Competing Claims on Natural Resources: Overcoming Mismatches in Resource Use through a Multi-Scale Perspective

Competing claims on natural resources have become increasingly acute, with the poor being most vulnerable to adverse outcomes of such competition. The major challenge for science and development policies is to progress from facilitating univocal use, to guiding stakeholders in dealing with (potentially conflicting) multiple uses of natural resources. The development of novel, more equitable, management options that reduce rural poverty is key to achieving sustainable use of natural resources and the resolution of conflicts over them.

Research will be conducted in southern Africa, a region characterized by heterogeneous and highly dynamic resource uses. A comparative approach will be used to examine the different drivers of resource use dynamics and the interacting claims of multiple stakeholders on these resources. Four countries are included in the programme in order to capture contrasting, yet interlocking, socio-political and institutional environments in which competing claims are played out (while agro-ecological conditions remain fairly similar).

Scope & Objectives

The aim of this research programme is to develop an interdisciplinary and interactive methodological approach for:

  • the understanding of competing claims and stakeholder strategies;
  • the identification of alternative resource use options, and;
  • the scientific support to negotiation processes between stakeholders, with the aim to develop policy interventions that simultaneously improve livelihoods and the sustainable use of natural resources.

The programme not only seeks to describe and explain resource use dynamics and competing claims. It will also explore alternatives that can contribute to more sustainable and equitable use of natural resources and, where possible, design new technical options and institutional arrangements. Moreover, the Competing Claims programme will actively contribute to negotiation processes between stakeholders operating at different scales.


Twelve PhD students will be working under the umbrella of the Competing Claims on Natural Resources programme. Their subjects are:


  • Redressing asymmetry in resource allocation through co-operation among livestock and wildlife systems.
  • People and policies in the cattle sector in Botswana.


  • Agent-based simulations of land use negotiations with spatial land use models: dealing with uncertainty at the Great Limpopo Trans-frontier Conservation area.
  • Mobile resources and resource use: drawing ecological and social boundaries.
  • The role of social and technical innovations in resolving competing claims for natural resources.

South Africa

  • Visualising solution space and trade-offs in relocation and land reform.
  • An environmental economic analysis of the impact of a shift to animal production in South Africa.
  • Competing claims, competing discourses- a case study of the Southpansberg area of South Africa.


  • Forest and people interactions in the South East Lowveld, Zimbabwe: who is at risk?
  • Vulnerability and resilience of competing land-based livelihoods in south-eastern Zimbabwe.


  • Predicting consumption of resources along gradients of nutrients and moisture.
  • Soil carbon distribution and change as indicator of land quality, sustainability and viability of land use in southern Africa.

More Information

For more detailed information about the Competing Claims programme, please visit the Competing Claims on Natural Resources website.