Reconciling biodiversity conservation and poverty alleviation

Freddy Pattiselanno (Fakultas Peternakan Perikanan & Ilmu Kelautan); Agustina Y.S. Arobaya (Fakultas Kehutanan) Universitas Negeri Papua, Manokwari

Over the last decade the conservation of biodiversity has become an objective of international conventions, national governments, state agencies, nongovernmental organizations, local communities, school clubs, and individuals. Enormous opportunities have set up to fund conservation as an integral part of global warming mitigation, and billions of dollars have also spent in the name biodiversity.

As one among 12 “mega-diversity”, Indonesia is also highlighted as the third among the mega diversity countries after China and India that has huge number of human population, and including in a group of eight countries with 5–19% of their populations undernourished (FAO, 2000).  Food insecurity is more often linked to poverty because poverty encompasses more than a lack of money. The World Bank estimation about 64 million more people mostly from the rural areas are living in extreme poverty (below US$1.25/day) in 2010. They often lack education, skills, capital and market access. They have no options for alternative livelihoods or sources of food and non-traditional economic demands have led to alarming levels of unrestrained flora fauna extraction in tropical forests.

Any human activity that results in substantial resource extraction or modification will always entail significant, often unknown, and almost always unappreciated consequences for one or more biodiversity component primarily by redirecting matter and energy flows.  As W.E. Rees has said “in effect, thermodynamic law dictates that all material economic ‘production’ is really consumption, and in this simple reality lies the root of our environmental crisis.” The implications are clear. There is a remarkable overlap between countries of mega-diversity and those with poor and hungry people. The population growth rate in these countries is considerably higher 89 people/km2 than the global average 46 people/km2, accordingly the pressures on the environment will continue to increase (World Bank, 2000; UN, 2000).

On the other hand, Indonesia is also actively involved in achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In 2000, the first of the United Nations MDGs, agreed to halve, both the proportion of people whose income is less than $1 a day and the proportion of people who suffer from hunger between 1990 and 2015.By the start of the 21st century, a remarkable international agreement on the urgency of global poverty elimination had made the relation between biodiversity conservation and poverty reduction.

However, we face a predicament because of the increasing concern that global efforts to maintain biodiversity are in conflict with those to reduce poverty and food insecurity and become an important element of debate about conservation policy.

It is widely argued that biodiversity underpins the livelihood strategies of the rural poor. Therefore, biodiversity loss and poverty are linked problems and that conservation and poverty reduction should be tackled together.

Nevertheless, success with integrated strategies is elusive. There is sharp debate about the social impacts of conservation programs and the success of community-based approaches to conservation.  Clear conceptual frameworks are needed if policies in these two areas are to be combined.

A strong body of opinion that poverty elimination and conservation can happen together are mainly based on the approach of ‘‘pro-poor conservation’’ that has been used to identify conservation strategies that are designed to deliver both poverty reduction and biodiversity protection.  So, what specifically might pro-poor conservation actually require? In specific, Kaimowitz and Sheil (2007) pointed out that the basic principles are finding, developing, maintaining, and safeguarding managed landscapes that include adequate areas to serve as sources of fauna and flora for local people, especially those who are vulnerable and marginalized.

Unfortunately, conservation programs that address basic human needs are often invested in different places and ways than those focused on saving species from extinction. The emphasis needs to be on places where many people rely on declining wild resources with few substitutes.  Needless to say, a pro-poor approach to conservation inevitably implies working closely with communities rather than fencing them out. It goes beyond most (though by no means all) previous ‘community,’ ‘participatory,’ or ‘development’ efforts intended primarily to win local acceptance of other people’s conservation agendas. It involves focusing on the weak and vulnerable, not only the politically perceptive and influential.

Even when conservation is the primary goal, greater efforts are needed to ensure compensation and incentives are better targeted, and address those with few livelihood alternatives (Spiteri & Nepal 2006). Such targeting becomes doubly vital in a pro-poor approach. In brief, for pro-poor conservation, the needs of the poor and the threats to these needs must be better recognized, understood, and addressed. Beyond that, a plurality of alternatives and options seems possible.

The best options will depend on local needs and circumstances. It’s true, because the links between biodiversity and livelihoods, and between conservation and poverty reduction, are dynamic and locally specific.  We still have a lot to learn, but we know enough to make a start.

Integrated natural resources use into plans for managing a wide range of forest resources is currently urgent not only for biodiversity conservation purpose, but also for poverty alleviation of the poor remote rural peoples who mostly rely on the sources.

Another thing is, biodiversity benefits are often considered contribute trivially for economic growth, and very little account is taken of the fact that biodiversity is part of the natural capital play that an important role in providing livelihoods of the rural poor. For example, the exploration and utilization of biodiversity can lead to commercial benefits — presently referred to as “bio-prospecting”, that may serve as a source of income.

Within this framework, there is a need to help addressing the same understand and commitment for poverty alleviation and biodiversity conservation, albeit in different ways for different institution.

As a final point, we have to think of a regime of utilization of biological resources that is sustainable and contributes to poverty alleviation.  Development of biodiversity prospects will not only improve our awareness of the importance of biological resources, it will produce financial benefits as well.

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