This week, thousands of experts have gathered at the Seventh Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Kuala Lumpur to find ways to conserve biodiversity and to share the benefits equitably. Usually much of the attention in such discussions goes either to animals that are physically attractive or to the genetic resources used by crop-breeders and drug companies. The plants and animals that villagers use for food, medicine, fuelwood, rituals, and other uses often get neglected.
That is not simply unjust, it’s downright unwise. If you don’t listen to local peoples’ concerns how can you expect them to support conservation?
Doug Sheil from CIFOR leads a team that is developing new ways for conservation planners to take into account local peoples’ needs. "Local People’s Priorities for Biodiversity: Examples from for Forests of Indonesian Borneo" provides an example of this from the district of Malinau. There the team worked closely with the families from seven communities to map out which species are most important to them, where they are located, and what needs to be done to protect them.
Hunting remains the main source of animal products for these villagers, particularly in remote places. The villagers prefer to hunt wild boar, but logging has driven away many of the boars, forcing people to hunt less-preferred protected species such as monkeys. While logging drives the boars away, small rice and cassava fields actually attract them. Salt springs and abandoned villages with many fruit trees also attract a lot of animals people want.
Current Indonesian regulations encourage loggers to slash all the undergrowth and climbers for five years after logging to get rid of "weeds". Unfortunately, many of those "weeds" are actually plants that local people need. Similarly, loggers are usually told to drive their heavy machinery along the ridge tops to avoid erosion, but that is exactly where the sago palms grow that villagers eat when times are hard. Logging near rivers often kills the river carp that people are used to fishing because those carp eat the fruits of the trees that loggers harvest and can only survive in clear water.
Malinau’s villagers are particularly interested in conserving forests near gravesites and limestone formations where they harvest bird nests. As it turns out, the latter also are rich in endemic species that interest biologists.
Focusing on these sorts of issues leads you to a partially different biodiversity agenda than just worrying about the big animals for the zoos or finding the cure for cancer. Hopefully that agenda won’t be forgotten this week in Kuala Lumpur.
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A full explanation of the methodology can be downloaded at: http://www.cifor.cgiar.org/publications/pdf_files/Books/exploring_bio.pdf