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Poverty, Governance and Conservation in the Gran Chaco of South America

Alcorn, J.B.
Zarzycki, A.
de la Cruz, L.M.
September 2010

The Gran Chaco is the second largest ecosystem in the Plata basin of South America, after the Amazon rainforest. The high biological and cultural diversity offer diverse opportunities for conservation, despite development threatening both of them. The greatest concentration of biodiversity remain in areas of northern Argentina and southern Bolivia where levels of poverty are very high, and indigenous peoples and poor criollo cattle raisers coexist. By improving informed governance, it is possible to stabilize biodiversity levels and provide a basis for poor local people to collaborate, and to improve their situation in the face of threats from development. In this study we analyze the ongoing processes being applied in two Gran Chaco cases - from the Upper Parapeti Basin (upriver from Kaa Iya National Park) in Bolivia, and the Lower Pilcomayo in northern Argentina (a dynamic internal delta ecosystem where a tri-national biosphere reserve is being considered). Watershed management, when adapted to local ecological, cultural, social and political contexts, is shown to be an effective tactical strategy to activate moribund governmental institutions in response to local constituencies. In the two cases presented, NGO-facilitated processes enriched local people´s ability to take their own actions and to assess and frame their problems and goals for dialogue with their governments. The NGOs also offered technical assistance with land-use zoning, reforestation and alternative income-generation activities in collaborations that shifted government engagement. The methods used differ from the standard conservation and development projects, and their success offers lessons in building social network systems and civic science that improve conservation and reduce poverty. We close with a reflection on the framing of poverty alleviation and sustainability in conservation discourse.

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Journal Article
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Poverty-Environment Linkages
South America