Sunday, January 03, 2016

Trouble in Paradise

The Socialist Standard recently carried an article on one aspect of where supposedly ethical-minded NGOs are part of the global land-grab.

This article also draws attention to the conservation refugees and points out that although the  5th World Parks Congress in 2003 discussed issues such as human rights last year's World Parks Congress message was clear: let there be no retreat; let every country play its part in the push to achieve protected area targets; let the park rangers have more support in their war against ‘poachers’ and the continuation of policies of forced resettlement in order to create, extend and strengthen state-managed parks and game reserves. Conservation areas are — under the premise the ends justify the means— being pursued at any price and by any means possible. For indigenous and rural communities who live on land targeted for conservation by the state or by conservation NGOs, even when they have been stalwart stewards of the ecosystems they inhabit, the result is devastating. A culture of conservation that treats human beings as the enemy turns a blind eye to violations of human rights

In Tanzania whose protected areas cover no less than one-third of the country's territory, many factors frustrate conservation efforts, including climate change, a growing human population, poverty, unsustainable resource use outside of protected areas, encroachment into park lands, and most notably an overwhelming poaching crisis. The steady expansion of the protected area network together with the need to combat the unprecedented level of organized poaching of iconic wildlife species such as elephants and rhinos have been accompanied by a relentless push for escalating security budgets. Tanzania's pattern of forcibly displacing ancestral communities from their land and significantly hindering mobile people's ability to seasonally access needed resources, while the tourism industry and the government conservation agencies continue to accumulate territory may be the most fundamental challenge to the conservation of biodiversity in the country.

Disillusioned communities surrounding parks and game reserves, once stewards of their own environments, have been divested of all but tiny remnants of their ancestral lands or have been fully dispossessed, leading to destroyed livelihoods, out-migration and social conflict. Peoples integrally connected to their natural environment, such as the Maasai of Loliondo, and communities who in the past proactively reached out to seek a partnership with the government to implement conservation, such as Uvinje on Tanzania's northern coast, have been stripped of their tenure rights and their ability to properly care for themselves and the wildlife, and portrayed as enemies of conservation. 


There are three essential problems.

First, the pursuit of conservation through the creation of boundaries and enclosures which divide communities and nature and place nature under the strict control of powerful, unaccountable non-local institutions can only work to the extent that protected areas can be buffered from social discontent beyond their boundaries—an essentially impossible task. The marginalization and dispossession of indigenous peoples and rural communities in the name of conservation, the capturing of the tourism dollars and other economic benefits of conservation by local and national elites and by international investors, and the militarization of protected areas can only lead to increasing social conflict and disillusionment with the very idea of conservation and with the organizations promoting it. Cash payouts as a part of "benefit sharing", even when they do actually materialize, even when they do amount to something more than crumbs, cannot compensate for losing one's livelihood, cultural bearings, land and home. In contrast to this trend is the growing recognition from both researchers and practitioners that biological diversity is intrinsically connected to cultural diversity, and that indigenous peoples and local communities enrich the practice of conservation. Indeed, where indigenous and local communities have been able to secure their rights to govern their territories as well as implement their values and outlook on protected areas and conservation, positive conservation outcomes have been achieved, and productive partnerships and new forms of collaboration have developed. Conversely, the failure to acknowledge this has prevented national governments and the conservation establishment from benefiting from traditional ecological knowledge, from grassroots social and institutional experience in sustainably managing ecosystems, and from the home-grown, heartfelt conservation ethic which people who live on and from the land so often possess. We cannot expect to achieve conservation when the means of doing so violate the welfare of those who have fostered biodiversity.

Second, the dominant approach seems to ignore the fact that we live in an interconnected world, where local processes have global consequences and vice versa. What happens beyond parks is as critical as what happens within them, often more so. The international trade in engendered species, climate change, and the destruction of habitat by conflicts and by industrial resource extraction all affect indigenous and rural communities whose traditional territories lie within and adjacent to parks, but are not caused by them. This problem was identified at the recent World Parks Congress:

“The failure of the IUCN and the conservation sector to take seriously the surge in mining, extractive industries and other forms of development has put into question the integrity of protected and conserved areas, the maintenance of livelihoods for Indigenous peoples and local communities, and possible solutions to climate change and instability.”
Even when these communities are, in some places, contributing to the loss of biodiversity, as through the expansion of agriculture into ever more marginal lands and wildlife habitats, it must be recognized that these activities are intricately connected to conditions of poverty, failings of governance, and social injustice. Addressing environmental challenges in a fragmented way that does not account for these deeper drivers and that does not take into account the need to engage with a broader range of custodians of territories who could help to counter these drivers will not shield us from serious environmental consequences either within or outside of protected areas. Often, it is communities members' practices we blame, as well as communities' territories we turn our attention to, and in doing so, we fail to see what happens in the more industrialized and geopoliticized landscapes.

The third problem is more fundamental. It relates to the thinking underlying a culture and approach to conservation which divides people and nature. This fragmented worldview produces solutions based on fragmentation. It leads either to the belief that nature is a resource, something to be dominated and used, or to the conviction that it must be defended from human beings. Most state-led conservation approaches are based on a dualistic separation between people and the environment, in many cases leading to displacement, resettlement and to loss not only of rich biological, but also of cultural, diversity. Indigenous worldviews, on the other hand, see human beings as part of the world of nature and recognize an interconnectedness which runs deeper than simply acknowledging that our material survival depends on healthy ecosystems. In a worldview founded on interconnectedness, nature shapes who we are as human beings. And it is shaped by us—not as engineers fabricating a machine to chosen specifications, but as creatures that move within and help to make up the world of nature. Small parts called "protected areas" cannot be healthy apart from the whole.

The very phrase "protected area" reveals misguided thinking. Protected from what? The answer—protected from us—reveals the imbalance that calls out for correction. Countries that still have large areas of natural forest and savannah should not be building walls to keep people away from nature or slowly depriving areas of badly needed services and infrastructure as a way to push people away. Instead, they should support people to make decisions for the well-being of their children and grandchildren, provide requested extension services, and encourage local economies that protect biocultural diversity while also adding value to it. The primary purpose of parks should not be to attract international tourists. Instead, more should be done to attract and assist local people to (re)connect with their territory. This is particularly true for rural people who live adjacent to protected areas. There is a need to recognize and support indigenous people's and local communities' ability to live well in their territories and to use their resources according to their values and knowledge. Indeed, there is growing evidence that indigenous peoples whose human rights are protected, e.g. their rights to their lands, territories and resources and right to self-determination, have ecosystems that are in much better shape than national parks and reserves managed by the State or other external actors. The separation of communities from their ancestral territories undermines the interconnectedness that we so badly need and depend upon. The need to re-enlist local communities as allies in conservation is urgent. This need can be met, not through "awareness-raising" programs, but through tangible steps toward recognition of rights to territory, concrete redress of social justice infringements and participation in decision-making processes, as well as effective delivery of requested services and infrastructure in areas that are often impoverished and marginalized. Meager benefit-sharing programs and draconian restrictions on inhabitation, access and use of protected areas will not suffice.

Taken from Truth Out website (where full source links are available)