Should MPAs Play a Role in Reducing Poverty?

MPA News

Poverty can have a profound impact on protected areas. When surrounding communities are desperate for money or food, public support for protected area regulations - including rules against harvesting wildlife - will often decline. As a result, conflicts and enforcement costs increase, and protected area goals may be compromised.

At the World Parks Congress in 2003, delegates formally agreed that the long-term sustainability of protected area networks and the achievement of poverty reduction were inextricably linked (see box at end of article). Calling on governments to "maximize" the contribution of protected areas to sustainable development and poverty-reduction efforts, the delegates declared that protected areas "should strive to contribute to poverty reduction at the local level."

The concept makes sense. But with many MPAs worldwide already struggling to achieve their biodiversity conservation goals, is it realistic to expect managers to add poverty reduction to their list of responsibilities? Or is there no other choice? This month, MPA News takes a conceptual look at what role MPAs can, or should, play in reducing poverty.

MPAs and "pro-poor" management

To the extent that an MPA actively works to aid poor populations nearby, such management might be referred to as "pro-poor". This term was the basis for an international study from 2001-2003 in which researchers explored opportunities for pro-poor management at existing MPAs throughout the Caribbean. Such opportunities could include providing alternative and fishery-related livelihoods, increasing benefits to local communities from tourism, and involving locals more fully in management decisions. The project was funded by the UK Department for International Development and conducted by scientists from the University of the West Indies (Barbados) and MRAG, a UK-based consultancy.

"Several studies had shown the ecological benefits of MPAs," says Caroline Garaway, an anthropologist formerly with MRAG and now at the University College London. "But fewer had shown their socioeconomic benefits - and costs - or researched the barriers to their benefit provision to poorer groups. This project was born specifically to fill that gap." The project analyzed the institutional designs, policy frameworks, and community impacts of four MPAs in particular: Princess Alexandra Land & Sea National Park, Turks & Caicos; Negril Marine Park, Jamaica; Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Belize; and Glover's Reef Marine Park, Belize. Ultimately, the research team determined that management at each site could do more to help reduce poverty, including by developing other options for local livelihoods.

However, when the research results were presented to MPA practitioners and scientists, the concept of pro-poor management of MPAs was questioned. In a workshop held to discuss the project at the November 2002 annual conference of the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute, attendees challenged the term "pro-poor" and whether poverty reduction should be an explicit objective of MPA management.

"The objection to 'pro-poor' came from several angles," says Garaway. "For some, the term suggested that poverty alleviation was an objective of MPA management, and this was something they did not agree with. If poverty alleviation occurred, that was all well and good. But MPAs were about environmental conservation first and foremost, and that should not be deviated from." She says other attendees objected to the division of stakeholders into subgroups - poor and not poor - rather than considering communities as a whole.

Biologist Hazel Oxenford of the University of West Indies, a co-investigator on the project, admits that tying poverty to MPAs is somewhat awkward. "The idea that MPAs are for poor people seems wrong," she says. "MPAs are about conserving and sustaining resources and livelihoods of those who rely on the resources - poor or otherwise."

Some attendees suggested that instead of looking at how MPAs could reduce poverty, researchers should examine how reducing poverty could improve management. Garaway sees the difference: one mindset views poverty reduction as an end in itself, while the other sees it as a means to improved conservation. But she suggests that the two views are not mutually exclusive.

"MPA agencies should be interested in addressing the needs and concerns of poorer groups," she says. "Apart from anything else, support of such people will be crucial for policing MPAs when the MPA management resources for doing so are scarce. At the same time, those primarily interested in poverty reduction should take an interest in MPA management. The long-term effects of environmental degradation that may come from ineffective MPA management are likely to have a long-term detrimental impact on poor user groups who rely on that environment. From our point of view, it is in the interests of MPA agencies and those interested in poverty reduction to identify opportunities and constraints to implementing MPAs, and to do so in a way sensitive to the needs of poorer groups living in and around them."

For more information on the project, titled "Institutional Evaluation of Caribbean Marine Protected Areas and Opportunities for Pro-Poor Management", visit http://www.mragltd.com/e-LandWater.htm. (Scroll down the page to find the project.)

Weighing conservation and poverty reduction

Following the 2003 World Parks Congress, biologist Tim McClanahan of the US-based Wildlife Conservation Society wrote an essay that was published in the journal Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems (14:1-4). Reviewing recommendations from the congress, McClanahan asked readers how protected areas could solve poverty and other problems while still maintaining their core goal of biodiversity conservation. MPA News turned the question back to him.

"If I had the answer I probably would not have posed the question," says McClanahan, who has studied tropical marine ecosystems worldwide, including extensive research on Kenyan MPAs. "We need to constantly ask, attempt to answer, and return to this question as we develop and monitor conservation and poverty reduction programs. Otherwise, we will continue to fool ourselves about what is conservation and poverty reduction, and continue to confuse the two issues in our attempt to include all the underdogs."

McClanahan says there is a shifting baseline not only for the state of nature but also for what we consider to be conservation. "This will trouble those of us who would like to see the maintenance of indigenous biodiversity and self-organizing ecosystems," he says. "We like to imagine that by assisting both the poor and nature that we will ultimately triumph. But this is naive. We need to work beyond the good feelings and dissect the relationship to develop a long-term functional relationship that does not compromise biodiversity. Ultimately an objective measure of success is needed, which is the state of indigenous biodiversity and ecological processes."

He says that the ability of MPAs to reduce poverty is situation-dependent, based largely on the local economy, the state of fisheries, and whether tourism is feasible in the area. Where the likelihood of tourism is low, for example, the benefits of no-take zones to local communities may be minimal in many cases, at least until resource abundance increases in the closed areas and starts to replenish surrounding fishable waters, he says. That could take years to occur. (He notes that if overfishing were occurring beforehand, then the no-take zones would be beneficial - tourism or not - by protecting the existence of the resource.)

In contrast, where tourism is relatively high, MPAs are likely to alleviate poverty when the wealth is equitably distributed - "...which cannot be safely assumed," says McClanahan. He adds that tourism will not be sufficient in most areas of the world to support the size and number of MPAs needed to preserve biodiversity. "Therefore, extrapolating estimates of wealth generation from the few highly successful tourism-dependent MPAs to the rest of the globe will suffer from extreme scaling and assumption problems," he says.

"We are much better at monitoring and giving voice to poverty than we are to the state of indigenous biodiversity," says McClanahan. "Because poverty metrics and the associated political voice are seductive, they can easily tip the balance toward man and away from nature. The shift away from biodiversity will continue until we understand when biodiversity conservation and poverty reduction are compatible and when they are not. This is probably the greatest contemporary challenge of our time."

For more information:
Hazel Oxenford, Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies (CERMES), University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Barbados. Tel: +1 246 417 4571; E-mail: hoxenford [at] uwichill.edu.bb

Caroline Garaway, Department of Anthropology, Room 201B, Darwin Building, University College London, London WC1E 6BT, UK. Tel: +44 20 7679 2465; E-mail: c.garaway [at] ucl.ac.uk

Tim McClanahan, Wildlife Conservation Society, Coral Reef Conservation, Kibaki Flats no.12, Bamburi, Kenyatta Beach, P.O. Box 99470, Mombasa, Kenya. Postal Code: 80107. Tel: +254 41 548 6549; E-mail: tmcclanahan [at] wcs.org


BOX: WPC Recommendation 5.29

Delegates to the 2003 World Parks Congress in Durban, South Africa, approved a formal recommendation on the subject of poverty and protected areas. In the recommendation, delegates to the once-a-decade meeting of government officials, scientists, and conservationists stated the following:

"Given the fact that many local communities living in and around protected areas have limited development opportunities, protected areas offer a currently untapped opportunity to contribute to poverty reduction while continuing to maintain their vital function in conserving biodiversity. Recognizing the importance of people in conservation, we need to support poor communities to act as the new frontline of conservation. This implies new ways of working with local communities to act as custodians of biodiversity through working with protected area authorities, and to build their ability to manage their own areas...."

The complete recommendation, including general instructions for governments, intergovernmental organizations, NGOs, and donors, is available online at http://www.iucn.org/themes/wcpa/wpc2003/pdfs/outputs/recommendations/approved/english/html/r29.htm.


BOX: Planning alternative livelihoods

Where can MPA practitioners go for practical guidance on making poverty reduction a part of their activities? For those interested in developing alternative livelihoods for local stakeholders, a guidebook by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) offers straightforward advice. Local Business for Global Biodiversity Conservation: Improving the Design of Small Business Development Strategies in Biodiversity Projects helps readers determine whether and how a business development strategy should be pursued, and describes the most suitable types of products or services to develop. The 76-page publication is available in PDF format at http://www.undp.org/gef/undp-gef_publications/publications/localbus_globalbdconserv.pdf.

Also, the lead article in the August 2003 issue of MPA News (5:2) - "When Fishing Grounds Are Closed: Developing Alternative Livelihoods for Fishing Communities" - provides examples of how resource managers have worked to help fishermen and communities adjust economically to fishing closures. The examples are from eastern Canada, Komodo National Park in Indonesia, and the Indian Ocean.


BOX: Poverty on agenda at World Conservation Congress

The impact of poverty on protected areas and other conservation programs will be a major topic of discussion at the Third IUCN World Conservation Congress, to occur 17-25 November 2004 in Bangkok, Thailand. Several workshops and roundtable discussions will focus on poverty reduction and conservation, and one workshop will specifically assess the impact of poverty on protected areas. The congress is the general assembly of IUCN members, which takes place every three to four years. IUCN, also called the World Conservation Union, has members from 140 countries, including 77 nations, 114 government agencies, and more than 800 NGOs. For more information about the congress, including a list of workshops and other events, visit http://www.iucn.org/congress/index.cfm. MPA News will report on MPA-related outcomes of the congress in a future issue.