Conservation investment in low-cost countries less likely to succeed

The first study to look at links between conservation management costs and factors that lead to conservation success, finds that biodiversity projects in countries with low management costs are less likely to succeed and may also have negative social consequences.

The international team behind the study, including Dr Bob Smith, of the University of Kent in the UK, reports the findings in the open access online journal PLOS ONE. The study is titled Cheap and Nasty? The Potential Perils of Using Management Costs to Identify Global Conservation Priorities“.

The researchers explain that the cost of wildlife conservation varies widely from country to country, and it is important for donors to take that into account when making investment decisions, but they should not use cost as the main investment criterion.

When they investigated the links between protected area management costs and factors that lead to project success, they found a number of issues that donors should perhaps consider when weighing up likelihood of success against amount of investment.

Conservation success less likely in politically unstable countries

One of the first things they highlight is that countries with low predicted costs of biodiversity projects are also likely to be less politically stable.

And while local support and capacity can offset this instability to some extent, they say they also found that these countries are also less likely to have a civil society that is involved in conservation.

The result is that donors then have to rely on heavier government involvement to make the externally funded projects work, which leads to other problems, as the researchers explain in their study report:

“This can be problematic, as our analyses show that governments in countries with low predicted costs score poorly on indices of corruption, bureaucratic quality and human rights.”

The study concludes that the current approach of using national-level estimates for management costs to set conservation priorities is too simplistic, as “projects in apparently low-cost countries are less likely to succeed and more likely to have negative impacts on people.”

Conservation projects must take into account specific local issues

Instead, the researchers call for an improved approach that takes into account the true costs of avoiding or overcoming such problems.

To develop such an approach, they say conservation scientists must sit down with practitioners and try to understand the specific local issues such as potential negative social impact and the bureaucratic barriers.

“This approach assumes that measures of conservation costs, like measures of conservation value, are organization specific, and would bring a much-needed focus on reducing the negative impacts of conservation to develop projects that benefit people and biodiversity,” they urge.

Dr Smith:

“The conservation community is often reluctant to discuss negative issues that relate to their work, such as corruption and poor treatment of local people by government officials, which are probably more prevalent in some countries. Our study shows we need to investigate these issues further and develop approaches that account for and minimise their impacts.”

He and his colleagues think their findings will be very useful for international donors, because they especially need reliable strategies for prioritizing biodiversity projects around the world, to make sure they get value for money.