Nature 4 Development – introducing IIED’s new 2020 initiative

A new initiative from IIED is bringing environment and development organisations together to highlight the role that nature plays in supporting poor people’s livelihoods and contributing to sustainable development in poor countries.

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Blog by 
Dilys Roe
Dilys Roe is principal researcher in IIED's Natural Resources research group
29 January 2020
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Farmers looking at plants

Farmers in Kenya learn about climate-resilient sorghum. Plant biodiversity will be a vital resource for climate-vulnerable farming communities (Photo: S. Kilungu/CCAFS, via Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

What do some of the leading development NGOs and biodiversity have in common? Well, it may surprise you to learn that one (biodiversity) is a recurring feature in the programmes of the other (development NGOs).

I discovered this unexpectedly when reviewing the portfolios of a group of development organisations, ahead of the first meeting of IIED’s Nature 4 Development initiative held earlier this month.

Last year I blogged about how development organisations had largely been absent from discussions on the post-2020 international biodiversity policy framework. The framework, to be agreed in October, will seek to halt continuing global biodiversity loss.

I had assumed that development organisations perceive biodiversity as tangential to their work. But while they may still be absent from current nature diplomacy processes, their portfolios show that they certainly are making links between biodiversity and development.

Most, if not all, the organisations that attended our meeting (including ActionAid, CAFOD, Oxfam, Tearfund, Farm Africa and Send A Cow) have an interest in sustainable, equitable food systems and a range of interventions or policy work on biodiversity-based agriculture, including agroecology, traditional crop varieties, indigenous biodiversity knowledge and seed diversity.

Beyond agrobiodiversity, Tearfund has a particular interest in the circular economy and within that, waste management. This has resulted in joint work with Fauna & Flora International (PDF) and others on tackling plastic pollution – to help protect marine biodiversity and because of its health impacts on poor people in developing countries.

Farm Africa is working on ecosystem management around the Bale National Park in Ethiopia and Send A Cow has just launched a 'Living with Wildlife' appeal, recognising that poverty, hunger and illegal bushmeat hunting are linked. 

Getting nature-based solutions right

Our Nature 4 Development initiative seeks to build not only on this common interest of development organisations but on a shared concern with environment organisations that we get nature-based solutions right – both for people and for biodiversity. 

A key element of Nature 4 Development is to assess the evidence to determine whether investing in nature really does generate desirable development outcomes, without undermining biodiversity. Working with the Nature-based Solutions initiative at the University of Oxford, we will be reviewing studies, evaluations and case studies from  academic and ’grey’ literature to better understand what kinds of interventions deliver what kinds of outcomes and under what conditions.

We will be looking for evidence on impacts on health, hunger, jobs, income, rights and resilience. This work builds on our 'Biodiversity loss is a development issue' report – IIED’s most downloaded publication of 2019.

Learning from Up in Smoke

This is not the first time IIED has sought to bring environment and development organisations together to make progress on, and raise the profile of, a common agenda. Back in the early 2000s, IIED worked with the New Economics Foundation to convene the Up in Smoke coalition of environment and development organisations.

The group was formed in response to scientists and policymakers failing to recognise climate change as a development issue, and that it was an issue hitting poor countries and poor people the hardest.

By the time Up in Smoke wrapped up in 2009, most major development NGOs had significant climate change policies and/or programmes, and most environment NGOs recognised the social aspects of climate change and the role of adaptation alongside mitigation.

Our 2020 plans – and three ways to get involved 

Over the course of 2020 we hope to build a similar coalition of environment and development organisations to raise the profile of nature in development. Our evidence review will be one of the initiative’s key outputs but we also plan to organise events at key international policy forums and to engage in joint advocacy and awareness raising.

If you represent an environment or development organisation and are interested in getting involved with our initiative, here are three ways you can engage:

  1. If you have – or are aware of – key reports, articles, assessments and case studies that document how investing in nature is delivering development outcomes, please send them to us to include in our evidence review
  2. If you’re interested to learn more about biodiversity and how it can contribute to development, get in touch. We can send you information or – if you are UK-based – come over to your workplace and give your staff a presentation on the initiative, and
  3. If you’d like to join the coalition, come along to the next meeting. We’ll discuss opportunities for contributing to joint reports, events and other activities.

As nature’s warning bells ring louder than ever, evidence grows that biodiversity loss presents a crisis for both environment and development.

Through this initiative we’ll bring these two sectors together to help integrate biodiversity into the development agenda, and to better understand the conditions under which nature-based solutions genuinely are solutions and not additional challenges, for people and for nature.

Join us – we look forward to hearing from you. Email for further information.

About the author

Dilys Roe ( is principal researcher in IIED's Natural Resources research group

Dilys Roe's picture