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A Basic Needs approach to understanding conservation impacts on multidimensional poverty

Photo credit: James Adger 2018

Conservation designations are widely promoted to provide benefits not only to global biodiversity but also in terms of a host of ecosystem services – such as the income local people accrue from tourism associated with the World Heritage site at Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park in the Philippines, shown in the photo above.  Our latest paper from SPACES, published in the journal Conservation Biology, targets conservation managers and those concerned with protected area planning and natural resource management to take on board ideas and methods to evaluate the impacts of conservation on wellbeing in terms of how basic needs are affected.

We believe that this is an important advance in applying basic needs within an ecosystem services framework, and that this might help to create ‘solution spaces’ for conservation where both ecological and social thresholds are not breached.

We recognise that conservation managers frequently face the challenge of protecting and sustaining biodiversity without producing detrimental outcomes for (often poor) human populations that depend on ecosystem services for their well-being. However, experience from around the world shows that mutually beneficial solutions are often elusive and can mask important trade-offs and negative outcomes for people. We propose that to deal with such trade-offs, ecological and social thresholds need to be identified to determine the acceptable solution space for conservation. Although human well-being as a concept has recently gained prominence, conservationists still lack tools to evaluate how their actions affect it in a given context.

We applied the ‘theory of human needs’ to conservation by building on an extensive historical application of needs approaches in international development. In an innovative participatory method that included focus groups and household surveys, we evaluated how human needs are met based on locally relevant thresholds. We then established connections between human needs and ecosystem services through key-informant focus groups. We applied our method in coastal East Africa – in Kenya and Mozambique – to identify households that would not be able to meet their basic needs and to uncover the role of ecosystem services in meeting these. This enabled us to identify how benefits derived from the environment were contributing to meeting basic needs and to consider potential repercussions that could arise through changes to ecosystem service provision – for example through different conservation interventions.

The human-needs approach enabled us to characterize the extent and nature of multidimensional poverty based on locally grounded indicators of deprivation to a range of specific needs. Furthermore, it provided a framework to explore how environmental benefits contribute to people meeting their needs – the figure below shows the range of basic needs and the percentage of households that are above a threshold of serious harm at our eight sites in Kenya and Mozambique. It can therefore help target development interventions toward needs that are least met at, to consider how benefits derived from the environment are making significant contributions to meeting these needs currently, and to monitor and evaluate conservation plans to ensure they have not pushed people into serious harm.

We suggest our approach can help conservationists and planners balance poverty alleviation and biodiversity protection and ensure conservation measures do not, at the very least, cause serious harm to individuals. We further argue it can be used as a basis for monitoring the impacts of conservation on multidimensional poverty.

Congratulations and many thanks to Tom for leading us through the development of the ideas analysis and publication.

The paper is available as open access, here 

The citation is Chaigneau, Tomas, Coulthard, Sarah, Brown, Katrina, Daw, Tim and Schulte-Herbruggen, Bjorn, 2018 Incorporating basic needs to reconcile poverty and ecosystem services Conservation Biology

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