The conservation of donors


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Many developing countries get most of their biodiversity money from international agencies and foreign governments. For example, Latin America got 90% of all its biodiversity funds from such donors between 1990 and 1997. So it makes sense to follow what the donors are up to.

’Striking a Balance, Ensuring Conservation’s Place on the International Biodiversity Assistance Agenda’, by Nicholas Lapham and Rebecca Livermore from Conservation International, does just that. It focuses on the agencies that give the most for biodiversity – World Bank, Global Environment Facility (GEF), European Commission, United States, Netherlands, Germany, France, United Kingdom, and Japan.

According to Lapham and Livermore, donors seem less interested in biodiversity these days. In several agencies the topic has a lower profile than it used to. British, German, and Japanese spending on biodiversity peaked in the late 1990s and then declined. Embassies and country offices make many decisions that home offices used to make and are not as inclined to fund the environment.

Donors say they want to mainstream concerns about biodiversity within their broader efforts, but have only partially succeeded. They are funding more projects that focus on biodiversity in agricultural and forestry systems. But most country assistance and poverty reduction strategies still give only lip service to biodiversity.

Donors are talking more about using biodiversity projects to reduce poverty. That usually implies getting people to use their resources sustainably, rather than simply keeping them away.

All this means less money for traditional park projects. The British and Dutch in particular have both become increasingly critical of pure conservation efforts, which leave people out. After spending almost one billion dollars on protected areas between 1991 and 2001, the newest phase of GEF funding will concentrate more on projects outside parks. Germany and the United States are practically the only bilateral donors that still spend large sums on traditional park projects.

Which donor trends are good and bad depends on your perspective, and Lapham and Livermore probably have more faith in traditional park projects than I do. Still, one thing we all can agree on is that we won’t solve the problems by running away from them. To conserve plants and animals we need to conserve the donors’ interest, and this report gives some useful insights into that.

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Further reading

To request a free electronic copy of this paper in PDF format you can write Ingrid Neubauer at

To send comments or queries to the authors you can write Nicholas Lapham at or Rebecca Livermore at