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International Environment and Development Studies


About Dr. Marja Spierenburg

Evy Jørgensen

Dr. Marja Spierenburg joined the department of Culture, Organisation and Management (COM) at the VU University Amsterdam in September 2001. Before that, she had worked for UNESCO in Senegal and in France.

Her fields of specialisation are conservation and land rights, they were also the subject of her PhD-research in Zimbabwe. Before joining COM, Marja Spierenburg focused mainly on the impacts of conservation and land reform projects on local communities. However, over the years she also developed a keen interest in the organizations that were designing and implementing these conservation and land reform projects.

  At COM, Marja Spierenburg is focusing on public private partnerships (PPPs), especially in conservation and land reform projects in Southern Africa. She is studying how governments work together with private non-profit organizations (or NGOs), but increasingly also with private for-profit organizations, to implement conservation and land reform projects. How do these organizations, with their different objectives and mandates, but often also with different organization cultures, work together to design and implement projects? Such forms of cooperation are often presented as win-win solutions, bringing together types of organizations with complementary functions and skills. What is often neglected, however, are the different interests that these organizations may have, as well as power relations between the organizations involved, but also between the organizations and the public that is supposed to benefit from public-private partnerships.

  Marja Spierenberg is involved in three main research projects in South(ern) Africa:

1. Popular land struggles, elites and nature conservation in Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TCFAs) in Southern Africa.

Time frame: 2006 – 2009, in cooperation with Stellenbosch University and funded by SANPAD.

The project consists of two components that are linked to each other. The first component investigates the role, motivations and interests of South African and transnational business elites, NGOs and donor and development agencies involved in the TFCA initiatives. It analyses the ideological and practical impacts of the involvement of these actors on community conservation initiatives linked to TFCAs. The second component is concerned with understanding the politics of trust and distrust within communities involved in TFCA initiatives, in particular those communities situated adjacent to the Kruger National Park in South Africa and those inside the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique. It is specifically concerned with community responses to land struggles and conservation interventions.

  2. Farm Dwellers, the Forgotten People? Consequences of Conversions to Private Wildlife Production in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape Time frame: 2007 – 2012, in cooperation with the University of KwaZulu Natal and the University of Cape Town and funded by both NWO-WOTRO and SANPAD.

This project addresses the role of the private sector in conservation and development. In South Africa, especially in the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, a growing trend to convert commercial farms to wildlife-based forms of land-use is noticeable. The proposed project seeks to explore the impacts of these conversions on farm dwellers; i.e. farm labourers, (former) labour and rent-paying tenants and their families. This aspect of farm conversions has received only scant attention from scholars. Two studies using surveys among a limited sample of managers of private game reserves seem to indicate that the demand for labour increases after conversion and that wages increase as well. However, rural NGOs report a significant increase in evictions of farm dwellers as a result of farm conversions. The proposed project aims to study the impacts of conversions on farm dwellers in more detail, taking into account the diversity of wildlife-based forms of land-use.

Research is conducted to determine the driving forces behind the conversions, the scale and extent of the trend in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, and the economics of the different forms of wildlife production – including private game reserves, hunting operations, and venison production. Research is conducted among wildlife producers, their representatives, and the relevant – local and national – government departments to gain insights into the driving forces and the policy environment in which wildlife producers operate. It is expected that different forms of wildlife production will have differential social and livelihood impacts on farm dwellers. Other researchers in the project engage with affected farm-based communities in a number of case study areas in each of the provinces. Farm dwellers’ responses are a key focus and the researchers work closely with AFRA and ECARP, two rural advocacy NGOs, to identify conflict resolution processes and initiatives through which the interests of different stakeholders could be reconciled and negative effects mitigated. Research findings will be disseminated to and discussed with all relevant stakeholders, including farm dwellers and their representatives, rural advocacy NGOs, wildlife producers and their representatives (e.g. ECGMA, KZNHCA), and policy-makers in government and donor organisations.

  3. Partnering with the Private Sector: The impacts of joint ventures between land reform beneficiaries and the private sector in Limpopo Province Time frame: 2007 – 2010, in cooperation with the University of the Western Cape, and funded by SANPAD.

Over the years, a shift has taken place in South Africa’s land reform programme which appears to have led to the privileging of the development of a class of black commercial farmers and the promotion of partnerships with the private sector. The proposed project focuses specifically on the latter aspect. The overall aim is to study the social and livelihood impacts for land reform beneficiaries of partnerships established by the latter with the private sector, such as in the establishment of eco-tourism enterprises or outgrower schemes for high-value crops. Case studies, conducted in Limpopo Province, pay attention to the linkages between rural and urban-based livelihood strategies, and to power configurations involving the participants in the partnerships.

  Some recent publications:

Spierenburg, Marja & Harry Wels (2010) Conservative philanthropists, royalty and business elites in nature conservation in southern Africa, Antipode,42(3), 647-670.

Spierenburg, Marja, Conrad Steenkamp & Harry Wels (2006) Resistance against the marginalization of communities in the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area, Focaal, European Journal of Anthropology, 47, 18-31.

Spierenburg, Marja & Harry Wels (2006) ‘Securing Space’: Mapping and fencing in transfrontier conservation in Southern Africa, Space & Culture, 6(3), 294-312.

Spierenburg, Marja (2005) Spirits and Land Reforms: Conflicts about Land in Dande, northern Zimbabwe, Journal of Religion in Africa, 35(2), 197-231.

Spierenburg, Marja (2004) The Land Degradation Narrative and its Counter-Narrative in the Performance of Power: Struggles between Project Staff and their Clientele over a Land Reform Programme in Northern Zimbabwe. Intervention Research: Journal for Culture Organisation and Management, 1(1), 81-102.

Evers, Sandra, Marja Spierenburg & Harry Wels (2005) (Eds.) Competing Jurisdictions; Settling land claims in Africa. Leiden: Brill : 1-19.

Draper, Malcolm, Marja Spierenburg & Harry Wels (2004) African Dreams of Cohesion: The Mythology of Community Development in Transfrontier Conservation Areas in Southern Africa. Culture & Organization, 10(4), 341-353.

Spierenburg, Marja (2004) Strangers, Spirits and Land Reforms; Conflicts about land in Dande, northern Zimbabwe, Leiden: Brill.


Updated: 26.04.11
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