A vir­tu­ous cy­cle for con­ser­va­tion

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

Poor and ru­ral peo­ple around the world rely on plants and an­i­mals for shel­ter, food, in­come, and medicine. In fact, the United Na­tions Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goal (SDG 15) on sus­tain­able ecosys­tems ac­knowl­edges many de­vel­op­ing so­ci­eties’ close re­la­tion­ship with na­ture when it calls for in­creased “ca­pac­ity of lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties to pur­sue sus­tain­able liveli­hood op­por­tu­ni­ties.” But how is this to be achieved?

The 1975 Con­ven­tion on In­ter­na­tional Trade in En­dan­gered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) pro­vides a vi­able frame­work for re­duc­ing poverty while also con­serv­ing na­ture. It reg­u­lates the har­vest­ing and ex­change of more than 35,000 wildlife species across a range of lo­cales.

Na­ture has been de­scribed as the “GDP of the poor.” The CITES frame­work, com­bined with strong na­tional con­ser­va­tion poli­cies, can si­mul­ta­ne­ously pro­tect wild species and ben­e­fit poor, ru­ral, and in­dige­nous peo­ple, by en­cour­ag­ing coun­tries and com­mu­ni­ties to adopt sound en­vi­ron­men­tal man­age­ment plans.

For ex­am­ple, un­der CITES, An­des com­mu­ni­ties shear the vi­cuna for its fine wool, which they sell to the lux­ury fashion in­dus­try in other parts of the world. Cameroo­ni­ans col­lect African cherry bark for ex­port to Euro­pean phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies. And peo­ple on the Ti­betan Plateau in Bhutan make a liv­ing sell­ing cater­pil­lar fun­gus to the tra­di­tionalmedicine in­dus­try.

How­ever, out­side of CITES, lim­ited guid­ance is avail­able to en­sure that le­gal trade is sus­tain­able and ben­e­fi­cial to the poor. Sus­tain­able trade of­ten depends on poor and ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties con­serv­ing their own re­sources at the lo­cal level. To see what that looks like, the In­ter­na­tional Trade Cen­tre (ITC) re­cently ex­am­ined how peo­ple in South­east Asia sus­tain­ably man­age the CITES-listed python trade.

Python skins are com­monly used as raw ma­te­rial in the lux­ury fashion in­dus­try, and ITC sur­veys of python-skin har­vesters, farm­ers, pro­ces­sors, and ex­porters in Viet­nam and Malaysia found that the trade re­in­forces liveli­hood re­silience by pro­vid­ing an ad­di­tional source of in­come.

In Viet­nam, an es­ti­mated 1,000 house­holds farm and trade pythons, and python har­vest­ing in Malaysia pro­vides in­comes for low-skilled, low-in­come work­ers dur­ing pe­ri­ods when other em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties are ei­ther out of sea­son, or sim­ply scarce be­cause of larger eco­nomic fac­tors. Re­searchers found that most of those har­vest­ing pythons im­ple­ment sim­ple and ef­fec­tive sus­tain­able-man­age­ment plans, and that this has re­duced pres­sure on wild pop­u­la­tions.

How­ever, python skins, like many wildlife prod­ucts, are a com­mod­ity, so com­mu­ni­ties har­vest­ing them are lim­ited in terms of how they can add value to in­crease re­turns. Women in the Peru­vian An­des may clean vi­cuna wool by hand to in­crease the price it fetches per kilo­gram by $50, whereas sell­ing a wool-scarf could yield them $150-200; a Malaysian python skin sells for $200, while a python-skin bag could sell for $2,000.

Still, some emerg­ing coun­tries are mov­ing up the value chain and re­tain­ing a greater share of re­turns, as demon­strated by lo­cal brands such as Kuna, which mar­kets al­paca and vicuña wool in Peru, and Natura, a Brazil­ian nat­u­ral-cos­metic brand.

The big­gest threats to the le­gal wildlife trade are poach­ing, smug­gling, im­proper trade per­mit­ting, and an­i­mal abuse, all of which must be ad­dressed by reg­u­la­tors and ru­ral com­mu­nity stake­hold­ers at the lo­cal level. For­tu­nately, ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties are al­ready in the best po­si­tion to pro­tect wildlife, so long as they are mo­ti­vated to do so. In the right cir­cum­stances, a vir­tu­ous cy­cle, whereby lo­cal pro­duc­ers have a di­rect in­ter­est in pro­tect­ing wildlife (be­cause they are ben­e­fit­ing from its le­gal trade) is the best – and some­times the only – long-term so­lu­tion to the prob­lem of sus­tain­abil­ity.

To help with this, gov­ern­ments can in­crease ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties’ re­source- and wildlife-use rights so that they can man­age and pro­tect their nat­u­ral re­sources sus­tain­ably. For ex­am­ple, in the 1970s when Peru granted An­dean com­mu­ni­ties the right to use vi­cuna wool, it saved the vi­cuna from ex­tinc­tion and cre­ated new, long-term in­come streams for the com­mu­nity. Be­cause le­gal and nat­u­ral cir­cum­stances vary by coun­try and com­mu­nity, we will need sim­i­lar pol­icy in­no­va­tions across dif­fer­ent sec­tors.

One promis­ing sec­tor is tourism, which also fits into the CITES frame­work. To take one ex­am­ple, since Rwanda be­gan shar­ing wildlife-tourism rev­enues with lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties, the moun­tain-go­rilla population has grown. As we see time and again, when lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties are in­cluded, they can be­come res­o­lute wildlife de­fend­ers. More gen­er­ally, we should be sup­port­ing sci­en­tists work­ing on new adap­tive­m­an­age­ment meth­ods, and the pri­vate sec­tor should be given in­cen­tives to in­vest in greater sus­tain­able sourc­ing and in­creased sup­ply- and pro­duc­tion-chain trans­parency.

As the ex­am­ples above show, con­ser­va­tion and im­proved liveli­hoods for the ru­ral poor are fea­si­ble, and even mu­tu­ally re­in­forc­ing. With more po­lit­i­cal will and smart in­vest­ments, there is no rea­son we can’t reach the SDGs to both re­duce poverty and safe­guard wildlife for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

Last year, the UN passed an his­toric res­o­lu­tion to tackle il­licit wildlife traf­fick­ing, rec­og­niz­ing the ef­fec­tive­ness of the CITES le­gal frame­work. The res­o­lu­tion calls on the 182 CITES mem­ber coun­tries to pro­tect the in­ter­ests of wildlife as well as to pro­vide tan­gi­ble ben­e­fits for the poor and ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties. We hope that del­e­gates from those mem­ber coun­tries meet­ing at the World Wildlife Con­fer­ence in South Africa are hear­ing that call.

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