Around the world, conservation and development efforts are more sustainable when led by local people. USAID has been a leader in community-based conservation for decades, vastly expanding land, marine, and coastal areas under conservation management. These programs have conserved wildlife and forests that absorb greenhouse gases, while improving governance, security, and economic growth for some of the world’s most vulnerable people.
1. Community Forestry
USAID began supporting community forestry user groups in Nepal in 1994, and there are now more than 22,000 of them sustainably managing and benefiting from their forests. With USAID training, forestry user group members have improved forest governance and taken on leadership roles. As a result of community-led management, biodiversity and forest health are improving; forests can now absorb more of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that causes global warming. Simultaneously, the groups have learned how to sustainably use forest resources to increase their incomes, such as through ecotourism.
Learn more key lessons from USAID’s work integrating community resilience, climate adaptation, and biodiversity conservation in Nepal.
USAID has funded conservation in Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve for more than three decades. The local forest concession system, which allows communities to manage forests and harvest sustainable amounts of timber and non-timber forest products, has become a global model for community-based forest management. For nearly 22 years, these concessions have reduced deforestation and fires and maintained tree cover on more than 450,000 hectares. Community members can sell their forest products internationally, increasing incomes well above the Guatemalan minimum wage and generating sustainable employment. In fact, between 2013–20, the community concessions created more than 23,000 permanent and seasonal jobs, generated over $52 million in sales of products and services, and invested up to 30% of profits into local schools, rural infrastructure, healthcare, and scholarships. The system demonstrates how economic development, natural resource conservation, and climate change mitigation can all be achieved at once.
2. Locally Managed Marine And Coastal Areas
Communities with land, marine, and resource rights are more likely to invest in sustainable livelihoods and conserve their natural resources.
For the past 30 years, the United States has supported Indonesia’s commitment to natural resource management, including empowering local champions to lead community-based conservation efforts. With USAID support, the Indonesia Locally Managed Marine Area Foundation implemented a community-based approach in Maluku, Indonesia, helping communities identify traditional marine areas to set aside for official protection and conservation. Twenty-four communities successfully established locally managed marine areas that are now recognized by the Government of Indonesia.
Dive into more reflections on 30 years of USAID environment and natural resource management activities in Indonesia.
Similar locally led efforts in the Philippines have expanded management of habitat and fisheries to 1.8 million hectares of municipal marine waters — an area in size greater than Connecticut and Delaware combined. As fish stocks have improved, so have employment and marine governance, ensuring that benefits from fisheries are equitably shared in communities. USAID’s long-running partnerships in the Philippines have also focused on strengthening the rights of Indigenous Peoples with ancestral domains, helping to ensure long-term sustainable use of the area’s resources.
3. Community Conservancies
Before Namibia’s independence in 1990, wildlife populations had plummeted from poaching. For 15 years, USAID invested in reversing these declines while emphasizing the involvement of all community members, leading to recovery of wildlife populations and expanded economic opportunities for communities. Today, 52 community-based conservancies in Namibia manage more than 12 million hectares of land and benefit 223,000 previously disadvantaged Namibians. The conservancies also promote inclusive participation; women comprise more than 50% of members.
In Kenya, 11 percent of land has been conserved, including more than 65 percent of wildlife living outside of national parks and reserves. For more than 20 years, USAID has partnered with community and private wildlife conservancies and associations to both conserve wildlife and secure sustainable livelihoods. Conservation efforts have grown to incorporate savannah, forest, and coastal marine ecosystems. USAID’s partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association (KWCA) supports improved land and resource policies, community governance systems, resilience to climate change, and empowerment of women and youth. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, KWCA advocated successfully for a historic allocation of $10 million for conservancies through the COVID economic stimulus package — marking the Government of Kenya’s first ever commitment to supporting conservancies. This investment bolsters the ongoing support to conservancies from several county governments, which were vital last year to cushion conservancies against COVID impacts.
Check out the video “Community-led Conservancies — Borrowing From The Future” to learn more about the power of community conservation in Kenya.
4. Community Co-management
Co-management of natural resources involves collaboration and shared responsibility between government and non-government actors; while often complex and time consuming to put in place, it can be an effective way to build community participation while harnessing governmental authority and expertise. For 10 years in Ecuador, USAID invested in improved co-management of the Greater Yasuní-Napo Moist Forest Landscape Conservation Area, which boasts some of the world’s richest biodiversity. To better conserve and protect this natural wealth, USAID helped to create a Yasuní Biosphere Reserve Management Committee that ensures effective conservation, climate-aware practices, and improved livelihoods in the area. Including representatives from Indigenous Peoples organizations and government institutions, the committee was officially recognized by the Ministry of Environment in 2008. This work set the stage for a national network of biosphere reserves and co-management initiatives that are strengthening participation in protected areas management in Ecuador.
This blog was originally published on USAID's Medium site.
Tiffany Gibert supports USAID’s Office of Forestry and Biodiversity as a communications and knowledge management specialist. Previously, Tiffany held editorial positions at the Southern Poverty Law Center, PBS, and Time Out New York. She has also brought her skills to many consulting positions, with a focus on conservation practice and international development. Tiffany holds a BA in English from Davidson College and is currently pursuing her MSc in Biodiversity, Wildlife and Ecosystem Health through the University of Edinburgh.