Conservation Enterprise: What Works, Where and for Whom?

Elliott, J.
Sumba, D.
July 2011

Community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) recognises that local communities are often best placed to conserve natural resources, as long as they stand to gain more than they lose from doing so. Conservation enterprises—commercial activities generating economic and social benefits in ways that help meet conservation objectives—seek to reinforce these incentives. The African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) has adopted conservation enterprise as a core part of its conservation strategy since the 1990s. It predominantly supports partnerships between local communities and the private sector, with the community retaining ownership and the private sector providing the management expertise and paying a combination of fixed and variable fees to the community for access to its resources. This study draws on the experience of the AWF and other organisations to assess what effect conservation enterprises can have on the livelihoods of local communities and how effective such initiatives are at poverty reduction. It finds that most of these enterprises cannot by themselves take people out of poverty, but can provide less tangible benefits, such as increased investment in health and education, strengthened community organisations and greater resilience in difficult times. A successful conservation enterprise needs to strike a balance between harnessing local skills and entrepreneurship and ensuring that the benefits are felt by the entire local community, particularly those who make the decisions about resource use. Some programmes can be specifically targeted at particular groups, but enterprises providing employment tend not to favour the poorest community members and the benefits may be captured by local elites. The evidence also shows that well-designed conservation enterprises can improve the conservation of some types of land areas and key, high value species—such as mountain gorillas—but are less effective at conserving biodiversity with a lower market value.

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24 pp.
IIED, London
Market-based Approaches

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