#01 Biodiversity
Benno Haupt / Barbara Lassen / Thora Amend

Protected areas: combining nature conservation and sustainable development

Protected areas play an important role in nature conservation and the promotion of sustainable development. More than 120,000 protected areas with official recognition have been created – most of them in the past two decades – in terrestrial and marine environments around the world. The aim is to conserve the planet’s biodiversity and some of these areas explicitly allow for traditional and/or sustainable ways of using resources. But these initiatives alone cannot achieve such ambitious aims as halting the loss of biodiversity or reducing poverty. A great number of direct and indirect factors need to be addressed.

More than 80% of the world’s biodiversity is located in developing and newly industrializing countries (WCMC 1992). Hence there is a great overlap of so-called biodiversity hotspots and areas with high rates of poverty. This relationship implies the inseparability of nature conservation and development because biodiversity is indispensable for ensuring people’s livelihoods. It does so by providing ecosystem services. These services include everything that nature provides for our daily use – for example food, clothing or medicinal herbs (Dudley et al. 2008a). But currently, the loss of biodiversity is accelerating and many species are already extinct. As a consequence, the human race is depriving itself of options for future development and the basis of its own existence (SCBD 2010).

One of the most important instruments for combining nature conservation and development is the concept of protected areas. They represent a defined and delimited geographical space which aims at the “conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values” (Dudley et al. 2008b). The creation of protected areas has thus become the most important spatial planning instrument for the conservation of biological diversity globally. While in the past protected areas were seen as closed spaces only to be accessed by ruling elites, often of European decent and with exclusive rights (e.g. hunting), nowadays the objectives of all types of protected areas include social and cultural dimensions – some of them via direct resource use (i.e. permitted subsistence, agriculture or fishing), others via indirect uses (i.e. spiritual values). Additionally, further sources of income and employment for local people can be created by the establishment of a protected area. The include tourism, management and control of the protected area itself, or scientific research. Figure 1 provides an overview of the growing trend for designating protected areas.

Fig. 1 Extent of nationally designated protected areas (SCBD, 2010)

This article tries to describe how to create a protected area. It also focuses on the question of how to adequately combine the well-being of both the environment and local residents. It does this by providing a general overview of functions and governance types and presenting two examples from Benin and Ecuador.

Protected areas differ in terms of management objectives and size as well as use restrictions. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) defines the following six protection categories: Category I: strict nature reserve/ wilderness area; Category II: national park; Category III: natural monument; Category IV: habitat/ species management area; Category V: protected landscape/ seascape; Category VI: protected area with sustainable use of natural resources. According to the IUCN, the categories do not follow a hierarchal order of importance in terms of nature conservation. Instead it is essential to emphasise the objectives and a well balanced mixture of categories in spatial planning at national level. “All categories make a contribution to conservation but objectives should be chosen with respect to the particular situation; not all categories are equally useful in every situation” (Dudley et al. 2008b).

In addition to the different management categories, IUCN recognizes various types of governance for protected areas. Conventionally, protected areas are administered by the state. Private protected areas are another common type. But in the last decade a paradigm shift has taken place: recent models of governance try to share the responsibility with local residents and those who possess land within the area (Borrini-Feyerabend et al. 2008). Some of these participatory approaches are called co-management models because the state and local people share their administration. Another emerging form of protected areas are Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas (ICCA) where local communities already have or assume responsibility for administrating and managing their area, which often consists of ancestrally used lands. Many of these traditionally protected land- and seascapes are not officially declared or state-recognized protected areas although these forms of nature conservation are often much older than conventional protected areas. Above all, protected areas are no longer to be seen as “islands”, isolated from regional development contexts. The concepts of buffer zones and ecological corridors create spaces for the transition to sustainable land use (Amend et al. 2003). The following matrix shows the relationship between governance types and management categories.

Benin: hunting tourism and nature conservation

The Pendjari National Park in northwest Benin is located in one of the most biodiverse savannah landscapes in West Africa. At the same time it is one of the poorest regions in the world. The impact of climate change, combined with rapid population growth has increased the pressure on natural resources and conservation.

Fig. 2 Governance types and protected area categories (Dudley et al., 2008b)

The region was designated a wildlife sanctuary as early as 1954 for pure nature preservation without involving the local population. This resulted in many problems: over-exploitation of natural resources, poaching, illegal land seizures and conflicts between local people and park management. In addition to the degradation of ecosystems and loss of biodiversity, social peace was also at risk. In 1986, the sanctuary was recognized as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and in 2009 it was inscribed in the Tentative List of Natural World Heritage Sites (UNESCO). From 2003 to 2010 it received support from the German government (GTZ) as well as other European donors.

Today, the objectives of the Pendjari Park are to maintain its high biological diversity while allowing local people to make use of the economic potential of the area and to distribute the generated profits in a fair and equitable manner. This would result in higher income levels for the local population on the one hand, and fewer incentives for land seizures, illegal deforestation and poaching on the other. Local authorities obtain more power which gives them more ways to benefit from the resources in their region. The end result was an overall better acceptance of nature conservation.

Safari-hunting tourism for international visitors is now the region’s financial backbone, generating high incomes for local dwellers and institutions. The activities are strictly controlled and scientifically monitored. The wildlife populations are not at risk because special hunting areas have been identified and only older animals are permitted to be killed. The local population benefits financially to a great extent from this. In addition to hunting tourism, about 130 full-time positions in the park and its surroundings have been created and regional interest groups of local people have been established and strengthened. As a result, the demands and needs of park residents and neighbours are better recognized and represented, and the zoning of the protected area as well as the creation of a joint management board fosters cooperation between local people and the park administration (Dittrich & Eißing 2007).

Ecuador: conservation by indigenous communities

The Chachi indigenous communities in the northern part of the Esmeraldas Province in Ecuador possess legal and ancestral rights over their territories. However, they are under threat from growing external pressures, mainly from unsustainable logging, the expansion of palm oil plantations for agrofuels, encroachment by farmers looking for new land for agriculture, and the presence of armed groups (mostly involved in the conflict in neighbouring Colombia). Although the Chachi have been grated rights over their territories, and to a great extent have been conserving and sustainably using their resources for centuries, they live in conditions of extreme poverty. Increased contact with the outside world has given the communities access to some public services and regional markets, but has also created conflicts. Nowadays, small scale logging is one of the most important sources of livelihood. But marginalization and the lack of economic alternatives puts the communities at a disadvantage when negotiating with logging companies, leading to the destruction of their natural resources without much compensation.

Fig. 3 Waterbuck in Pendjari National Park – Open season on four of them was declared in 2004 (2007)

In 2004, German development cooperation and Conservation International initiated the “Gran Reserva Chachi” project with the aim of providing compensation to the Chachi communities for voluntarily conserving part of their territories. According to the concept of “Conservation Agreements”, the Chachi keep full autonomy over their areas, i.e. their region does not form part of the national protected area system. Rules for conservation and for sustainable use of buffer zones are agreed upon with the communities, and a monitoring system is put into place. The cost of not using the forest areas were evaluated in cooperation with the Chachi. Based on this data, yearly payments, raised by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (German Association for Technical Cooperation, GTZ) and Conservation International, are made to the communities. The use of these funds is based on a multi-year development plan and yearly investment plans, also established with the full participation of the communities. In addition to the direct compensation payments, the project has delivered technical assistance to the communities for the production and selling of agroforestry products such as cocoa, and contributed to the training of rangers to monitor the conservation areas (Speiser et al. 2009).

These two examples from Benin and Ecuador show how different types of protected areas can contribute to the same objective: preserving biodiversity, promoting sustainable development and generating benefits for local people. In both cases acceptance by local people, their participation in decision-making processes and the equitable sharing of economic benefits amongst the diverse stakeholders were indispensable keys to success. Without fulfilling these criteria, a protected area is doomed to fail, resulting in conflicts which both inhibit local development and impact negatively upon the region’s ecology. The case histories of the Pendjari National Park and the Gran Reserva Chachi demonstrate this very clearly.

Fig. 4 Traditional timber transport in the Gran Reserva Chachi (GTZ GESOREN, 2009)

The case of Ecuador provides an example of a protected area that allows for the sustainable use of natural resources (Category VI) and falls under the governance by indigenous peoples and local communities (Type D), although it has not been declared an official protected area. The Pendjari National Park obviously represents Category II and a type of shared governance (Type B). Both areas are managed differently but with the same ultimate goal. Depending on the regional situation, the protection category, and the methods used, these examples show that nature conservation works only in conjunction with people.

However, even the best concepts and intentions for fostering local development and nature conservation are no guarantee for long-term success. Their successful implementation always ultimately depends on human beings, their aspirations and the political will to advance ecologically, socially and economically integrated and thus hopefully sustainable efforts. Solutions are not only to be found in the respective country in which a protected area is located. The relevance and impact of environmental issues goes well beyond national boundaries. Industrialized countries in particular and their citizens must reconsider the impacts of continuing to follow business as usual and encouraged to find appropriate solutions for resource use. Sooner or later, those who are directly dependent on nature in developing countries as well as those who no are no longer aware of their relationship to nature in industrialized countries will be affected by our current way of dealing with our planet.


Amend, St. et al. (2003): Management Plans – Concepts and Proposals. Parques Nacionales y Conservación Ambiental No. 11. Panamá

Borrini-Feyerabend, G. et al. (2008): Implementing the CBD Programme of Work on Protected Areas. Briefing Note No. 8. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland Dittrich, M. & Eißing, S. (2007): Use it or Lose it: Jagdtourismus und Wildtierzucht für Naturschutz und Entwicklung – Anregungen aus Benin. In: Nachhaltigkeit hat viele Gesichter, Vol. 3. Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) GmbH, Eschborn, Germany

Dudley, N. et al. (2008a): Safety Net. Protected areas and poverty reduction. The Arguments for Protection series. WWF. Gland, Switzerland

Dudley, N. et al. (2008b): Guidelines for Applying Protected Area Management Categories. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland

Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (2010): Global Biodiversity Outlook 3. Montréal, Canada

Speiser, S. et al. (2009): Buenas Prácticas Conservación y Desarrollo: una experiencia de los Chachi en el Noroccidente Ecuatoriano. (GTZ) GmbH, Eschborn, Germany

World Conservation Monitoring Centre (1992): Global Biodiversity: Status of the Earth’s Living Resourceses, London, UK