

portrait image of julia brekl

Julia Brekl

University of Cologne

portrait image of wisse van engelen

Wisse van Engelen

University of Cologne

portrait picture of emilie koehler

Emilie Köhler

University of Cologne

portrait image of lea lacan, researcher in project a04 future conservation

Dr. Léa Lacan

University of Cologne

Portrait of Paula-Linstaedter project A04

Paula Linstädter

University of Cologne

CRC Logo tranparent

Dr. Selma Lendelvo

University of Namibia

CRC Logo tranparent

Dr. Alfons Mosimane

University of Namibia

CRC Logo tranparent

Dr. Romie Nghitelevekwa

University of Namibia

portrait hauke peter vehrs

Dr. Hauke Peter Vehrs

University of Cologne

portrait image of peter wangai

Dr. Peter Wangai

Kenyatta University

portrait image of mirijam zickel

Mirijam Zickel

University of Cologne

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