There are lots of bloggers already writing about biodiversity (e.g Earth Watch Institute’s “Unlocked” Blog) and poverty (e.g. The Guardian’s “Poverty matters” Blog), there’s even some that are writing about them both (for example see Dilys Roe’s blog on “What we know about how biodiversity and poverty are linked: The good, the bad and the ugly”). So, my initial question was, do we need another one? A few conversations and thinking sessions later, I realised that there’s space for more discussion and debate about the links between biodiversity and poverty, and that the more people that contribute to this and engage with the topic the better.
Last weekend I was watching Sunday Brunch on Channel 4. I listened to Liz Bonnin talk about the new BBC1 show, “Animals in Love”, and how we need more protected areas to promote conservation. When we think of conservation it’s easy to think about protection and maintaining pristine environments as the best way to achieve biodiversity conservation. This isn’t surprising given that lot of early conservation work involved the establishment of protected areas, an indeed some of it still does. And there’s been successes – evidence suggests that protected areas can conserve biodiversity. Great news for conservation, right? Well, not always. The problem with this is that we know that protected areas can displace local communities, denying them access to land and other resources. This can undermine human well-being and poverty reduction efforts. Protected areas are not always the best solution.
So, I was instantly intrigued by the simplicity of the “we need more protected areas” argument – was Liz Bonnin not up-to-date with the latest academic research??? Probably not. And that frustrated me more. Not only because there was no reference to the well-documented problems that research has uncovered, but also because it highlights the all too often the disconnect that exists between the, predominantly academic, world of research and what’s going on in the ‘real world’ (for want of a better term). And I believe that these are important issues to address. We need to recognise and engage with the complexities of the relationships between poverty and conservation. To oversimplify them is misleading. It’s all too easy to see human beings as a conservation problem, but they’re also the solution: we need to recognise that people have acted as environmental stewards for generations and can create positive future change.
Unfortunately, the evidence about the best way to address both poverty and biodiversity is limited, for example we don’t know what works, what doesn’t, and why. There’s also the problem that the evidence we do have doesn’t reach a wide audience. So there’s a lot of assumptions and misconceptions that we need to understand. Not only does this highlight that we need more research, but also highlights that we need to engage more actively with as many people as possible. There has been progress in this area, for example many of the big conservation organisations, and increasingly universities, are involved with awareness raising activities, including public engagement. However, more needs to be done and we need to be creative.
That’s where my current job comes in. I’ve been employed by LTS International who manage the Darwin Initiative on behalf of the United Kingdom Government’s Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) and Department for International Development (DFID). The Darwin Initiative is a long-standing grants programme that has had substantial impact on the conservation of biodiversity since its launch in 1992. It has funded over 900 projects in 158 different countries. Initially, Darwin Initiative focussed on biodiversity and helping countries meet their objectives under various biodiversity conventions (click here for more about the Darwin Initiative). Since 2011, Darwin Initiative projects are required to meet dual objectives of attempting to achieve gains in biodiversity and poverty alleviation (see more in this Learning Note). My role is to conduct a review of the Darwin Initiative to look what progress has been made and understand how projects are contributing biodiversity and poverty alleviation. There’s so much opportunity to learn from the vast amount of experience gained through Darwin Initiative projects. They can help us better understand the relationship between biodiversity and poverty and how we can better meet these dual objectives.
The review is important on many levels. For funded and future projects it will provide guidance and best practice on how to meet these dual objectives. For the UK Government it will provide robust evidence for why it’s important to continue to support biodiversity, and the links with poverty reduction. We also think that there’s also interest to a wider audience (hence this blog).
Working as part of the Darwin Initiative means that we want to conduct robust and rigorous research, in a way that address a ‘real’ practical need, and talk to people about it. Can we achieve this? Well, we don’t have plans for a slot on Sunday Brunch any time soon, but we do believe that writing this blog is an important first step towards opening up the communication channels. We’re keen to engage in conversations too – so please send us your comments, follow us on Twitter (@Darwin_Defra and @LTSI_Jami) or drop us an Email (firstname.lastname@example.org) – we’d love to hear from you!