Studies reveal prospects for linking ape conservation with poverty reduction in Africa

African countries with populations of endangered apes could do more to ensure that conservation activities bring benefits in the fight against poverty, according to two reports published today by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and partners.

News, 18 August 2010

The reports reveal important lessons from across the continent that policymakers and conservation groups can use to boost both biodiversity and the livelihoods of poor communities.

"Wherever you find apes in Africa you also find people living in poverty," says Dilys Roe, a senior researcher at IIED. "Efforts to conserve apes have great potential to also reduce poverty but the actual, or perceived, negative impacts of conservation may result in local antipathy — or even outright hostility — to conservation efforts."

Africa's apes — the bonobos, chimpanzees and gorillas — are our closest living relatives. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature classes them all as endangered or critically endangered because of hunting and deforestation.

Early efforts to conserve these species in strictly controlled protected areas often led to conflict with local communities who were restricted from accessing forest resources they had used for generations.

One report, focussing on Uganda, highlights how resistance from the surrounding communities seriously threatened the ability of the authorities to manage two national parks after they were set up in 1991 to protect mountain gorillas.

In response, the government and nongovernmental organizations adopted a range of "integrated conservation and development" strategies, which aimed to both create benefits for local communities and reduce their reliance on resources within the parks – and hence their negative impact on the gorillas' habitat.

Based on 15 years of experience, the report reveals that many have achieved successes but often in different ways to what was planned. The study also found, however, that to maximize both conservation and development outcomes such initiatives will need to have a greater positive impact on the poorest households.

"Integrated conservation and development has come under some criticism in recent years," says the report’s lead author Tom Blomley. "We found that the long term engagement of a range of development and conservation organisations working in a joint manner appears to have addressed both objectives."

The second report expands the focus beyond Uganda and highlights initiatives that seek to link ape conservation with poverty reduction in 18 nations — Angola; Burundi; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Cote d'Ivoire; The Democratic Republic of Congo; Equatorial Guinea; Gabon; Ghana; Guinea; Guinea Bissau; Liberia; Nigeria; Congo; Rwanda; Sierra Leone; Tanzania; and Uganda.

Activities range from simple outreach initiatives that aim to improve local attitudes to conservation, to initiatives that give communities decision making power over natural resource management and ways to benefit from them.

"These conservation initiatives are making a concerted effort to address poverty issues, but surprisingly few of them seem to explore whether or not they have been successful by measuring or reporting on the results of their efforts," says Chris Sandbrook, who headed the review.

Much of the best poverty impact data comes from studies of great ape tourism, which is a popular way of converting the presence of apes into money for local development – although even here the revenue from tourism is rarely shared with local people at a significant enough scale to give them real incentives to support conservation.

Many alternative initiatives exist, such as those that promote agriculture as an alternative to living off forest resources and, conversely, those that promote sustainable use of forest resources and so create incentives for conservation. But there are many missed opportunities and factors that can limit efforts to link great ape conservation and poverty reduction.

"These studies highlight the wealth of existing experience and provide key lessons for initiatives that seek to link conservation and poverty reduction," says Dilys Roe, coordinator of the 'Poverty and Conservation Learning Group', an international network of conservation and development organisations that IIED hosts. "We hope that they learn from these experiences in order to build on the success stories – and avoid some of the pitfalls and significantly increase the impact of conservation on poverty.”"

The studies were done with funding support from the Arcus Foundation, a leading global grantmaking foundation advancing pressing social justice and conservation issues. Specifically, Arcus works to advance LGBT equality, as well as to conserve and protect the great apes.

Download the reports in PDF format

Development and Gorillas? Assessing the impact of fifteen years of integrated conservation and development in South Western Uganda

Linking Ape Conservation and Poverty Alleviation