Profit-based conservation strategies

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Traditional biological conservation management practice based on protected areas (PA) has proved unable to achieve the required conservation levels for PAs with residents, located near population centres and with good access, especially within a low or middle income country context. One of the reasons for this relative failure is that biodiversity in general and PAs in particular do not usually exist in isolation and independent of human activities. For local communities, the act of conservation becomes a misfortune rather than an opportunity for sustainable development leading to increasing evasion of conservation regulations while governments delay in coming up with answers to the growing conservation problems resulting from such individual actions. This is the reason we believe conservation practice has to change deeply. It must not rely only on the SMS principle and command-and-control instruments but must instead engage local residents and other users thus creating a broad consensus over the existence and objectives of conservation initiatives. One way of achieving this is to make people adopt profit-based conservation practices. This is by no means easy for policy-makers being replete with social, scientific and practical difficulties and ambiguities.

There are advantages and disadvantages of ecosystem economic valuation as an incentive measure for enforcing local community co-operation in conservation decisions and management. The utilitarian approach allows value to arise in a number of ways depending on individual use of ecosystems. Hence, economists have generally settled for taxonomy of total ecosystem value interpreted as Total Economic Value (TEV) that distinguishes between Direct Use Values and Passive (Non-use) Values. TEV is a relative value and an answer mostly expressed in monetary terms to a carefully defined question in which two alternatives are compared. This answer depends on elements of choice defining the prevailing context. As ecosystems are not purchased on markets, one has to elicit individual preferences directly by the use of questionnaires such as Contingent Valuation (CV) to assess the individual WTP and WTA relevant monetary measures. Complex criteria and rules of evidence must be applied to guarantee the reliability and validity of the CV data. To calculate TEV based on individual CV data and the asset analogy, time and uncertainty have to be considered when discounting service flows. One concludes that TEV may be a useful tool as an incentive, a support for decision-making, and as a tool for education and information. The fact of being a very abstract instrument, and very demanding from the theoretical and technical points of view, becomes an advantage. To date, it is still the only existing, carefully defined and applied and somehow reliable way of society knowing how much an ecosystem is worth within a market-based scenario.


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