Helping the World's Farmers Save Wild Species
Environmentalists Take Great Pride In Global Expansion Of Wildlife Preserves But Half Of Major Preserves Are Heavily Used For Agriculture
June 25, 2001
by Dennis T. Avery
CHURCHVILLE, Va.--Nepal's Royal Chitwin National Park is home to about 450 endangered rhinoceros and 100 of the world's endangered tigers. But every year, the rhinos and tigers kill a handful of local people.
Tigers have also killed large numbers of the village cattle, while the voracious rhinos have eaten and trampled crops. Villagers hated the deaths and the economic losses and resented the ban on hunting and gathering wood in the park.
In 1993, pioneering legislation created a buffer zone of wild land around the park, and in return dedicated a major share of park revenues for investment in the local villages.
Local people started an elephant-back safari project in the buffer lands, attracting more than 80,000 visitors a year. In its first six months, profits from the safari project refurbished three local schools and a health clinic.
Buffer-zone forests have also helped protect the villages from floods and rhino raids. The park, now supported by local public opinion, is seeing the population of many wild species increase.
In Australia, a group of farmers united under a Landcare project to fence a large protected land area for wildlife. They planted 35,000 trees and reintroduced two marsupial species (the threatened brush-tailed bettong and an endangered wallaby).
Australia's Landcare program now has 4,500 active community groups in which farmers collaborate with governments, non-government organizations and corporations to improve soil, water and biodiversity through cooperative ecosystem management.
In the Philippines, the coral reefs were being overfished. One fishing community designated three "no-take" fish preserves, each with a breeding sanctuary and a surrounding buffer zone for ecologically sound fishing only.
In the first three years, the variety and abundance of fish surged, particularly among the fishermen's favorite species. Over the three sites, the diversity of fish species increased 20 to 40 percent, and fish numbers soared by 42 to 293 percent.
Initially skeptical fishermen have been won over by their increased catches. A survey of 100 "no-take" fishing reserves around the world has shown fish increase an average of 90 percent in number, 31 percent in size, and 23 percent in species present.
About 10 percent of the earth's land area resides in 44,000 wildlife preserves. But the preserves by themselves won't save wild species, according to the World Conservation Union, an environmental conservation group headquartered in Switzerland, and Future Harvest, which represents Third World agricultural researchers.
They recommend creating more wildlife habitat within agricultural regions. Creating bits of wildlife habitat on the poor land in a farming region would keep marginal land out of farming, help provide links between the larger wildlife preserves and give local people a stronger interest in wildlife preservation.
The World Conservation Union and Future Harvest are calling for a new ecological concept called "ecoagriculture." It focus on higher and more sustainable yields from existing farmland to feed the world's larger and more-affluent population in 2050 on as little land as possible.
Other goals would include reducing farm-related pollution, creating more wildlife habits on unkempt bits of farmers' lands and creating more wildlife areas near farms.
Environmentalists take great pride in the recent global expansion of the wildlife preserves. Unfortunately, declaring a wildlife preserve doesn't make it so. Nearly half the major preserves are heavily used for agriculture, mainly by low-yield farmers struggling to feed their families. Those farmers understandably care more about their children than about the government's declared wildlife protection policy.
The wildlife preserves are also heavily hunted. In the Straits of Malacca near Singapore, local hunters in canoes peddle monkey brains and other "bush meat" delicacies to the sailors on passing ships.
In Africa, where meat is a rare treat, local people hunt for the stewpot. Local governments can't afford to pay park rangers to really protect the wild animals in their preserves--especially when AK-47 automatic rifles are cheap and available.
Most important, Future Harvest and the World Conservation Union say the isolated protected areas cannot carry the full load of wild species conservation.
If only the existing preserves are available to wildlife, experts say 30 percent to 50 percent of the existing species will be lost. Their small, isolated populations will become islands of dying biodiversity. Many creatures need to migrate seasonally to eat and breed. Most species need to cross-fertilize between separated populations to avoid deadly levels of inbreeding.
Nor can the Third World afford to take enough big wildlife tracts away from farming and other economic uses to guarantee the future of all species.
The partnership says we need to help the world's 2.5 billion farm people help save the world's remaining wildlife species. "Ecoagriculture" would not only provide more food for the world's children, but would also make the wildlife preserves more effective.
This article appeared in Bridge News on June 15, 2001.
Dennis T. Avery is based in Churchville, VA, and is director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues.