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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Conservation protection alleviates poverty nationwide in Costa Rica and Thailand!

A great paper that shows that when protected areas were set up in the 70s and 80s in Costa Rica and Thailand, the surrounding regions had the lowest national average poverty indices. Today these areas have dramatically increased their poverty status (see caveats below). The mechanism by which this is acting is unclear at the moment (some hypotheses below) but its great news for conservation! - MA

Andam KS, Ferraro PJ, Sims KR, Healy A, Holland MB (2010)Protected areas reduced poverty in Costa Rica and Thailand. PNAS. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0914177107 [open access]

Protected areas reduced poverty in Costa Rica and Thailand
As global efforts to protect ecosystems expand, the socioeconomic impact of protected areas on neighboring human communities continues to be a source of intense debate. The debate persists because previous studies do not directly measure socioeconomic outcomes and do not use appropriate comparison groups to account for potential confounders. We illustrate an approach using comprehensive national datasets and quasi-experimental matching methods. We estimate impacts of protected area systems on poverty in Costa Rica and Thailand and find that although communities near protected areas are indeed substantially poorer than national averages, an analysis based on comparison with appropriate controls does not support the hypothesis that these differences can be attributed to protected areas. In contrast, the results indicate that the net impact of ecosystem protection was to alleviate poverty.

From the discussion [bold added]:
Despite the differences in Costa Rica's and Thailand's institutions, economic development trajectories, and protected area system histories, we find no evidence that their protected areas systems have exacerbated poverty on average in neighboring communities. In fact, we find the opposite: if anything, protected areas have reduced poverty. This result is remarkable given that previous studies have shown that protected area systems in these two nations have reduced deforestation. These results thus support recent claims, based on an examination of World Bank project evaluations, that biodiversity conservation is not necessarily incompatible with development goals. Our results also suggest that protecting biodiversity can contribute to both environmental sustainability and poverty alleviation, two of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals...

...Our analysis does not elucidate the specific mechanisms through which protected areas may have reduced poverty. We speculate that benefits to local residents have included tourism business opportunities, investments in human and physical capital by national and international agents, and the maintenance of ecosystem services. Research to understand these mechanisms is a clear future priority...

... Costa Rica and Thailand are not representative of all developing nations. They have both experienced rapid macroeconomic growth, have had relatively stable political systems, have made substantial investments in their protected area systems, and have relatively successful eco-tourism sectors. Thus whether our results would hold for other nations is an open question... Only through multination replications and extensions can we obtain a global picture of the impacts of protected areas on human welfare.
Thanks to Dieter L for the link!

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