Newsletter No 4 December 2011

Biodiversity protection and livelihoods: discourse and reality.

Jetske Bouma & Dave Huitema


 The international conversation about biodiversity increasingly emphasizes synergies between biodiversity conservation and the improvement of local livelihoods. In line with this, there is much advocacy of co-management and the meaningful participation of local communities in government decisions about protected areas. But is it true that local communities are invited to play a role in policy making, and if so can actually play such a role? Is it true that local communities, and especially the poor members of such communities, benefit from biodiversity conservation?

Within the context of the EU funded project LiveDiverse, an IVM team decided to test these assumptions with a group of colleagues elsewhere (see for more information on our partners the LiveDiverse website) by analyzing decisions about certain protected areas in four developing countries; the table provides an overview.

  Costa Rica South Africa India Vietnam
Case study areaTerraba basinMutale basinWarna river basin  Ba Be national park, Na Hang nature reserve
Decision analyzedAdoption of the Terraba Sierpe Management PlanDivision of benefits from the Makuya ParkChandoli WS Resettlement, Chandoli and Sahyadri statusesBa Be and Na Hang  Integration; Ba Be status

The resulting report  arrives at several conclusions that shed a critical light on some of the assumptions that underpin current trends in biodiversity protection policy.

The first observation made by the team is that ideas to change policies about protected areas do not emanate from the local population in any of the case studies. Instead, the initiative is either with international NGOs or with the national bureaucracy that is tasked with biodiversity protection. The initiators do not always operate in a very transparent way, and real and true participation in the decision process is rare – only in Costa Rica a participatory decision process ensued. At least in the case studies analyzed here, we can conclude that currently there is some way to go before we can truly speak about co-management.


The second observation regarding the potential for community co management is that community co-management of biodiversity protection could eventually work in some of the study sites, but only when livelihoods are strongly linked to nature protection and when communities are able to self-enforce restricted resource use. In Costa Rica, we assessed how perceptions of protected area management influence individual willingness to self-enforce restricted resource extractions, finding that only those individuals who trust park officials and that feel the community can influence protected area management restrain their extractions from the common pool.

Our third observation refers to statement made by influential reports like the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment that protecting biodiversity improves local livelihoods and alleviates poverty at the same time. We actually found that this only holds when biodiversity protection generates local revenues from tourism, in most other cases the resource restrictions pertaining to protected area management are more likely to constrain local livelihoods, increasing household vulnerability especially when people are displaced.

Overall, the findings suggest that involving local communities in biodiversity protection is key to improving protected area management and avoiding adverse livelihood effects. Investments in increased agricultural productivity and local tourism development may increase local benefits from conservation, investments in alternative energy sources and increased agricultural productivity may reduce local environmental impacts. The main drivers of biodiversity depletion are usually not local, however, so decentralizing management to local communities is not the answer, but rather the co-management of protected areas with active participation and linking of policy actors at different scales.

LiveDiverse, funded by the European Community’s Seventh Framework Action Programme under Grant Agreement 211392

Contact: jetske.bouma,