Project sheds light on complex links between poverty and threats to wild species

News, 16 September 2013
Project by IIED and partners helps conservation to benefit poor communities in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda.

Mountain Gorilla in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Researchers will meet in Kampala, Uganda this week to share the first findings of a project that aims to help low-income communities benefit more from living near Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, where conservation priorities can impose limits on their livelihoods.

Government agencies and nongovernmental organisations have adopted this approach — termed Integrated Conservation and Development (ICD) — because poverty, people’s access to natural resources and the ecological health of the national park are so closely linked.

The project has found that whilst poverty often compels people to collect resources illegally from the park, the poorer villagers were likely to collect minor forest products such as firewood. By contrast, the bushmeat hunters —who pose a greater threat to conservation— were amongst the wealthier members of their communities.

"The common assumption -- that poverty drives people to use resources illegally – is over-simple," says project coordinator Andy Gordon-Maclean, a researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development. "The links between poverty and threats to wild species are more complex and it is that critical conservationists understand this."

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is home to 400 of the world’s total population of 900 mountain gorillas and tourists pay five hundred dollars for a chance to see these apes. The potential for local people to benefit is clear.

The project found however that wealthier villagers gained more benefits from the park than poorer neighbours who lived closer to park.

Those villagers who live closest to the park are in a poverty trap, having less education, being at greater disease risk from poor sanitation and more likely to go hungry. They also had less access to social services and markets, a lower sense of wellbeing. Crop raiding by wild animals from the national park exacerbates the situation.

"The results to date show that not only do the poor get fewer benefits than wealthier villagers, they also tend to do less harm," says Gordon-Maclean. "These findings indicate that for ICD to work it needs to provide benefits to meet the needs of the poorest communities whilst acting to limit the threats that wealthier people pose."

This will require ICD implementers to consult and engage more effectively with local communities. The researchers found that villagers were more likely to feel positive about ICD and the national park if they participate in the planning and implementation. "For ICD to work, communities must feel they own it," says Gordon-Maclean.

The research is the first major project of the Uganda Poverty and Conservation Learning Group, a local chapter of the Poverty and Conservation Learning Group, which aims to promote a better understanding of the links between conservation and poverty in order to improve conservation and poverty policy and practice.

The workshop will take place on 17-18 September 2013 at the Metropole Hotel, Plot 51/53, Windsor Crescent, P.O. Box 22774, Kampala, Uganda.  +256414391000.

Read more about this project: Uganda project to strengthen policies that link poverty and conservation

Read Andy Gordon-Maclean’s blog post: Uganda: Can a gorilla park deliver more benefits to local people?

Photo credit: Mountain gorilla in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, by Sabine's Sunbird/Wikipedia.

Contact

For more information and interviews contact: Andy Gordon-Maclean (andrew.gordon-maclean@iied.org)

Notes to editors

The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) is an independent, non-profit research institute. Set up in 1971 and based in London, IIED provides expertise and leadership in researching and achieving sustainable development (see: www.iied.org).

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