Biodiversity underpins well-being and livelihoods

Alain Composte

Conserving biodiversity and eliminating poverty are linked global challenges. The poor, particularly the rural poor, depend on nature for many elements of their livelihoods, including food, fuel, shelter and medicines. Working alongside people who will ultimately benefit from conservation can build social capital, improve accountability and reduce poverty. In contrast, excluding people from conservation actions can increase conflict, resentment and poverty.




Key messages and case studies

Biodiversity conservation is essential to the livelihoods of local communities
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In many places, generations of people have used natural resources sustainably, and an intricate interdependence of people on nature, and nature on people, continues to exist. If people’s needs are understood (Understanding local needs: the role of Important Bird Areas in people’s livelihoods), sustainable livelihoods linked to well-managed (and innovative) natural resource use can be developed, securing benefits for human society and biodiversity (Using direct payments as an incentive for IBA conservation in Madagascar). There is a need to generate opportunities for people to bring about change, by empowering institutions (Improved livelihoods at Arabuko–Sokoke Forest in Kenya, Empowering local communities can lead to better natural resource management), strengthening rights, building capacity (Community led wetland restoration in Nigeria, A local cooperative has improved livelihood and resource management at an IBA in Rwanda), establishing new partnerships and introducing new technologies and livelihood options (The sustainable use of wetland resources can benefit both wildlife and local communities).

Conservation of nature contributes to wellbeing
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Conservation of nature improves the quality of people’s lives in many ways: it provides attractive landscapes for recreation, relaxation, exercise and renewal, bringing benefits to physical and mental health (Nature and people’s wellbeing: examples from Europe); it provides for education and individual development; healthy ecosystems and the services they provide—provision of clean air, pure water and fertile soils, pollination of crops, recycling of nutrients—are often taken for granted, yet they are critical to the wellbeing and health of people the world over (Ecosystem services demonstrate the socio-economic value of IBAs). It is important to conserve biodiversity in order to maintain these environmental goods and services on which we all depend.

Birds can make a significant positive contribution to local and national economies
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A growing worldwide interest in wildlife, coupled with increasing prosperity and more leisure time, has resulted in an increase in economic activity through tourism linked to biodiversity conservation. Thousands of people travel near and far to view birds and other wildlife, supporting the growth of a wildlife watching industry which depends directly on the quality of the natural environment, and the diversity of species, for its success. The industry provides benefits to local people through employment and incomes in sectors such as wildlife management, guiding and interpretation, provision of visitor services such as catering and accommodation, environmental education, and production and sale of souvenirs (‘Birding routes’ in South Africa: integrating livelihood development with biodiversity conservation, Local communities around Phulchoki Important Bird Area in Nepal benefit from tourism). And this in turn provides an incentive for environmental stewardship. In Costa Rica, for example, tourism generated revenues of US$ 1 billion, of which 41% was derived from birdwatching ecotourists, whilst in the United States, birdwatching generated an estimated $85 billion in overall economic output in 2001. Increasingly, conservationists and the private sector are recognising that environmentally-sensitive commercial activities can be mutually beneficial and are finding innovative ways to collaborate. In Hungary, the adoption of ‘nature-friendly’ fish-farming techniques has restored the economic viability of commercial fishponds and benefited biodiversity (‘Nature-friendly’ fish-farming techniques in Hungary bring economic benefits).

Healthy ecosystems can help the worlds most vulnerable adapt to climate change
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Climate change impacts including drought, crop failure, flooding, sea-level rise, and extreme weather events are already being felt across the world, with the poorest people and most vulnerable ecosystems hit hardest. Ever-increasing evidence suggests that healthy, bio-diverse environments play a vital role in maintaining resilience to climate change. This is particularly critical for many of the world’s 2.7 billion poor people, who depend on natural resources most directly for their livelihood and survival. Conservation, sustainable management and restoration of natural forests can increase resilience and capacity to adapt to climate change (Restoring forest ecosystems will help buffer communities against climate change, Developing sustainable livelihood options will help communities adapt to climate change, Healthy forests are benefiting local livelihoods in Pakistan). Mangrove forests and coastal wetlands can reduce the impacts of waves, storms, and sea-level rise by accumulating silt, reducing erosion and absorbing wave power. Protecting and restoring these habitats can be a cost-effective and affordable long-term strategy to defend human communities against climate change impacts (Mangrove ecosystems provide numerous benefits including protection against sea level rise, Managing coastal wetlands for people and biodiversity in the Humber estuary, UK). Freshwater ecosystems occupy less than 1% of the earth’s surface, but sustain life and provide economic goods and services of enormous value. Healthy wetlands can also greatly increase our resilience to climate change impacts such as storms, floods or droughts (Safeguarding wetland ecosystems is vital for local communities).