Originally prepared as a keynote address for the 2008 La Tapoa Workshop on Natural Resource Management (NRM) and Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM), this paper examines the Southern African experience in CBNRM over the past 20 years. From this experience the paper draws lessons on when and where CBNRM is appropriate, what can make it work, and what can make it work better. These lessons are discussed under the three categories of benefit, conservation and empowerment. Benefit is usually conceptualized in terms of financial revenue, and using a Zimbabwean case study the paper shows how in unusual circumstances this can be substantial. Normally, however, natural resource production can only supplement inputs from agriculture and other modes of production, and the paper warns against regarding CBNRM as a panacea for rural poverty. Benefit should also be understood in non-pecuniary terms, and when economic benefit is linked with authority and responsibility large increments in social capital can result. The conservation interests of donors are often perceived as being at odds with local perspectives, a perception which fails to take into consideration means-end-sequencing. A socially constructed stalemate often occurs when external agencies impose their agendas upon local populations, a stalemate which can be broken when communities are given the authority and responsibility necessary to create internally legitimate regimes. A new science which combines professional and civil inputs is required to achieve CBNRM’s goal—empowered and dynamic local regimes integrated into larger scale systems of conservation and development.