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15.3: Funding Conservation Activities

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  • Much of the Earth’s biodiversity is concentrated in the tropics, a sizeable portion of which occurs in Africa. While people living in the tropics may be willing and eager to preserve the wildlife around them, they are often unable to accomplish the task due to funding constraints (James et al., 2001; McClanahan and Rankin, 2016). Because many of these areas experience high levels of poverty and rapid rates of population growth, the little aid these areas receive are generally diverted to short-term socio-economic programs that ensure elected officials remain in power, rather than long-lasting sustainable solutions. This scenario is not limited to the tropics or to Africa. In fact, one of the biggest challenges facing conservation biologists across the world is inadequate funding—many areas lack basic operational funds for protected areas (Section 13.7.1), with even less for staff training, retaining top talent, keeping promises to local communities, and fulfilling the obligations set out in international treaties.

    There are many organizations that continuously work to fill these funding deficits. Prominently active in Africa are multilateral organizations, such as the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), as well as the World Bank in association with its partner organizations. A key World Bank partner organization is the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility which helps countries in their REDD+ (discussed below) preparedness. Another is the Global Environment Facility (GEF), established to channel money from industrialized countries to conservation and environmental projects in developing countries. From 1991 to 2016, the World Bank-GEF partnership allocated over US $4 billion to more than 1,000 projects in Sub-Saharan Africa, with another $25 billion acquired through co-financing partnerships ( Prominent projects include a US $35 million project to reverse environmental damage at Central Africa’s Lake Victoria, a US $16 million project to strengthen community conservancies in Mozambique, and a US $13 million project to bolster management effectiveness at Zambia’s Kafue National Park.

    Another significant development has been the rise of NGOs that directly fund and manage conservation activities. NGOs rely on several funding mechanisms to accomplish their goals, including membership dues, donations from wealthy individuals, sponsorships from corporations, and grants from foundations and multilateral consortiums. NGOs use these funds to advance scientific research and conservation training, to implement large-scale conservation projects, and to develop locally-adapted conservation strategies (Shackeroff and Campbell, 2007), often in collaboration with local communities (Rodríguez et al., 2007). For example, BirdLife International provides alternative environmentally friendly income streams by training local guides to help tourists find rare and elusive bird species (Biggs et al., 2011); other NGOs train park rangers and wildlife biologists, set up ecotourism lodges, and create opportunities to sell hand-made crafts.

    Multilateral consortiums and nongovernmental conservation organizations (NGOs) have emerged as important supporters of local conservation projects.

    Another innovative funding approach, namely debt-for-nature swaps, leverages the huge international debt owed by developing countries to protect biodiversity. Major lenders (usually commercial banks or industrialized-country governments) have financed massive loans around the world, some of which they may never see repaid. One opportunity for the creditors to recoup some of this money is to restructure or sell the debt at a steep discount. Working with funders, investors, and development organizations, conservation groups may then buy a portion of these debts or help debtor country restructure this debt, in exchange for environmental commitments (in some cases, creditors may even directly engage with the debtor country). These commitments usually involve the debtor countries using the savings to annually fund, in their own currency, conservation activities, including enacting certain policies, acquiring lands for conservation, managing protected areas, and implementing conservation education programs. In other words, freeing up money previously being spent to repay debt to now fund conservation activities. Some of the African countries that have benefitted from such debt swaps include Botswana, Cameroon, Ghana (Figure 15.3), Guinea Bissau, Mozambique, Seychelles, Tanzania, and Zambia (Sheikh, 2018). In one such example, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the French government, and a group of creditors known as the Paris Club negotiated a US $22 million debt restructuring deal with the Seychelles in exchange for the creation of a climate adaptation trust fund and increased marine protection. As part of the deal, the Seychelles agreed to increase its marine protected areas (MPA) network from 1% to 30% coverage (400,00km2), and to develop and implement a comprehensive spatial management plan for all its territorial waters (TNC, 2015).

    Figure 15.3 To stimulate sustainable ecotourism, a debt-for-nature swap agreement facilitated the creation of Ghana’s Kakum National Park to protect 375 km2 of tropical forest that was destined for agriculture. Part of the agreement included development of local museums, interpretive trails, and a canopy walk to create income streams for local communities. Photograph by flowcomm,, CC BY 2.0.

    Another new strategy to obtain conservation funding is payment for ecosystem services (PES) schemes. Through these programs, governments, conservation NGOs, and businesses develop markets from which landowners can receive direct payments for protecting and restoring ecosystems and ecosystems services. In a pilot project funded and coordinated by WWF and CARE Kenya, 514 farmers living upstream of Kenya’s Lake Naivasha received US $20,000 in payments from water users downstream to restore and maintain riparian forests to improve flood control and water purification services (Chiramba et al., 2011).

    To combat climate change, a major international initiative financially rewards communities for preserving their carbon stocks. This initiative, established by the UN in 2007 and called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+, see also Section 10.4) receives its operational funds from individuals (such as people traveling on aeroplanes) and organizations seeking carbon credits to offset their carbon emissions. These funds are then used for results-based payments for conservation of carbon stocks such as forests and peatlands, the loss of which causes about 35% of Africa’s greenhouse gas emissions (WRI, 2018). Today, REDD+ has already supported carbon conservation projects in over 30 Sub-Saharan African countries ( Being a major component of the Paris Agreement (Section 12.2.1), many more projects will hopefully be supported in coming years.

    How effective is conservation funding?

    Despite all these conservation resources, conservation activities continue to be underfunded due to a mismatch between funding needs and availability (Watson et al., 2014; McClanahan and Rankin, 2016; Gill et al., 2017; Lindsey et al., 2018). Exacerbating these shortfalls, conservation budgets continue to be dwarfed by spending from competing human activities and well-funded special-interest groups. For example, while the US $1.2–2.4 billion annually needed to secure Africa’s protected areas with lions (Lindsey et al., 2018) is an enormous amount of money, it is much less than the US $26 billion in perverse subsidies that was paid to Africa’s fossil fuel industry in 2015 (Whitley and van der Burg, 2015), which in turn is dwarfed by the whopping US $640 billion the USA budgets for military defence (DOD, 2017).

    While conservation funding is increasing, it continues to be dwarfed by perverse subsidies and spending by well-funded special-interest groups.

    Many conservation projects are also constrained by weak institutional capacity, inappropriate nepotism, and even corruption in governments and NGOs (Section 2.4). There is sometimes a tendency for conservation organizations to compete, causing them to duplicate efforts in parallel rather than cooperating efficiently. Others spend a large percentage of their funds on maintaining extensive headquarters in expensive cities; these expenses are sometimes justifiable because of work on policy or advocacy, but they are sometimes wasteful and can come at a great cost to efforts in the field. Consequently, donors are increasingly worried about how funds earmarked for conservation will be spent—will funds be used to protect biodiversity and reducing poverty, or will they be diverted to other purposes? Thus, while new projects are often more effective, due in part to lessons learned from past experiences (Pooley et al., 2014), there is also a tendency to restrict funding to short-term cycles, and to add additional rules to prevent inappropriate spending. These additional constraints are making funding applications and accounting processes increasingly cumbersome and time-consuming, requiring even more time in the office than in the field. By focusing on short-term outcomes to meet reporting requirements, they also restrict grantees’ ability to invest in organizational resilience and staff development, to adapt to changing circumstances, and to incorporate new ideas mid-cycle (Nelson et al., 2017).

    Over the past few years, conservation groups have tried to develop several kinds of grassroots initiatives that can be low cost and self-sustaining. Among the most popular are privately protected areas, integrated conservation and development projects (ICDPs), and community-based natural resource management (CBNRM, Section 14.3) (Box 15.2). Other projects promote farming with native wildlife, such as snails (Carvalho et al., 2015) and cane rats (Thryonomys swinderianus, LC) (van Vliet et al. 2016) as a means to generate income while reducing pressure on wildlife targeted by the bushmeat trade (for a review on wildlife farming for conservation, see Tensen, 2016). To reduce human-wildlife conflict (Section 14.4), some communities have also found dual purpose in income-generating activities, such as beekeeping, and planting cash crops, such as tea and hot pepper plants, which also serve as barriers to nuisance animals.

    Box 15.2 Supporting Self-Organised Action for Conservation in Africa

    Duan Biggs1,2

    1Environmental Futures Research Institute,

    Griffith University,

    Nathan, Queensland, Australia.

    2School of Public Leadership & Department of Conservation Ecology,

    Stellenbosch University, South Africa.

    The conservation of biodiversity, especially outside of protected areas, faces ongoing budget constraints. One strategy to overcome such constraints is to facilitate and support individuals, communities, and organizations to self-organise to achieve positive conservation outcomes. Two terms are especially relevant in this regard: emergence (the coming about of new conservation initiatives and activities, McCay, 2002) and robustness (the durability and sustainability of these initiatives over time, Cox et al., 2010).

    Central to the emergence of robust self-organised conservation activities is the particular composition of actors around a site or region of conservation interest, as well as a context that supports experimentation and learning (Figure 15.B). For example, where community conservancies are able to try different income-generating activities (e.g. photographic tourism, trophy hunting) and learn from each other through supported networks, the conditions for emergence will be strengthened (Child, 1996; Naidoo et al., 2016).

    Figure 15.B The relationship between emergence and robustness as a support framework for the emergence of robust self-organised conservation activities. After Biggs et al., 2019, CC BY 4.0.

    Also important are governance structures that enable communities and societies to have a central voice in the formulation of rules and policies. In this way, decision-making structures are perceived to be legitimate, and people are more empowered to take ownership of decisions that have important implications for their livelihoods (Cox et al., 2010; Biggs et al., 2019). For example, the recent ban on the import of elephant hunting trophies from Africa into the USA reduced benefit flows to communities. In addition, this ban weakened the perceived legitimacy of decision-making structures as affected communities did not have a voice in deliberations over the ban.

    The final critical element is known as “nested enterprises”, which means the presence of multiple overlapping institutions that support emerging conservation initiatives and activities. Successful nested enterprises include local community-based groups which are linked to national and international NGOs and have representation in local and national government (Biggs et al., 2019). For example, NGO support to community conservancies in Namibia plays an important role in aiding conservancies to access support for challenges such as human-wildlife conflict and finding partner organizations for tourism development.

    Africa provides several notable examples where appropriate conditions have allowed for the emergence of self-organised conservation action on previously unprotected lands. A prominent example includes the development and expansion of privately protected area in Southern Africa (Box 2.3; Section 13.1.3). Another example is the development of community conservancy programs, which have substantially extended the conservation estate and delivered socio-economic benefits in Kenya (Ihwagi et al., 2016) and Namibia (Naidoo et al., 2016; Störmer et al., 2019). Zimbabwe’s CAMPFIRE program (Box 14.4) has also contributed to the expansion of conservation land on a large scale and remains partially successful despite Zimbabwe’s current political crisis (Balint and Mashinya, 2008; Biggs et al., 2019). In each of these cases the conservation benefits have been substantial. For example, in Zimbabwe, elephant numbers on communal land increased from 4,000 to over 20,000 in just over a decade, while in Namibia, over 160,000 km2 of land now has stronger protections due to conducive conditions for emergence of self-organized conservation.

    Recent history has shown that the presence of structures that support the emergence of robust self-organised action for conservation can have substantial benefits to biodiversity and to people. But securing the future of such initiatives relies on striking a careful balance between letting local individuals, communities, and organizations “do their own thing”, and providing external support and guidance when needed.

    Further aiding these efforts is ecotourism, which has become a very lucrative market over the past few decades. Consequently, several private landowners and communal groups have converted their agricultural land into areas that maintain wildlife (Section 13.1). Some of these landowners cater to low-impact activities, such as bird watching (Figure 15.4) and guided safaris, while others offer hunting opportunities for wealthy individuals from North America, Europe, and Asia (Clements et al., 2016; Naidoo et al., 2016). The commercialisation of large, dangerous, and rare animals is particularly significant since more land in Africa is currently managed for regulated trophy hunting than national parks (IUCN/PACO, 2009; Flack, 2011). Because many rare and sought-after species targeted by trophy hunters require healthy ecosystems to thrive, other aspects of biodiversity also benefit, including the numerous birds, fish, insects, and plants that are not being commercially exploited in such game reserves.

    By reaping social and economic benefits from conservation, local communities have been inspired to take the lead in protecting biodiversity on their own lands.

    Figure 15.4 The yellow-headed rockfowl (Picathartes gymnocephalus, VU) is endemic to the mountain forests of West Africa from Guinea to Ghana. As one of Africa’s most sought-after birds, several protected areas and nature guides tailor their businesses to showing this species to traveling birders. Photograph by Nik Borrow, CC BY 4.0.

    Despite these conservation gains from the regulated hunting industry, legitimate concerns linger, including overcrowding and poor treatment of some animals, the ethics of trading and killing threatened species, and whether selective hunting and breeding complement or run counter to overall conservation objectives (Milner et al., 2007). The actual contribution of regulated hunting to society at large is also still being debated (IUCN/PACO, 2009; Murray, 2017), especially since some hunting concessions are established through land grabs and eco-colonialism (see Box 14.1). Similarly, there is also concerns that legal markets for threatened species may stimulate black markets and overharvesting (Lenzen et al., 2012; Hsiang and Sekar, 2016). Finding the balance between developing responsible trade opportunities in threatened species that can fund conservation activities, and risking overharvesting, is a highly emotional issue (e.g. Biggs et al., 2013a,b; Collins et al., 2013; Litchfield, 2013; Prince and Okita-Ouma, 2013) that conservation biologists will continue to grapple with in the coming years.

    In the end, given the importance of nature to human well-being, it is unfortunate that conservationists continue to struggle to obtain funding and other resources. Research has shown that under-funded conservation activities run a high risk of failure (McCreless et al., 2013) while the rush to monetise nature risks weakening protection of species without immediate or realised value (Muradian et al., 2013; Balding and Williams, 2016). This contrasts with investments in protecting the natural world, which could save trillions of dollars and benefit millions of people (Costanza et al., 2014; Shindell et al., 2016). We look forward to the day when governments and individuals shift some funding from perverse subsidies to industries such as fossil fuels and unsustainable fisheries (Section 4.5.3) to supporting more conservation organizations and activities.

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