1.1 Background of the Study
Conservation practices all over the world are changing from the traditional management approach with emphasis on managing natural resources in a way that ensures greater flow to all stakeholders especially local communities. The shift in emphasis is informed by the fact that the local communities are inextricably tied to their cultural resources based whether used as a source of food, medicine, fuel or for maintaining ecological balance (Bisong, 2001) Thus, sustainable management of natural resources requires a more comprehensive approach which include strengthening the organization and technical capabilities of rural communities, as well as engendering support for sustainable resources use from larger community group (Food and Agricultural Organization, 2005).
The rapid loss of natural resources in developing countries has become a subject of increasing international and National Concern. This is reflected in the substantial increase in the interest accorded to environmental conservation by various governments, donors and conservation agencies. The level of interest in conservation as an environmental and development problem requires practical action (Flint, 1990). the justification for community participation in natural resources conservation as viewed by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) 1990 provides that human culture must be based on a respect for nature and that the present generation have a social responsibility to conserved Nature for the welfare of future generation. The view recognizes that mankind is part of nature and that all species have an inherent right to exist regardless of their materials value to humans.
In recent times, the development communities in African have moved from “top-down” approach towards more participatory “bottom up” approaches. The shift in paradigm has occurred in recognition of the fact that local cooperation, participation and management are crucial to achieving both short term development result and long-term sustainability. Along the same lines, the conservation community is beginning to appreciate the necessity of incorporating local participating in environmental conservation Efforts. (Bamberger 1986).
The development, community participation may be viewed as a process that serves as instrument of empowerment, building beneficiary capacity, increase effectiveness desire to share cost, improve efficiency in relation to project (Paul, 1987).
To maximize the chances of sustainable conservation initiatives, rural communities need to be involved in both the concept and approach. This means that participation in decision-making process and in the evaluation, monitoring and management of resources and the environment is crucial.
This inclusiveness is more likely to build a conservation ethics where people understand that their livehood depends on healthy maintenance of the environment.
Many studies have shown community participation to be one of the critical empowerment of success is irrigation, livestock, water, forestry and agriculture projects (Sharp, 1984) community participation has become therefore very important to scholars, organizations and Nations. For instance, Ajake (1998) remarked that participation has been used to justify the extension of state forest control as well as the building of local capacity and self-reliance. It has been used to justify decision imposed by external agencies as well as describe the process of developing real power and decision making.
Experience has shown that participation grows more out of practical than normative considerations. One of the most expensive forestry programmes with community participation is that operated by village forestry associations in South Korea (AHN 1978; Eckholm, 1979) and the afforestation sub-project in Nepal (World Bank, 1975). Other experiences include community conservation in Tsavo West National park, Kenya where the local communities are involved and have benefited from conservation of protected areas. A reforestation project in Senegal gained impressive results as Senegal forest service works in rural community and councils providing them with inputs, while the village councils contribute labour to plant trees. Income generated from the sale of wood was used by the council according to its own priorities (Uphoft, 1986).
The need for communities to invest in natural resources conservation and to reduce the effect of environmental degradation is indisputable in Nigeria and particularly in Akamkpa Local Government Area of Cross River State. The people in the study area are highly dependent on forest ecosystem for its diverse and abundant Natural wildlife, land, food and water resources. The importance of these resources has caused indigenous people to diverse way of managing them sustainably. But evidence has shown that the activities of the rural people are not given consideration. In research and government policies and decisions on the management of Natural resources neglects their activities in the study area.