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Participation, Conservation and Livelihoods: Evaluating the Effectiveness of Participatory Approaches in Protected Areas

Annual Call for Projects 2006


Biodiversity - Conservation - environmental governance


The number of protected areas in the world has increased rapidly over the past few decades and is currently in excess of 102,000. The question of their ecological and social sustainability is one of the main challenges to global environmental governance today.

Historically, most protected areas were created under the assumption that, for conservation to be successful, humans had to be excluded from these areas. Many studies have presented evidence that this approach was ineffective. Starting in the 1970s, a new approach advocated local participation in the governance and management of protected areas.

It is now widely believed that conservation and human livelihoods are not necessarily incompatible, and that conservation may be best achieved if local participation in governing protected areas is guaranteed. This approach, acknowledged by the World Park Congress held in Durban in 2003 and by the "Programme of Work on Protected Areas" of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and has been labeled "a new paradigm". Most recently-created protected areas include local participation in their design.

But the "participation paradigm" is under challenge. Some conservation biologists and academic researchers are questioning "people-centred" governance models, as well as the influence of social scientists in the design of protected areas. A major problem is that there is no systematic and evidence-based study demonstrating that participatory / co-management approaches actually achieve better conservation, and at the same time improve people’s livelihoods, as it is commonly advocated. There is thus an urgent need to analyse the advantages and disadvantages of participatory models, in view of the current debate in conservation circles.  

This project, supported by the Geneva International Academic Network (GIAN) and developed jointly by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), the Graduate Institute of Development Studies (GIDS), the Institut de recherche pour le développement (IRD), and the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere...

The grant provided by the GIAN for this project totals SFr 135,000

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Project Team

Mr Joerg Elbers , Principal Member, World Conservation Union (IUCN) .

Mr Geoffroy Filoche , Principal Member, Research Institute for Development, Orléans .

Dr. Marc Hockings , Principal Member, World Conservation Union (IUCN) .

Dr. Gonzalo Oviedo , Principal Member, World Conservation Union (IUCN) .

Ms Elena Pavese , Associated Member, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) .

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