Power and politics in stakeholder engagement : farm dweller (in)visibility and conversions to game farming in South Africa
CITATION: Brandt, F., Josefsson, J. & Spierenburg, M. 2018. Power and politics in stakeholder engagement : farm dweller (in)visibility and conversions to game farming in South Africa. Ecology and Society, 23(3):32, doi:10.5751/ES-10265-230332.
The original publication is available at https://www.ecologyandsociety.org
Here, we discuss tensions inherent in multistakeholder approaches addressing conflicts over natural resources as well as the involvement of stakeholders in research. Our discussion is built on knowledge generated by extensive research on the impacts of private farm conversions to game farms in South Africa, where significant increases in farm conversions have been observed since the 1990s. The studies had a particular focus on the consequences for farm dwellers, one of the most marginalized groups in the South African countryside. The research findings challenge the dominant narrative that game farming offers a win-win situation for nature conservation and rural development. Based on data from the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces, we extended the narrow technical and economic framing of the narrative to include the socio-political meanings of the conversions. We reflect on a series of multistakeholder workshops that we organized, partly as a requirement of the funding agency. The workshop aims were to disseminate our research findings among the stakeholder groups and explore ways to mitigate the negative impacts of conversions. We discuss how we organized the engagement process in ways that sought to address the power differences between game farmers, the State, and farm dwellers. The main challenge appeared to be that farm dwellers were not recognized as stakeholders. This “invisibility” has multiple reasons, in particular, the historical and current trajectories of land dispossession. It is also linked to specific institutional and personal relations in the two provinces, resulting in different uses of the workshop spaces. By considering the complexities of stakeholder relations in the farm conversion context, we gained a deeper understanding of the politics of land and belonging in the still unequal post-apartheid rural landscape. Based on experiences from the research as well as the workshops, we take a critical stance regarding mainstream notions of stakeholder engagement and resilience building. We argue that if we fail to consider power relations and politics explicitly in these processes, we risk neglecting important conflicts and reproducing the invisibility of marginalized stakeholders.