Building peace & biodiversity through protected areas

Protected areas, through transparent and open agreements, can help to alleviate conflict while managing natural resources and conserving biodiversity in some of  the most endangered places on Earth – according to five Conservation International case studies.

The case studies examine existing conflicts and describe the participatory processes necessary to reach consensus on resource use and ownership in parts of Bolivia, Ecuador, Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, and Timor-Leste. They highlight the importance of bringing together governments, civil society and local communities to take ownership of and manage natural resources, which can be a source of conflict. 

Liberian boy carrying bucket of oil palm fruit.

© Conservation International/photo by Rob McNeil

“Conflict over natural resources has always been a thread in the conservation arena,” said Kristen Walker Painemilla, managing director and senior vice president of CI’s Policy Center. “The key to real and lasting international development and conservation is to address these underlying conflicts in many areas of the planet.”

These successful examples of consensus-building and policy dialogue serve to inform policy and decision makers about the critical role conservation and sustainable development  can have in peace-building. Well-managed parks and protected areas are essential to preserving the reservoirs of natural capital that provide people with essential ecosystem services like fresh water, clean air, food, climate regulation and disaster prevention.

African conflict and conservation case studies: Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo

In Liberia’s East Nimba Nature Reserve, conflict emerged between local forest users and management authori­ties after the reserve was established without engaging communities. To resolve this multi-stakeholder dispute around rights to forest resources, CI is partnering with local organizations to implement a strategy using a Conservation Agreement model in which conservation investors provide a negotiated benefit package in return for conservation activities undertaken by communi­ties. Following extensive community consultations, an agreement was reached by both parties securing ENNR as a strict nature reserve in return for compensation in the form of investments in improved health, education, infrastructure and livelihoods.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), an armed rebel group known as the Simba Mai Mai has taken up residence in one of the largest and most biodiverse parks in the country, Maiko National Park. The group is largely financed by illegal mining, which has devastated the local socio-economic setting and contributed to an increase in violence and corruption. CI is coordinating with stakeholders in the area to prepare land use plans, which promote activities that strengthen the overall management of the land. True dialogue has been created to support nearby communities and engage the Simba in the process. One outcome has been the integration of ex-combatants as part of the park’s management and ranger guard force.

“In a world with increasing population, dwindling wildlife habitat, greater competition for natural resources, and increasing unpredictability due to global climate change the need for environmental peacebuilding to create collaborative frameworks instead of competitive conflicts has never been greater, said J. Todd Walters, peace fellow at CI.

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