Does conserving biodiversity work to reduce poverty?

"Poverty has proved to be the most intractable problem facing humankind and research has shown time and again that the impacts of environmental deterioration usually hit hardest at the poorest members of society."

The quote comes from a report co-authored by WWF in 2004. The report lists examples where well planned and managed protected areas have helped to bring financial security to communities. And poverty alleviation is a significant part of the sustainability model that the Magaliesberg Biosphere will have to adopt. Knowing which mechanisms have been effective will allow us to learn from others.

With the financial woes of the planet biting hard, The Nature Conservancy posed the question "Does conserving biodiversity work to reduce poverty?" This more recent report (August 2010) identifies 10 conservation mechanisms proven to benefit the rural poor. Four are specific to forestry/forests, one to fishing and the remaining five mechanisms may be of relevance in the Biosphere.

Payments for Environmental Services

This mechanism is invariably linked to land use, meaning the poorest of the poor seldom benefit directly as they do not own or control the land. The benefits from this mechanisms tend to be capacity building and improved social organisation. The mechanism tends to have a high transaction cost.

Nature-Based Tourism

The opportunities for reducing poverty include formal jobs, new markets for local services and products, and the introduction of infrastructure. Through this mechanism the indirect benefits often outweigh the direct benefits, and there are multiplier effects. The tourism industry also includes 12% more women than in the general workforce. The poverty reduction benefits increase where an operator hires and trains local people.

Tourism's ecological impact should not exceed limits of acceptable change in a location which would jeopardise both the tourism and biodiversity.

Protected Areas

When a protected area is established, there are jobs created to operate the protected area. WWF's report of 2004 reported that in South Africa 21 national parks employ 3776 people, and the average wage for a national park employee was four times greater than the minimum wage in the forestry sector.

On the other hand, few jobs in protected areas are reserved for local people, and those requiring local knowledge (guides, for example) tend to pay too little to lift a local person out of poverty.

Grassland Management

Rotational grazing is one of the few production systems which are compatible with conservation. Acquiring animals can be a pathway out of poverty for some. Uncertainties to factor in include the challenges to better grassland management, global competition for livestock markets and climate change.

Agrobiodiversity Conservation

The mechanism includes the conservation of all the variety and variability of animals, plants and micro-organisms used directly and indirectly for food and agriculture. Promoting agrobiodiversity benefit poor farmers through better nutrition and more stable food production. Conserving native varieties of plants and animals also helps diversity, pollinators, birds and some mammals. Genetic biodiversity is an important consideration for success. Low-input agriculture on marginal lands has been shown to benefit poor farmers.

The report concludes "Overuse of biodiversity will only be reduced when tangible livelihood gains are derived from its sustainable use".

The context to the water problems at Hartbeespoort dam, beyond the raw sewage.

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