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Integrated Conservation & Development Projects in Northern Thailand Research Paper

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In developing countries protected areas often fail to achieve their aim of protecting natural habitats and endangered animal species. The reason is that they often act directly against the economic interests of the local population, which is excluded from land and wildlife utilization to which it formerly had access. In addition, the protection of many nature reserves is poorly enforced, because of the vast areas involved and the poor financial situation of the park management As a consequence, illegal land and wildlife utilization, such as slashing and burning forests for agricultural use and hunting game animals for meat, are widespread.

Recently, these shortcomings of the traditional approach to protected area management resulted in the implementation of so-called “integrated conservation and development projects” (IDPs). In theory, the ICDP overcomes the open-access problem by coupling conservation and development activities. The development activity creates revenues which are used to create incentives for the local population to engage in conservation activities. Thus, the successful ICDP results in a “win-win” situation in which

  • natural habitats and wildlife are protected.
  • the income of the local population is increased, and poverty and hardship are alleviated. however, many ICDPs have failed (or are likely to fail) to achieve their conservation goals.

What Integrated conservation and development projects mean?

Integrated conservation and development projects (ICDPs) are biodiversity conservation projects with rural development components. This is an approach that aspires to combine social development with conservation goals. These projects look to deal with biodiversity conservation objectives through the use of socio-economic investment tools. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) first introduced ICDPs in the mid-1980s. They wanted to attend to some of the problems associated with the “fines and fences” (no participatory) approach to conservation.

The most commonly invoked definition for Integrated Conservation Development Projects (ICDPs) was first provided by Wells and Brandon (1992). These authors defined ICDPs as projects that link biodiversity conservation in protected areas (PAs) with local socio-economic development. This linkage means that local people living

in or near PAs are given alternative sources of livelihood that reduce the pressures on PA resources. Currently, there are several interpretations of this succinct definition primarily because ICDPs are complex and relatively novel. Consequently, ICDPs have become all things to all people with just about any “green” rural development project now carrying the ICDP label.

The main components of the project are as follows

  • Effective reserve management.
  • Development and promotion of eco-tourism and other alternative livelihoods.
  • Law enforcement and anti-poaching.
  • Sustainable forest management planning.
  • Building capacity and conservation awareness at all levels.

Developing indicators for monitoring and the subsequent evaluation of data is an important and essential component of an ICDP. This component is valuable even if the project fails. ICDPs are relatively new and there is not much of a track record beyond the planning or early implementation phase. The jury is still out about whether ICDPs actually work.

Unfortunately, because of their complexity and multiple shareholders, ICDPs use a disproportionately large percentage of the limited funds available for conservation. This means that in order to prevent costly mistakes from happening over and over again, a strong monitoring and evaluation program must be in place.

Second, the complexity of ICDPs means that failure can happen at any time for a variety of reasons.

Monitoring and evaluation will enable project staff to identify early warning signs of possible failure and take appropriate steps to circumvent the problem.

Characteristics of ICDPs

Biodiversity conservation is the primary goal, but ICDPs like to deal with the social and economic requirements of communities that might threaten biodiversity. They wish to improve the relationships between state-managed protected areas and their neighbors but do not inevitably seek to delegate ownership of protected area resources to local communities. They usually receive funding from external sources and are externally motivated and initiated by conservation organizations and development agencies. ICDPs are normally linked to a protected area, usually a national park.

ICDPs, through benefit-sharing, are believed to discourage poaching and promote economic development. ICDPs try to benefit indigenous populations in several ways, through the transfer of money from tourism, the creation of jobs, and the stimulation of productivity in agriculture.

The objectives of ICDP

  1. To stabilize the park boundary and protect biodiversity within the park.
  2. To maintain biodiversity and promote sustainable forest management within production forests around the park.
  3. To enhance the livelihoods of poor households who live around the park.

The term ICDP has been applied to a diverse range of initiatives with a common goal: linking biodiversity conservation in protected areas (PAs) with local social and economic development. In practice ICDPs usually target both the protected area (by strengthening management) and local communities (by providing incentives such as rural development opportunities to reduce pressure on natural habitats and resources).

In most countries, ICDPs started as small NGO efforts but most major donors have now embraced the ICDP model, many builds on earlier more traditional conservation efforts to strengthen park protection and management. ICDPs range in size and scope from initiatives that seek to empower and benefit local communities to programs designed for poverty alleviation around protected areas to major programs which attempt to integrate conservation with regional and national development. All are represented in this volume. It is not surprising that ICDPs are so popular, they offer an almost irresistible cocktail of perceived benefits: biodiversity conservation, increased local community participation, more equitable sharing of benefits and economic development for the rural poor.

Early enthusiasm for ICDPs is now being questioned with a more critical examination of their impact on both conservation and development objectives. Do ICDPs work? Are conservation and development compatible? Is the ICDP approach an effective or appropriate model for protected area management?. The answer must be “only sometimes” and “under some circumstances”. Often conservation and development are conflicting agendas and projects have unrealistic and contradictory goals, with different stakeholders having very different expectations.

Many in the conservation community are concerned that the social agenda is hijacking conservation efforts, yet often ICDPs have achieved neither conservation nor rural development objectives. Occasionally they have achieved remarkable and inspiring successes in promoting the conservation agenda, fostering local support, and increasing the area of land under protection for biodiversity.

Clear conservation goals

Setting clear and achievable objectives is especially important for ICDPs where the enthusiasm to build alliances and merge conservation and social agendas often lead to loosely defined objectives, with different, and sometimes conflicting, expectations among stakeholders. Not all categories of protected areas have biodiversity conservation as their primary objective but many do and it is often these high biodiversity areas that have been targeted

for ICDP interventions. A thorough analysis of threats to the area will help to determine both proximate threats and the root causes of biodiversity loss and how best these can be addressed through the project. Improving livelihoods or amenities for local communities may bring some limited local benefits and help to win “hearts and minds” (as in Laos) but it won’t do much to ensure park viability if the primary threat comes from new roads, agricultural policies, or a breakdown in law and order as the case studies from Leuser and Kerinci (Indonesia).

ICDPs propose to alleviate pressure on protected areas by providing economic and other benefits to local populations in the form of alternative sources of income and improvements in infrastructure and services such as roads, communal transport, schools, and health care facilities. They are usually implemented in buffer zones around protected areas.

Integrated conservation and development as a general approach has also been applied to other contexts, notably to communally managed lands. Community-based natural resources management, community-based conservation, and extractive reserves are some examples of initiatives sharing similarities with ICDPs. Initially, ICDPs were promoted mainly by conservation NGOs; were largely experimental; involved relatively modest amounts of funding, and were implemented without much government involvement and support.

Gradually, the popularity of ICDPs increased, and international donors began to show interest in funding more ambitious projects, implemented by national governments, sometimes in collaboration with NGOs. During the 1990s, a significant proportion of international funding for biodiversity conservation was aimed at ICDPs and similar community-based conservation initiatives.

In addition, community-based conservation projects are often found to be divergent from the goals of biodiversity conservation and should be based more on biological sciences. As stated byKatrina Brandon, “Not all things can be preserved through use”.

Critiques of ICDPs

Conservation organizations do not necessarily understand the social and economic arenas they are trying to work in. They are the ones to start the ICDPs, rather than the rural people, and have little experience working with communities. They are also unwilling to bear or support legal battles over land and are not willing to strengthen rural organizations because they find it to be “too political”. However, WWF claims that

ICDPs strengthen local organizations and “broker new land-use agreements between governments and communities and helping communities challenge encroachment upon their natural resources, ICDPs involve local communities to improve livelihoods and conservation” Agroforestry and organic gardening projects do not work as well because it is difficult for indigenous people to market what is grown.

Minority ethnic groups and women are many times not accounted for in the redistribution of costs and benefits. There are many limitations on participation by women, so many feel there are not equal opportunities for all people within the community.

External effects like a growing market demand for forest and wildlife products, demographic pressures, and vested interests like illegal logging, mineral extraction, and ranching often go disregarded by ICDPs.

Problems and challenges

  • Conservation efforts had been overtaken by the exponential increase in tourism driven by market forces (mass-tourism, as opposed to eco-tourism).
  • The increase in tourism resulted in increased fuelwood use, pollution, and demands and markets for wildlife products, such as bushmeat and herbal medicines.
  • Poorer local inhabitants derived little benefit from the tourism.
  • Tourism management was taking up a major proportion of reserve staff time at the expense of other conservation activities.

Another problem is that some of the ICDPs that are funded internationally may not be financially or economically sustainable once their external funding has been exhausted.

The failure of ICDPs

ICDPs identifies two main reasons for their failure:

  • First, ICDPs may give wrong incentives. For example, local people do not voluntarily refrain from poaching if they receive lumpsum transfers, as new income sources are complements to existing activities rather than substitutes.
  • Second, ICDPs may give too little incentives. In fact, there is ample evidence that only a small fraction of the ICDPs’ revenues reach the local communities and, thus, incentives for the local population to change habits are small.

It is not difficult to see why integration has gained rapid acceptance among policy and research communities. A wide range of resource management interventions are unsuccessful because they fail to understand and address the complex cause-and-effect relationships underlying many environmental problems as well as the interrelated nature of such problems.

There has also been a tendency to work at a single scale and segregated from other interventions and sectors, which is often inadequate when problems cut across geographical and institutional boundaries. In government, for example, the integration of environmental considerations into sector policies has become a fundamental concern (OECD 2002). This is because many policies conflict with and undermine environmental goals. A typical example is economic policies that encourage tropical deforestation.

In biodiversity conservation, projects have often failed to consider the needs of local populations, often exacerbating poverty and engendering conflicts. Integration is often necessary but what kind of integration depends on the issue (or set of issues) being addressed and its social, economic, and ecological context. Common types of integration include integration of policies, goals, stakeholders, or scales of intervention. Sometimes a combination of some or all of these is required.

Most assessments of ICDPs have concluded that there is little evidence of these initiatives either enabling biodiversity conservation or leading to long-term, sustainable improvements

in well-being. Two main sets of problems appear to limit the success of ICDPs, one related to the rationale behind ICDPs and the other to implementation issues. These are often related and mutually reinforcing. On the conceptual side, the linkages between conservation and development objectives, which are central to the ICDP concept, are generally poorly understood. It has been suggested that it is too simplistic to assume that promoting development around protected areas will take the human pressure off these areas. As Wells and colleagues argue (1999), making limited short-term investments in local development will not necessarily translate into sustainable use over the long term.

In areas afflicted by extreme poverty, people have been found to continue harvesting resources clandestinely from within protected areas while at the same time taking advantage of the new economic opportunities introduced by projects. The tendency, it seems, is for people to add rather than a substitute. It may also be that the links between economic benefits and the commitment of communities to conservation need to be better enforced.

The economic incentives provided by projects have often been insufficient to persuade people to adopt alternative livelihoods and change their behavior. Moreover, some activities such as hunting sometimes have a cultural significance which cash will not substitute Paradoxically, if projects are successful at providing economic opportunities and improving infrastructure, they can induce migration from poorer regions into the project area, therefore increasing pressure on natural resources. ICDPs have often given insufficient attention to community dynamics, which has led to benefits not being distributed equitably, reproducing or further reinforcing socio-economic inequalities within communities.

Some authors have also suggested that ICDPs focus on the wrong threats to protected areas, which are imposed not by local people but by national development policies that promote largescale transformations in the landscape More fundamentally, there is a mismatch over the scale at which conservation must occur in order to maintain the viability of ecosystems and the scale of ICDPs. While ecosystem conservation must often be realised at the landscape scale, ICDPs are typically small-scale, encompassing relatively small areas.

ICDPs are appealing because of their comprehensive and integrated nature. However, this also makes them difficult to implement. Interventions aimed at different things are typically brought under the same project. Projects require high levels of technical and institutional capacity as well as financial resources. support of different actors; and ongoing coordination and negotiation among multiple (and often competing) stakeholders. They are both management and resource are intensive.

The constraints to more effective integrated conservation and development is often seen as being related to lack of understanding regarding the linkages between conservation and development, insufficient technical and managerial capacity of implementing agencies, inability, and unwillingness to involve all stakeholders, and isolation from wider planning processes. While we recognize that these limitations are certainly important, we argue that the underlying constraints to more effective integration

between conservation and development are primarily institutional. Negotiation of trade-offs needs to become more central to the design and implementation of integrated conservation and development initiatives. More effective stakeholder inclusion is essential to reach legitimate and equitable decisions. Improved capacity at all levels, from communities to government and NGOs, is also vital for the effective implementation of agreed actions, strategies, and projects.

Management needs to be more flexible and adaptive and isolated projects must link up more effectively with wider planning processes at the provincial and national levels. However, improving the outcomes of integrated conservation and development often boils down to finding ways to promote appropriate institutions and institutional change to support these processes of institutional building and change linkages between conservation and development :

Many ICDPs are designed on the premise that poverty is the main threat to biodiversity and that providing development opportunities to local communities will reduce pressure on park resources. Often this confidence is misplaced and the linkages between conservation and the development opportunities offered are at best unclear.

Cases like Arfak where there is a clear link between butterfly ranching and habitat conservation are the exception rather than the rule. Often one can question the wisdom or appropriateness of promoting development and new livelihood opportunities for communities in or around protected areas, especially if they serve as magnets to draw in new migrants to marginal lands.

What are the best land uses adjacent to parks, what buffer zones investments do make good neighbors for protected areas?. The answer will vary with site and social context. In Sumatra ICDPs around Lesueur and Kerinci-Seblat national parks are working with the private sector to maintain buffers of natural habitats in selectively logged forests as part of an ecosystem approach to conservation.

In Central America, plantations of certified ‘shade’ coffee in El Salvador provide habitats and corridors for migrating birds and economic incentives for local communities; both farmers and biodiversity benefit. From a social perspective, well-managed lands under intensive agriculture may be just as good neighbors as natural habitats, especially if they limit access and encroachment.

At Guanacaste, private landowners and orange groves play a similar role. Elsewhere golf courses, vacation homes, and well-run private farms may serve the same function. As usual, the perfect solution will be site-specific and may depend on the interests and support of key landowners.

The ICDP focus on meeting community needs and desires may sometimes actually increase the threats to protected areas by increasing levels of harvesting or utilization as communities take on new options in addition to their previous activities. Giving a villager a high-yielding milk cow may increase his income but will not ensure that he gets rid of his scraggy herd, currently grazing untended in the park and competing with local wildlife; more likely he will keep both. Even more worrying, the ICDP approach often pushes the park into the role of development provider for local communities, raising expectations that the management authority may have neither the capacity nor financial resources to continue once the project is over and donor funding is finished.


Integrating Conservation and Development Experience Ross Hughes and Fiona Flintan , International Institute for Environment and Development.

Designing integrated conservation and development projects (ICDPs): illegal hunting, wildlife conservation, and the welfare of the local people. Johannesen, AB (2006).

Berkes, F. and C. Folke, eds. 1998. Linking Social and Ecological Systems.

Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) 1999. The Final Cut. EIA, London.

Report. Winnipeg: Natural Resources Institute, University of Manitoba.

Berkes, F., 2002: Cross scale institutional linkages for commons management: perspectives.

Wells, M. , Guggenheim, S., Khan, A., Wardojo, W., and Jepson, P. 1999. Investing in Biodiversity. A Review of Indonesia’s Integrated Conservation and Development Projects.

Berkes, F. and C. Seixas 2004. Lessons from community self-organization.

Hughes, R. and F. Flintan 2001: Integrating conservation and development experience review and bibliography of ICDP literature. IIED, Biodiversity and Livelihoods.

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