Institutions with clear focus more likely to achieve conservation goals

SEOUL, South Korea ( September 18, 2012) _Institutions that focus on fewer activities strictly targeting conservation or development are more likely to achieve their goals, according to a new book looking at both successes and failures of conservation and development projects in Southeast Asia.

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Photo by Niel Palmer/CIAT

SEOUL, South Korea (September 18, 2012) _Institutions that focus on fewer activities strictly targeting conservation or development are more likely to achieve their goals, according to a new book looking at both successes and failures of conservation and development projects in Southeast Asia.

And collaborations between like-minded organisations with different skill sets may be the best way to preserve biodiversity and meet livelihood goals in forest conservation areas.

“Collaborations could help meet the targets of state, private and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), while enhancing the participation among local forest users and forest-dwellers,” says Luke Preece, a PhD student at Charles Darwin University who co-authored several chapters of Evidence-based Conservation: Lessons from the Lower Mekong.

But to be successful, those forming partnerships must be willing to work together and have mutual goals, he added.

Partnering with other organisations could have several strategic advantages.

“Benefits might include such things as improved technical capacity and funding from NGOs, while governments can bring human resources, authority and the power to make decisions.”

But he cautioned, too, that the distinct aspects of each individual organisation should not be overlooked.

The study looked at 15 conservation landscapes in the Lower Mekong countries of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam – all suffering from illegal hunting and logging, agricultural encroachment and dam building – to see what target areas government agencies, conservation groups and NGOs were focused on and how they interacted with one another.

Results showed that conservation “management authorities” – either government-run entities or national governments and NGOs partnerships – aimed primarily to achieve biodiversity conservation, local economic development and, in turn, improve local livelihoods. To realise these goals, projects generally encouraged alternative livelihood activities, such as law enforcement and ecotourism, as a way of reducing pressures on natural resources from farming or hunting.

“National socio-economic development plans are taking a step forward by including sustainable natural resource management as goals for poverty alleviation,” Preece said.

Lowering poverty rates – which are considered very high in the Lower Mekong area – were found to be a priority for government agencies, whereas groups working independently of the state (mostly NGOs) focused mainly on development, earmarking the majority of their resources for community development projects such as such as public health, infrastructure development, non-environmental education and training.

While this begs the question as to why such organisations choose to operate within such narrow remits, the study found that institutions that focused on fewer activities strictly targeting conservation or development were more likely to achieve their goals.

“One pitfall of integrated conservation and development projects is that organisations spread themselves too thinly in a wide range of development and conservation activities,” said Bruce Campbell, Director of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security and a contributing author to the book.

But the success or effectiveness of conservation and development institutions may be difficult to measure considering the definition of success is ambiguous and internal evaluations are rarely conducted, due to high costs and complexities.

“Without effective monitoring or evaluation, progress can only really be measured through people’s perspectives, such as internal project staff and managers, and external government officers and affected community individuals,” he said.

Whatever the chosen organisational structure or solution, the authors emphasised the need for approaches specifically tailored to fit each project and its goals.

In part, this would mean working and consulting with multiple stakeholders, including at the grassroots level, or forming complimentary partnerships to both broaden the range of tactics used as well as  strengthen the management of conservation areas.

This new publication is part of CIFOR’s research program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry and was supported by the MacArthur Foundation.

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