Effective biodiversity conservation requires empowering and supporting Indigenous people 

– Basic income schemes such as CBIs improve well-being, reduce poverty, and redress inequalities including gender inequity, experts have revealed.

John Cassim

HARARE, ZIMBABWE – Imagine governments including Zimbabwe, were to simply transfer money, unconditionally, to people living in protected and key conservation areas throughout the world.

From Indigenous people in the Amazon rainforest to cattle herders in Africa and fishermen in coastal Indonesia.

According to a journal called Nature Sustainability, a Wildlife Conservation Society led team of conservationists, suggested a daily pay-out of US$ 5.50, to all residents of the protected areas in low income countries, would cost less than annual subsidies given to fossil fuels and other environmentally harmful industries.

These are what they are calling “Conservation Basic Income” (CBI).

CBI is an unconditional cash payment to individuals, aimed to support stewardship of land and biodiversity by Indigenous Peoples and local communities.

These grants may be given by a state body or NGO and may be given in a variety of means (for example via electronic payments), as one-off payments, or provided in regular instalments but certain behavioural or spending requirements may sometimes be placed on the transfers 

The authors of the journal say a CBI is a potentially powerful mechanism for facilitating a radical shift in conservation. 

They say that evidence from other poverty-alleviation cash transfer programs that are unconditional with respect to conservation outcomes suggest that a CBI could achieve conservation in many contexts. 

Indonesia’s national program of anti-poverty cash transfers was given as an example that has also reduced deforestation across Indonesia.

“CBI more equitably distributes the costs and benefits of conservation because basic income schemes improve well-being, reduce poverty, and redress inequalities including gender inequity.” 

“Inequalities, including gender, are key drivers of biodiversity loss. CBI could enable communities to pursue their own visions of a good life and avoid exploitation by extractive industries,” lead author Dr Emiel de Lange of Wildlife Conservation Society’s Cambodia Program

“Moreover, through redistribution of wealth from affluent populations or harmful industries, CBI can reduce aggregate global consumption and environmental impact,” he added.

It is suggested that CBI and other forms of cash giving could enable conservation through reducing poverty levels, thus lessening the impact of the poverty-environmental degradation nexus.

This would enable recipients to avoid participating in destructive practices out of necessity.

 Another possibility is that CBI could potentially enable conservation by empowering communities to resist pressures to sell their land to external, potentially destructive influences. 

However, the impacts of giving CBI, to the conservation and environmental governance remains under-explored as it is another form of non-market-based cash giving. 

While some initial findings indicate that cash giving has better results regarding reduced deforestation rates, these relate to programmes conditional on educational, rather than environmental, outcomes.

According to the World Bank, as of 2014, cash transfer programs in whatever currency is given directly to recipients to spend on goods and services encompassed 720 million people in 130 countries.

Meanwhile there is a consensus that seems to have developed around ‘30 × 30’ (30% of land and water protected by 2030), but ecologists have also called for half of Earth’s land area to be protected

This will potentially impact between 1 billion and 1.8 billion people, mostly in low- and middle-income countries. 

Historically, top-down conservation has excluded Indigenous People and Local Communities from decision-making, imposed costs on them and increased inequalities. 

Conservation in many places is increasingly violent and militarised and has resulted in human rights violations. 

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