Well-managed conservation areas can generate significant financial value in the form of tourism, carbon, and biodiversity credits – to say nothing of their psychological, scientific, cultural and inspirational value.
For natural landscapes and societies to thrive, communities and national governments must derive real and recurring benefits and prioritise conservation over other potential land use options so that these benefits endure. The first important step in this process is to address and overcome the cost that communities bear living with wildlife.
We know what these thriving nature-based economies could look like. Everyone has clean water and air. Food and energy sources are secure. Families are buffered from climate shocks and instability resulting from conflict over resources. Children are safe and healthy and have access to education. Women have access to sexual and reproductive health services. There are livelihood opportunities and a range of conservation-compatible enterprises that create value for families and the larger society.
Thriving nature-based economies
It takes upfront investment and effort to put this virtuous and reinforcing cycle in motion. At each of our project sites, Conserve works with local institutions to fully assess – and then realise – the revenue-generating potential of the landscape. Our aim is to build a blended and diversified nature-based economy. This may be through developing tourism infrastructure, monetising the carbon held in above- or below-ground stores and developing saleable credits on the voluntary carbon market, and/or pioneering biodiversity credits. We also provide technical and financial support to develop sustainable enterprises and value chains.
Conserve works to unlock values through innovative financing mechanisms and forward-thinking investors who can provide funding and who need projects that can achieve impact and verified results on the ground.
Conservation is a preferred land use
The majority of community members value intact natural landscapes as a result of vibrant conservation-led economies.
In 2022, we focused on developing relationships and refining our approach. We did pre-feasibility assessments to understand the potential value of our current sites and how to unlock this. We advocated strongly for partnerships and methodologies that value the intactness of landscapes and their biodiversity.
In communities around Faro National Park (Cameroon), we will be looking at equitable benefit-sharing agreements and financial flows from the private concessions. We will also work on understanding and managing human-wildlife coexistence, especially regarding the migratory movements of cattle through the landscape.
We will work with the Orupupa Conservancy (Namibia) to develop their tourism offering and evaluate various Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) opportunities.
In Tondwa (Zambia), we are conducting vegetative baseline assessments and initiating our first carbon project and demonstrating the value of a holistic approach that values intact landscapes and biodiversity preservation.
And in southern Mozambique we will help the Muwai Community Conservancy Association to establish a pioneering new community conservancy and expand the Futi wildlife corridor – and unlock the associated potential for developing a sustainable wildlife economy.
As plans develop and understanding deepens in each location, Conserve works to ensure that benefit-sharing is equitable and inclusive, putting community governance, health, and well-being as the ultimate indicators of success. At all our project sites, we aim to collect baseline data on these indicators against which to benchmark our progress over time and embed a culture of evaluation, reflection, and learning over time.
Our focus as a core Conserve team is to scale a continent-wide portfolio that both leverages larger opportunities and deepens benefits. It also allows us to facilitate sharing and replication of best practices and innovative approaches across an ever-expanding network.
Given the different contexts in which we work, we are able to share insights across the portfolio. For example, the principles of equitable benefit-sharing agreements are common, but their application can vary based on local context. Human-wildlife co-existence issues, also common, have a variety of responses as does tourism development, fire management, community bursaries schemes – the list goes on.