Innovate differently and conservation projects succeeding, what is the connection? The AGE, 10 Sept 12, article alarmed on saying “Humans’ power to determine the future of planet Earth is increasing exponentially. The result could be disastrous unless we change the way we think”. The story referred to the “Anthropocene,” in which all earth processes come to be powerfully shaped by human activity. Also quoted is: “Of all the usable energy reaching the Earth from the sun, we humans already gather and exploit as much as 5 per cent. Nearly half of the planet’s land surface has been altered by human action and practice”. Further reading of the article refers to Sander Van Der Leeun’s assessment that humans have a problem of being obsessed with making change described as a “mismatch between brains and reality”.
Then the story ‘Conservation Project Succeeding in lower Mekong’ by Maya Thatcher and Michelle Kovacevic was noticed, 10 Sept 12, and quoted is: “For thousands of years, the people living on the banks of the Mekong river have been paddling through its often treacherous waters in wooden cargo boats laden with all manner of freshly grown produce, ready for trade….But in the last few decades they have entered a struggle of a new kind. With rising foreign investment and a rapidly expanding population demanding more than small sellers can produce and transport, trucks carrying tonnes of commercially grown produce now trundle along newly built roads slicing through the riverine forested slopes. The powerful river flow has now been interrupted by dozens of hydroelectric dams; transforming it into the ‘battery of South-East Asia’….Seeking to stave off such challenges, aid and conservation projects have moved in droves to protect one of the world’s great waterways. In the Lower Mekong Basin, where the streams flow through Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, millions of dollars have been poured into integrated conservation and development projects (or ICDPs) that attempt to promote environmental sustainability of local communities while satisfying their development demands.”
‘But are these projects succeeding?’ ask the authors of Evidence-based Conservation: Lessons from the Lower Mekong, “Many ICDPs have excessively ambitious goals and they inevitably make mistakes, so it is really important to make sure that we learn from those mistakes,”says Terry Sunderland, Principal Scientist with the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and one of the book’s editors”.
CO2Land org compared the two stories as printed and wondered should all projects where we affect the environment be judged first as potential Anthropocene? In that way the consequences of what we do would be compiled and used as monitoring systems and be inspirational as a source for learning and change. It follows “we need to know about not only project successes but also about failures – if we are to learn from them, says Jeffrey Sayer, Professor of Development Practice at James Cook University and another of the book’s editors”. He goes on the say “All too often the only motivation to put monitoring systems in place is to keep donors happy, as the value of monitoring as a source for learning and change is not yet appreciated by people on the ground.”
Although CO2Land org does prefer it to be kept simple – computer says yes takes some of the sense of achievement away for overcoming the odds. Is it possible that is what Sander Van Der Leeun meant of the discourse of our reality!
Then we read of the Mekong project many alliances were formed in eagerness to get on with it, and clear and achievable objectives were not reinforced and as such it is no easy to articulate what is achievable as long term effects.
Next comes what we have been waiting for “Market-based mechanisms may help marry conservation and development
“For long-term conservation projects, funding is crucial. In recent years, possibilities have opened up for market-based incentives like payments for environmental services (PES) and reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+), which place a value on ecosystem services, including carbon sequestration.
While the commoditisation of nature is not without its critics, Minh-Ha Hoang, formerly the Vietnam Coordinator for the World Agroforestry Centre, and another of the book’s editors argues that such schemes can play a valuable role as complementary to other funding mechanisms rather than being standalone solutions to link conservation and development.
“In Vietnam for example, REDD+ is being earmarked as a way to help ease rural poverty, however it cannot work if significant changes are not made to the country’s land tenure system as poor households are often excluded because they do not have land titles,” she said.
Fully understand the policy context
In many cases, the root causes of biodiversity loss and threats to parks can be traced to government policies. As the book highlights, while an excellent framework may be in place for conservation and poverty alleviation, success rests heavily on the implementation of legislation.
Policy challenges to protected areas are further compounded by a general lack of political commitment to conservation, as is evident in the weaknesses of many environmental agencies and poor financing of park management activities.
Learning from a ‘major conservation failure’
While the book was being compiled, conservation worldwide suffered a major blow: the Javan rhinoceros was declared extinct in Vietnam.
Despite significant government and NGO resources, poaching has killed the last of its kind in Cat Tien National Park, meaning that less than 50 individuals now survive in Indonesia.
So what went wrong?
Many conservation projects have excessively ambitious goals and they inevitably make mistakes, so it is really important we learn from those mistakes.
“Substantial investment was made in park infrastructure for eco-tourism…rather than spent on direct monitoring and protection of the Javan rhino,” Sunderland says in Killed for Keratin: The Unnecessary Extinction of the Rhino.
He adds that political will must be strengthened to stop cartels from trading in endangered species.
Conservation efforts recently gained much needed political clout when Indonesia’s President announced the International Year of the Rhino, aimed to help safeguard the future of Javan and Sumatran rhinos. Nevertheless, some conservationists remain cautious in their outlook, saying that now policy makers must follow through on their promises.
Sunderland warns that turning words into action is no easy task. Enforcing national and international legislation to protect endangered species is not only expensive but also highly contentious.
“Conservationists have been roundly criticized for implementing what is regarded as draconian efforts at protecting species at the expense of local livelihoods, as local people are often excluded from protected areas,” he says.
But perhaps enforcing ‘best practice’ regulations is exactly what’s needed for conservation and development projects striving to succeed in aiding the people, flora and fauna that still subsist in the Lower Mekong Basin.
To get your copy of Evidence-based Conservation: Lessons from the Lower Mekong please click here.
CO2Land org has no more to add, other than say it is time for a reality check – what we do has a cause and an effect.