Can conservation cut poverty?

Posted on: September 22, 2010

Director of Programs


A commentary in Nature last week redirects the spotlight to a central question for the environment and development agendas: can efforts to conserve biodiversity also benefit the poor?

There is growing social and ecological evidence suggesting that a large number of opportunities exist globally for projects that protect ecosystems to also benefit people's livelihoods. For example, research by Will Turner and this colleagues at Conservation International shows that water conservation projects could aid poverty alleviation. But not all agree.

Bill Adams from the University of Cambridge, an often harsh commentator of efforts to protect biodiversity, is of the opinion that poverty alleviation must take precedence over biodiversity considerations, while admitting that we should continue to strive to pursue both wherever we can.

My own particular reading of the evidence base is that there are plenty of opportunities for both objectives to be brought closer together. The nagging question then becomes: if it is quite conceivable being able to protect biodiveristy in context of poverty alleviation, why aren't we producing more successful experiences?

Poor project planning, inadequate siting of the interventions from both social and economic standpoints, and careless implementation are perhaps behind the mixed track record of the combined approach.

These limiations were often featured in the now infamous ICDPs - Integrated Conservation and Development Projects - that many young professionals at GEF may have never heard of. What this all means is that the verdict is still out. The GEF is a great laboratory to learn from, particularly in the GEF-5 cycle, given that we will be striving to produce benefits across multiple focal areas.

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