LiveDiverse protects livelihoods and biodiversity
There is no question that protecting biological diversity is essential to maintaining ecosystems around the world. But what about the human populations that live in these protected environments?
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In answering this question, the EU-funded LiveDiverse project worked with rural people in and around protected areas in Costa Rica, India, South Africa, and Vietnam to balance the need to preserve their livelihoods with maintaining the rich biodiversity of the areas in which they live.
From 2009 to 2012, LiveDiverse studied how the livelihoods of rural people in and around protected areas can be improved while biodiversity is conserved. “We realised that in many areas, biodiversity was being prioritised and protected, but there was a question of how the people living in these areas were benefiting from our efforts,” says Alistair Rieu-Clarke, a principal investigator for the University of Dundee, who took on a role as coordinator for stakeholder engagement. “For example, is the revenue from national parks going to the government or to the people living there, and how is it enhancing their livelihoods?”
In the Ba Be National Park of Vietnam, for example, the livelihoods of rural populations living in and around protected areas are often based on a combination of agriculture, fishing, hunting and the collection of edible and medicinal plants, fruits and herbs. Illegal hunting and fishing, along with the excessive collection of natural products, all have a negative impact on biodiversity.
“In order to protect biodiversity and increase livelihoods, people need alternatives to the overuse of products from the protected areas,” adds project coordinator Geoffrey Gooch. “More productive agricultural methods can increase crops and provide more food, but it is also necessary to develop new sources of income.”
Gooch says these income sources might include the managed and sustainable collection and sale of plants, fruits and herbs, the development of ecotourism, sale of traditional handicrafts and the development of small-scale tourist accommodation, as well as paid involvement in the protection of biodiversity.
A New approach to an old problem
The ecological needs and threats to biodiversity are well-known and documented. Much less known, however, are the other aspects of sustainability, such as socioeconomic sustainability, which includes the livelihoods of rural populations. LiveDiverse increased knowledge in this area through an integrated study of the ecological, socio-economic and cultural or spiritual vulnerability of aquatic and riparian biodiversity in four case studies taking place in the Ba Be/Na Hang Conservation Complex in northern Vietnam; the Western Ghats in India; the Terraba River basin in Costa Rica; and the Greater Kruger Area in South Africa.
Inclusion is important
Based on its work across a wide geographic area, the project came to the general conclusion that if the livelihoods of local people are to be increased while biodiversity is simultaneously protected, local populations must be included in discussions on the management of the protected areas. In addition, concrete, short-term benefits for them must also be included in management plans – and funded. More so, local authorities must provide active and genuine support for both small-scale developments and larger infrastructure improvements.
“An important, policy-relevant conclusion is that while research projects such as LiveDiverse can help identify potential sources of sustainable development and provide the scientific expertise to motivate such developments, they need to be tied into potential funding schemes from the very beginning,” concludes Gooch.