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The Development of Conservation in Theory and Practice

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The Development of Conservation in Theory and Practice

In considering the issue of wildlife conservation, a link to development rises quickly to the surface. After all, the animals seemingly considered the most prized by the collective popular consciousness, such as primates, occur predominantly in tropical areas of the world considered by most to be “underdeveloped.” According to the United Nations Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the rate of growth in developed countries, mostly those located in Europe and America, between 2005 and 2050 is expected to remain relatively minimal, while the population of the developing world is projected to substantially increase, from 5.3 billion to 7.8 billion, over the same period of time (United Nations Population Division 2005, vi). This includes a more drastic increase in the world’s 50 least developed country (mostly located in Africa and Asia), where the number of inhabitants is projected to swell from 0.8 billion to 1.7 billion over the same period. As such, in putting together a theory for development more broadly and conservation more specifically, it is crucial that the link between societal growth and natural resource and wildlife degradation be explored. In the following discussion, I hope to accomplish a few things. First, I will consider development theory broadly, looking at its evolution through time and some popular contemporary critiques. Though development theory (as it stands today) does not always explicitly relate to conservation, it is crucial to have a broad understanding of it since any conservation strategies will be placed in the context of greater development goals, if not as an explicit part of them. Second, I will look more closely at the place of environmental conservation within the development discourse, focusing primarily on legacy of the 1987 Brundtland Report which, among other things, brought the term “sustainable development” into our respective vocabularies. Finally, I will look at a pair of case studies to see how the evolution of conservation within development has and continues to be played out in practice, linking these studies to primates in particular, because of the iconic value they have as a tool for conservation. Ultimately, I think that while we see a more pointed consideration of cultural specificity within development as a whole, conservation lags behind, with ideas such as “community-based conservation” ultimately failing to achieve crucial goals because of a lack of actionable steps.
The Trajectory of Development Development theory, of which conservation must necessarily come to be considered an integral part, has come under attack throughout the years for its alleged cultural blind spot and materialistic leanings. However, development as a theory has come a long way in the past half-century. It began as little more than a theoretical justification for the Marshall Plan, but has become an involved mix of ideas, individuals and institutions as it has evolved, spawning such entities as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), a multilateral source of grant assistance for half a century, which now cooperates with over 500 non-governmental organizations (NGOs), working in the development field. Online daily newspapers such as EuropaWorld are among many publications offering non-specialized coverage of international development issues. Accordingly, one obvious success of development theory is that many of its ideas have become a part of the mainstream consciousness, largely because of increased media representations of development. Policymakers are beginning to see that while free trade, globalization, and development are part of the same debate, they are not synonymous. Even the most ardent proponents of globalization are beginning to take cues from development thought. However, “development” has shown itself to be woefully inadequate in practice. There has been a spike in the number of development-related NGOs, for example, yet the gap between the world’s richest and poorest has not disappeared. Furthermore, as areas of the world have developed and “modernized,” environmental strains have only been heightened. A recipe for sustainable development, and similarly, effective conservation, is elusive because it is complex. However, there are numerous reasons to be optimistic about development as a field. As Amartya Sen has written, the “growth fetish” of 1950s and 1960s development economists has begun to pass (Sen 1999). The growth fetish refers to the tendency among early development theorists to ignore cultural patterns and historical particularity and the prejudice towards maximizing gross domestic product instead of quality of life. However, it has not disappeared completely. Among the strongest critiques of development came from Indian activist and journalist Palagummi Sainath, who wrote that: Development is the strategy of evasion. When you can't give people land reform, give them hybrid cows. When you can't send children to school, try non-formal education. When you can't provide basic health to people, talk of health insurance. Can't give them jobs? Not to worry, just redefine the words 'employment opportunities'. Don't want to do away with using children as a form of slave labour? Never mind. Talk of 'improving the conditions of child labour!’ It sounds good. You can even make money out of it (Sainath 1996, 421).

Sainath’s attack can similarly be extended to conservation, which as I stated previously, should be taken given as a part of an ultimately ideal conception of development. After the 1987 Brundtland Report, words like “sustainable development” began to be thrown around policymaking and eventually popular discourse, often without any tangible results. This will be a focus of the final half of this discussion. In its 1986 Declaration on the Right to Development, the United Nations General Assembly declared that “the right to development is an inalienable human right by virtue of which every human person and all people are entitled to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realised” (UN 1986, 1). In 1987, a group of developing countries formed the South Commission to represent their views, defining development much more broadly as a process which enables human beings to realize their full potential and lead lives of dignity and fulfillment. In short, development as an ideal would simply level the playing field. The interplay between these two sides comes into full focus when addressing conservation, particularly of a community-based nature. Such a rights-based approach to development should remain an ideal, not the absolute measure of success. In the 1980s, the developing world began to question and expand upon the traditional concept of human rights. The rest of the world still needs time to catch up. But contrary to what some of its critics have said, development economics has not ignored the “rights-based” critique. Questioning its assumptions, development economics has tried to respond to concerns about its intrinsic biases in at least two ways. One is by addressing normative issues. Development theory has begun asking how development relates to human values like freedom. Amartya Sen’s 1999 book Development as Freedom argued that civil liberties are not so much a product as a prerequisite for meaningful economic development. Sen questioned whether economic development would increase “substantive freedoms,” or the “real freedoms that people enjoy.” As we see conservation efforts playing out in communities all throughout the world, and particularly in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia, we see these rights often being either ignored or compromised by policymakers The questions that Colin Clark, the father of modern development economics, faced in 1939—prior to World War II, which would send Europe into disarray and spawn a need for guided reconstruction efforts—are the questions of today: Why do some economies grow so much faster than others do? Do economies tend to converge at similar levels of per capita income, or is catching up simply impossible? How do you make growth sustainable? To these questions contemporary theorists of development have added new ones: How can countries maximize economic growth without compromising human rights? How can economic policy be constructed to maximize quality of life, not just GDP? How can developing nations grow while also protecting their natural resources? How can these natural resources be protected without creating a drag on a weak economy?
Carving a Place for Conservation in Development The final questions, those related to conservation, posed at the end of the previous section are of the greatest interest to me, both generally and for the purpose of this discussion. After all, while development as an entire entity has grown in the fashion I described, conservation efforts seem to be lagging behind. In their book Primate Conservation Biology, Guy Cowlishaw and Robin Dunbar describe the intricate relationship between conservation and development, noting that “how conservation can be successfully married to development requires careful thought” (Cowlishaw and Dunbar 2000, 327). Issues with resource use and environmental degradation can be traced back within the consciousness about half a century. Among the authors making a big splash were Paul Ehrlich, a Stanford University biologist who published a book entitled The Population Bomb in 1968 which has since been oft cited by those concerned with population growth and its strain on the environment. Although parts of his book are disastrously misguided (his predictions of doom called for the earth to be long destroyed by now), Ehrlich (along with his research assistant, wife Anne) addresses many of the problems commonly conceived of by today’s informed citizens: a dwindling food supply, human effects on biogeochemical cycles, and deforestation, all related in varying degrees to the pressures felt by today’s primates and other species. Ehrlich reminds the reader of the stark power of images, an assertion that, while truth in 1968, has come to mean even more in today’s media-frenzied world. “Corpses,” he writes, “Are usually are required to attract the attention of those who pooh-pooh environmental threats” (Ehrlichs 1968, 59). While such a point is illustrative of the forward-thinking Ehrlich’s approach, for the purpose of this essay, his most salient point is that “nothing ‘underdeveloped’ can long stand in the face of the population explosion” (Ehrlichs 1968, 66). That is to say, the underdeveloped nations of today are fragile nodes in the global scheme; given that conservation efforts must be focused within them. At the time, Ehrlich’s ideas were novel; as we will see, however, conservation’s place within development grew more and more over time. As Cowlishaw and Dunbar note, the 1980 World Conservation Strategy is a good taking off point for looking at conservation and development, for outside of a handful of scholars such as Ehrlich, conservation did not truly find its way into the mainstream until the 1980s. Put together by the World Conservation Union, World Wildlife Fund, and the United Nations Environmental Programme, the strategy suggested conservation and development as being mutually dependent but sometimes antithetical processes, meaning each must be subordinate to the other from time to time (Cowlishaw and Dunbar 1997, 327). However, given any casual look at the natural world, it seems to be the case that instead of a balanced relationship, conservation has much more often been subordinate to development. The year 1987 was to represent a change. At that time, the World Commission on Environment and Development, established by the United Nations in 1983, was called upon to solve issues of environmental protection without harming the economy. Their final report, Our Common Future, has become known as the Brundtland Report, named after the chair of the commission. In seeking to address the environment without damaging the economy, the commission was really charged with two parallel tasks: (a) to find a place for environmental awareness and conservation within the development theory trajectory described above and (b) to raise awareness of conservation by packaging the issues in such a way that would provoke action in policymakers. Collectively, these charges led to the commission triggering the popularization of the term “sustainable development,” which has found a permanent place in today’s development discourse. As they wrote, sustainable development “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” an idea that necessary “implies limits” (Brundtland 1987, 24). The Brundtland Report is a sizeable document of over 300 pages which offers interesting analyses in relation to the many different factors that contribute to environmental degradation and species loss. These include the growth of cities, industrialization, and the expanding human population. Ultimately, while these sections are full of valuable data and pertinent to our discussion, I want to zero in on two specific parts of the documents, the chapters “Towards Sustainable Development” and “Species and Ecosystems,” which will offer a framework for tackling our two case studies. “Towards Sustainable Development” offers a lengthy but general discussion of how to think about worldwide growth in a “sustainable” manner. However, the document lacks the cultural particularity that would allow it to be useful to guide some of the world’s most threatened areas, those housing our flagship species of primates and other animals. Take, for example, the simple bullet list which outlines what “the pursuit of sustainable development requires”: • A political system that secures effective citizen participation in decision making • An economic system that is able to generate surpluses and technical knowledge on a self-reliant and sustained basis • A social system that provides for solutions for the tensions arising from disharmonious development • A production system that respects the obligation to preserve the ecological base for development • A technological system that can search continuously for new solutions • An international system that fosters sustainable patters of trade and finance, and • An administrative system that is flexible and has the capacity for self-correction (Brundtland 1987, 74). These, however, are unactionable ideals rather that do not represent the unfortunate realities of the world, which on a fundamental level has not changed too much in the past twenty years. And while the report does stress that it is the “sincerity” with which these goals are pursued that matters, for nations such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (then Zaire), Uganda, and Rwanda, asking for a sincere commitment to democracy and a production system that respects environmental obligations may be asking too much. Thus, as we look at projects emerging in the post-Brundtland frame, we will see solid ideals which, unfortunately, lack elements of cultural particularity to ensure success in ecological terms, whether that be forest protection, species protection, or otherwise. The other crucial chapter in the Brundtland report, which focuses on “Species and Ecosystems.” For someone approaching conservation with particular concern for species diversity and the protection of primates, this chapter begins to offer a framework as well. However, it again falls short of offering truly actionable approaches, instead explaining broadly what governments should do to protect their most endangered species and ecosystems (Brundtland 1987, 29).
Developing Conservation Post-Brundtland Now, I want to look briefly at two examples of “community-based conservation” which emerged in the era post-Brundtland. First, one must put aside the contentious nature of the terms making up the approach, as it is easy to get bogged down in a line of questioning that might begin with: How do we define community? By race? Ethnicity? Shared history? And what exactly is conservation? Instead, I’ll use the definition offered by David Western and R. Michael Wright in Natural Connections, a volume they edited about the very same topic. In it, Western and Wright describe community-based conservation as follows: The term covers both new and traditional conservation methods, as well as conservation efforts that originate within or outside a community, so long as the outcome benefits the community... community-based conservation reverses top-down, center-driven conservation by focusing on the people who bear the costs of conservation. (Western and Wright 1994, 7).

In simpler terms, community-based conservation is an attempt to take the principles outlined in the Brundtland report—conservation targeted at not slowing economic growth and opportunities—and translate those into action. Zimbabwe’s Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE) arose as a way to spark implementation of conservation policy in communal lands. The goal, on a fundamental level, is to get individuals and communities invested in the environments in which they live. More specifically, CAMPFIRE seeks to initiate a long-term development plan, place agency with local resident communities, allow these communities to benefit directly from both the use and preservation of communal areas, and to establish administrative structures to make the program work (Metcalfe 1994, 182). Zimbabwe is a particularly interesting case because of the diversity of its indigenous population, which includes Shona, Ndebele, and a substantial set of others, heightening the need for specificity in policy design (Metcalfe 1994, 168). The communal areas targeted by the program represent 42 percent of the Zimbabwean land area. As a result, CAMPFIRE has an undeniable capacity for influencing the health of the environment in Zimbabwe. “Ultimately,” Simon Metcalfe writes, “CAMPFIRE depends on the support of local people for its success and merely attempts to provide an enabling environment in which that support can occur” (Metcalfe 1994, 190). Unfortunately, however, many CAMPFIRE efforts have been saddled with too much bureaucracy and district-led (rather than locally-led) control of conservation efforts, including in the largest district, Nyaminyami, where decisions are made at the district level and there is little identification between ward benefits and the wildlife resource being targeted for conservation, with little to no expertise available to actually implement projects (Metcalfe 1994, 175). A 1992 essay from the Centre for Applied Social Sciences at the University of Zimbabwe highlights some of the issues surrounding CAMPFIRE, confirming most of what Metcalfe writes in his essay. Moving beyond the bureaucratic issues I mentioned previously, the essay makes the following statement, the strongest of its conclusions: “What is obviously required is an attempt to understand local intentions and strategies regarding wildlife and to organise implementation to suit these local conditions” (Murombedzi 1992, 73; emphasis added). What is striking is not only the absence of local understanding, which could be forgivable if, in the spirit of the Brundtland Report, administrators had made a “sincere effort,” but rather, the lack of even an attempt. Such a void is troubling, in particular, given the admit lack of knowledge going into CAMPFIRE implementation in Nyaminyami: It must be noted at the outset that at the time of implementation, little was known about local ways of life, particularly relationships with wildlife, local ecological perceptions, or the applications of local ecological knowledge in dealing with wildlife. Moreover, implementation was by its very nature exclusive and to wildlife because of its revenue generation potential and thus excluded from the outset holistic perceptions of ecological management (Murombedzi 1992, 20).

Just as we see on a larger level a lack of local consciousness within the 1987 Brundtland Report, we see a hole in an otherwise promising CAMPFIRE program and, just as noted earlier, we see the vague concept of (economic) “development” being privileged over any notion of conservation. For a second example, I will turn to Zimbabwe’s neighbor Botswana, a nation which in 1997 called a national conference, hosted by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, to address conservation and management strategies for the twenty-first century. While the lengthy report from the conference did highlight some positives, it was mostly marked by much of the same verbiage as the discussion surrounding CAMPFIRE: leaders with an ultimate end in mind but without the know-how or direction to make it happen. The report highlighted the current top-down approach and offered as a five-step response “the devolution of control, NGO capacity enhancement, institutional capacity strengthening, re-definition of user rights, and integration of indigenous resource conservation knowledge with conventional conservation” (Dikobe and Thakadu 1997, 282). The final two points are, of course, the most important, as they put into words specific action plans which the Brundtland report, issued a decade earlier, failed to include. Yet again, we see a post-Brundtland plan of action falter, only to have evaluations call for an increased level of collaboration with local resident communities. With these examples in mind, then, how do we get from the idealistic conception of development, as outlined by the 1987 Brundtland Report, to a more actionable version which fully incorporates community-driven conservation? Charles D. Kleymeyer offers a number of potential steps to being to make the “sea change” that he sees necessary. Recognizing the capacity for misuse but tremendous benefit to implementation, he advocates using “culture as a toolbox” to strengthen the link between culture and conservation within the lives of those in the world’s most threatened areas. He also pushes for general strengthening of community-based organizations and a fostering of a stewarding spirit within communities, as well as teaching and mentorship, in culturally-specific media (whether that be stories, songs, or formalized teaching), in order to instill conservation within the cultural norm (Kleymeyer 1994). Peter D. Little pushes for an even more specific goal: a shared definition of the problem. Citing the discontinuity that seems to plague partnerships between regional or national authorities and local communities, Little writes that “the extent to which the local population shares in problem definition and participates in its identification is a prime factor affecting program success... Problem identification does not merely mean eliciting dialogue from local villagers but includes... the degree to which the problem has been translated into terms or situations that have relevance to the local community” (Little 1994, 359). He continues by noting the potential economic benefit of having local support of conservation, bringing our discussion full circle. If, as Little writes, “conservation interventions that are closely linked to production and income gains... elicit participation,” then the ideal definition (and potentially the only workable definition) of development theory would include conservation not as a subordinate drain on growth, but as an equal partner. Looking around the world today, as species of plants and animals disappear by the day, it is time for conservation and development to be wedded at last, the former finally catching up to the latter’s decades of growth.

Works Cited
Brundtland, G (Ed). 1987. Our Common Future: The World Commission on Environment and Development. (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Cowlishaw, G. and R. Dunbar. 1997. Primate Conservation Biology. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press).

Dikobe, L.M. and O.T. Thakadu. 1997. “Community Participation in Wildlife Conservation.” In Conservation and Management of Wildlife in Botswana: Strategies for Twenty First Century. (Botswana: Department of Wildlife and National Parks), 275-285.

Ehrlich, P.R. and A.H. Ehrlich. 1968. The Population Bomb. (New York: Ballantine Books).

Kleymeyer, C.D. 1994. “Cultural Traditions and Community-based Conservation.” in Western, D and RM Wright (Eds.). Natural Connections. (Washington DC: Island Press), 323-346.

Little, P.D. 1994. “The Link between Local Participation and Improved Conservation.” in Western, D and RM Wright (Eds.). Natural Connections. (Washington DC: Island Press), 347-372.

Metcalfe, Simon. 1994. “The Zimbabwe Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE).” in Western, D and RM Wright (Eds.). Natural Connections. (Washington DC: Island Press), 161-192.

Murombedzi, JC. 1992. “Decentralization or Recentralization? Implementing CAMPFIRE in the Omay Communal Lands of the Nyaminyami District.” (Harare: University of Zimbabwe).

Sainath, Palagummi. Everybody Loves a Good Drought; Stories from India’s Poorest Districts. (Penguin Books, 1996).

Sen, Amartya. 1999. Development as Freedom. (New York: Anchor Books).

United Nations. 1986. Declaration on the Right to Development. (New York: United Nations).

United Nations Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs. 2005. World Population Prospects: The 2004 Revision (New York: United Nations).

Western, D and RM Wright (Eds.). 1994. Natural Connections. (Washington DC: Island Press).

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