(1) Political buy-in: the attraction for developing country economies
Ultimately, the BRs fall under the jurisdiction of individual member countries, regardless that it is an international designation and a global collaboration. The individual protected areas within the BR may be afforded the protection of the state, but the region defined as the BR frequently does not have the same supporting legislation to ensure its persistence. Thus for the BR model to be successful long term, it requires political buy-in at the level of state/provincial or national government, and if popular political benefit is seen to be absent, it is unlikely that these governments will continue to support the ideals of the BR concept (J.D. Brown, 2002a).
Prior to the era of ‘new conservation’ (K. Brown, 2002b, 2003), protected areas, and their associated fortress conservation ethic, typically evoked negative social responses, with a narrative of displacement and/or expulsion, exclusion and resource restriction accompanying their creation (West, Igoe & Brockingham, 2006, for review; Hartter & Goldman, 2010). Parks were seen to be perpetuating the poverty cycle, further marginalising the already marginalised [e.g. the San and Bakgalagadi of Botswana's Central Kalahari Game Reserve (Hitchcock, 2002)], and establishing an enduring attitude of resentment towards conservation agencies (Brockington & Igoe, 2006; Rangarajan & Shahabuddin, 2006; West et al., 2006; Hartter & Goldman, 2010). However, the widespread political acknowledgement for more accountable conservation decisions makes the people-centred conservation model more politically congruent, for both developed and developing country governments alike. Similarly, the awareness for ‘sustainability’ is rising and therewith so too is political interest around the concept.
The attraction of the BR concept is that it offers a mechanism for the traditionally protectionist conservation land use to ‘work for the poor’. In a climate where social equality and economic upliftment is prioritised, it becomes politically dangerous to favour environmental protection over socio-economic development.
Since inception, the BR concept has been especially favourably received by developing country governments [approximating ‘Emerging’ and ‘Developing economies’, as categorised by the International Monetary Fund (2012) World Economic Outlook], with the average rate of ‘buy-in’ through the listing of new BRs each year exceeding that of developed countries (‘Advanced economies’; IMF, 2012) pre- and post-1995 (Fig. 3). The difference in the total cumulative listings in each period is significant between developed and developing countries (X2 = 19.02; d.f = 1; P < 0.00001; Fig. 3), becoming noticeably more pronounced in developing countries over time, i.e. when the Seville Strategy refocused the objectives of the BRs on sustainable development, and the rate of new listings increased accordingly. These differences may indicate the influence of different sets of stakeholder groups as instrumental in the decision-making process around BR proposal and eventual establishment, i.e. conservationists and scientists in developing countries, while citizen groups, local land-owners, social organisations and local councillors are frequently more prevalent in developed countries. Recognising that a BR's establishment may be motivated by different desires, values and/or expectations will be useful in future BR-stakeholder relations (see Bouamrane, 2007 for case studies across different socio-ecological contexts; see also Sections IV.2 and IV.3).
Figure 3. Cumulative Biosphere Reserve (BR) listing pre- and post-Seville by economy-type. Data presented are years for which official protected area lists were avaliable (IUCN/UNEP and UNESCO's MAB Programme: 1980–2012). Data points in the trend line were calculated as the number of BR by economy type over time (a cumulative total of pre- and post-Seville, accounting for new listings and removals from the WNBR for each year); the average rate of ‘buy-in’ was calculated for periods: 1980–1990 and 1997–2012, where t0 = 1980 for the pre-Seville, and t0 =1997 for the post-Seville period.
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Figure 4. Relative distribution of 2012 Biosphere Reserves (BRs) by country economy-type. The August 2011 and July 2012 additions included seven countries that had previously not been represented in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR): St. Kitts & Nevis, Togo, the Maldives, Lithuania (2011) and Haiti, Kazakhstan, Sao Tome & Principe (2012). All of these are listed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as ‘Emerging & Developing’ economies. ‘Economy-type’ is defined as in the IMF's 2012 World Economic Outlook (WEO) classification system (International Monetary Fund, 2012; http://www.imf.org).
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As of 2012, 65.7% of the listed BRs have been established in emerging and developing countries (Fig. 4). The remaining 34% of BRs are located in advanced-economy countries, with the majority (61.2%) of this portion established pre-Seville.
(2) Biosphere Reserves and links to Integrated Conservation and Development Projects
The linking of development with conservation is not unique to the BR concept. While the Seville Strategy may have reorganised the ideals of the MAB so that ‘people-centred conservation and sustainable development’ became a priority criterion, Integrated Conservation and Development Projects (ICDPs) had already begun to attempt this a decade previously.
The first ICDPs were launched in 1985 by the Wildlands and Human Needs Program (WWF) as a mechanism to integrate economic development with sustainable natural resource management, targeted specifically at the ‘rural poor’ (Hughes & Flintan, 2001). Today's working definition of these original ICDPs may have evolved somewhat, but contemporary versions (i.e. the ‘new conservation’) remain primarily biodiversity conservation projects that combine social development (and enhanced livelihood options) with environmental protection (Hughes & Flintan, 2001).
The history of ICDPs has been one of elusive success, with the literature indicating that they have failed their promise, i.e. ‘conservation by distraction’ (Ferraro & Simpson, 2000). Confusion over objectives, vague assumptions, naïve expectations and a failure to acknowledge trade-off between conservation and development priorities have led to significant criticism of the concept by social scientists and ecologists alike (reviewed in Hughes & Flintan, 2001; Robinson & Redford, 2004; McShane et al., 2011). These criticisms include: (i) that projects act as population ‘attractors’, fuelling migration to project areas, and hence (ii) result in more rapid land-cover change around conservation areas; (iii) resource entitlements/restrictions as a result of projects shift resource exploitation to new areas; (iv) that projects are frequently linked to external donor funding cycles which raises issues for project sustainability; (v) projects result in biased and disproportionate benefits across communities; (vi) there is limited participation with decisions made by ‘external’ parties with little understanding of social and ecological context; and (vii) the mismatch between timeframes for economic and biodiversity outcomes prevent the successful integration of objectives.
As a result, resurgent protectionists have begun to advocate more strongly for the dissolution of coupled protected area-development initiatives, and the return to strict authoritarian enforcement in conservation areas (Sandker et al., 2009; see Wilshusen et al., 2002 for discussion of the ‘resurgent protectionist’ argument). There is also increasing support for the replacement of the traditional notion of ICDPs by ‘landscape or ecosystem approaches’ (Sayer et al., 2006; Sayer, 2009; Axelsson et al., 2011). Landscape approaches, given their larger scale and explicit appreciation of a diverse landscape mosaic, are thought appropriate for resolving the trade-offs between economic, social and conservation objectives in complex socio-ecological systems. However, a landscape approach for reconciling development with conservation may present its own operational challenges.
As with ICDPs, there is little empirical evidence that a landscape approach is more effective than ICDPs in aligning environment-development objectives (Sayer et al., 2006). Given that it is still largely untested and undocumented, and that it shows convergence with the ideals of the original ICDP approach, there is the potential that a landscape approach, by adding complexity to an already complex aspiration (e.g. aligning conservation and development for the benefit of both) may suffer the same limitations of the traditional ICDP.
In this regard, the BR designation may be especially useful. The development of the ecosystem approach was influenced by the systematic approach of UNESCO-MAB's implementation principles and designation requirements (Axelsson et al., 2011). Given BRs prerequisite of larger size, prescription for co-management and multiple stakeholders in the designation of a site, opportunities for continuous review and interdisciplinary research, and potential for exploitation as ‘natural experiments’ at a global scale (see Section VII), BRs can provide the framework for action learning around win-win solutions, and ultimately contribute to sustainability in many scenarios.
Thus, the ICDP definition (and future evolution thereof) demonstrates substantial convergence with MAB's current aims and objectives. BRs provide an indirect linkage between livelihoods and conservation through substitute economic activities, provided by the BR authorities in return for compliance with the spatial restrictions on resource use (Salafsky & Wollenberg, 2000). Such development initiatives are as diverse as they are abundant, and examples are included in Table 3.
Table 3. Economic development initiatives implemented within selected Biosphere Reserves (BRs)
|Biosphere Reserve||Economic development and welfare upliftment initiative|
|Giam-Siak Kecil—Bukit Batu BR (Indonesia)||Establishment of acacia plantations as a community development initiative (UNESCO, 2010a) and to target illegal logging of natural forest; pilot program to initiate bio-village [Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), 2011].|
|Yayu BR (Ethiopia)||Sustainable agriculture initiatives targeted at coffee production linking local coffee production to organic and free-trade markets (through training, and assistance with coffee value additions, i.e. harvesting, processing, certification and marketing procedures). Agriculture initiatives aimed at honey and fruit production are in the planning and fundraising stages. Renewable energy initiatives (from coffee-waste, small-scale hydro- and solar power) will drive further local development (Deprez, 2011a, b, c)|
|Yancheng BR (China)||Programs to expand cultivable land area through the construction of aquaculture ponds, reed lands and salt pans in the tidal areas on the eastern side of the BR (Ma et al., 1998). While this expansion guaranteed habitat transformation, the activities remained tolerable for the vast resident waterbird population while food and water remained in adequate supply. Protecting the bird species population is the BR's main objective.|
|Bia BR (Ghana)||Local villages have been allocated harvesting licenses for African giant snail (Acantina acatina) found in abundance in the BR. Income obtained from this is partially utilised for conservation purposes, with the remainder returned to the villages for use in community-based projects, such as for water pumps and improvements to schools (Schaaf, 2009).|
|Nanda Devi BR (India)||Afforestation projects and the provision of mechanical soil conservation measures, solar power, improved beehive and spinning devices at subsidised prices. Government support for establishing vermicompost and the use of biofertilisers—in anticipation of increased demands for organic crops grown in the BR (Saxena et al., 2010).|
|Sierra Gorda BR (Mexico)||Establishment of one of the first (social) carbon projects developed by the Grupo Ecologico Sierra Gorda operating within the carbon market's ‘very voluntary’ arena (i.e. no third-party certification). Offers institutions the option of offsetting carbon emissions by giving financial compensation to farm-holders who pledge reforestation and environmental conservation (Deprez, 2011d). Project has direct benefits (education, training, payments for ecosystem services and conservation of private lands, water storage works) for >200 communities in the BR, with conservation benefits of >13 000 hectares returned to natural forested state (http://www.carbonneutralplanet.org/basket.pdf). Other sustainable agriculture initiatives successfully established value-added products: e.g. Sierra Country Products (intensive management and sale of livestock products), aquaculture products, Pure Life Foods (organic fruits and vegetables), Green Gold Certified Oregano and Honey of Tancoyol (Deprez, 2011e).|
|Entlebuch BR (Switzerland)||Development of the BR-linked label, ‘Echt Entlebuch’ (genuine Entlebuch), identifying high-quality products (e.g. cheese, ham) manufactured within the BR. The Swiss National Tourist Office has awarded three of these products the prestigious ‘ NaturPur’ label. Local restaurateurs (>300) bear the ‘Gastropartner’ label awarded by the BR; this label identifies local establishments partnering, and utilising Entlebuch Biosphere products (UNESCO Biosphere Entlebuch, 2007; Schaaf, 2009).|
|Lake Vanern (Sweden)||Projects to link recreational fishing more closely with in situ fish sales and more efficient, more holistic processing methods. Currently recreational fishing extracts a comparable volume of fish to commercial fishing from the lake. The pilot project aims to enhance sustainability of the lake's fisheries use by inter alia linking food to the BR region, allowing local use of ecosystem services, and improving the lake's management practices (UNESCO, 2011a; www.euromab2011.se).|
|Kruger to Canyons BR (K2C) (South Africa)||Established natural-resource-use projects centred on environmental access rights (www.kruger2canyons.org/projects.html). These projects include a successful Bio-cultural Protocol project implemented through traditional health practitioners which outlines the traditional practitioners' role in the community and the challenges they face. Bio-cultural protocols assist in protecting traditional knowledge and traditionally used resources, and help practitioners acquire access to areas that are unavailable for harvesting. This project is closely linked to a community-based carbon-trading project (Voluntary Carbon Offset Programme), where carbon is sequestered through the planting and growing of important medicinal plant resources. This helps to address resource availability issues due to over-harvesting or lack of access. The Environmental Monitor Project, implemented under National Government's Extended Public Works Programme employs previously unemployed community members from within K2C; specifically to assist with the monitoring function of the BR. K2C also conducted a feasibility study for a hydro project (Blyde Hydro Project) as a direct result of collaboration with the Rhön BR in Germany. The project proposes the development of a hydro station on an already established dam wall. However, due to the potential financial rewards and political challenges, this project was taken over by the Provincial authority, with K2C committed to the final decision. The Kruger National Park (KNP) has also implemented its own community-targeted development projects in the BR: a pepperbark Warburgia salutaris (IUCN: Endangered) harvesting and propagation (Scheepers et al., 2011), a thatch harvesting (Zambatis, 2011), and a mopane worm harvesting project (Swemmer et al., 2011), allowing approved access to the resources in the National Park.|
|Cape West Coast BR (South Africa)||Education outreach and scholarship programmes. These include youth schools environmental education, scholarships to study at the South African Wildlife College and bursaries for tertiary education. The BR also has begun negotiation of a major industrial corridor through the subregion, and assisted local government with geographic information system GIS projects (du Toit, 2011).|
Many of Table 3's projects remain in their infancy, i.e. Cape West Coast, or have only been implemented as ‘pilot projects’ thus far, i.e. Kruger to Canyons, Yayu, Lake Vanern BRs, but these economic interventions may help secure confidence in the BR model, and increase support for community inclusion into the BR. Some projects, for example the original agricultural expansions in Yancheng BR, the initiatives in Entlebuch BR and the carbon project in Mexico's Sierra Gorda BR, have already had successful outcomes (Table 3; Hughes & Flintan, 2001; http://www.carbonneutralplanet.org/basket.pdf), with these development initiatives having positive impacts on poverty while environmental integrity was unaffected or even slightly enhanced.
However, BRs fall within the theoretical arena of ‘win-win’ conservation and development solutions; true win-win outcomes are rare, with trade-offs between competing objectives likely (reviewed by McShane et al., 2011). Where conservation initiatives inflate community expectations, without being explicit about potential, and possibly disproportionate, livelihood losses and restrictions on resource use, the discord between community members and conservation agencies is likely to be substantial. Wells & McShane (2004) refer to this as a cycle of ‘optimism and disenchantment’, which, if unresolved, will have long-lasting consequences for future conservation initiatives in the area.
In some instances the potential benefits of these projects are viewed as inferior to the livelihood losses incurred due to spatial restrictions on use, e.g. Nanda Devi (Maikhuri et al., 2001; Saxena et al., 2010) and Bayerischer Wald BRs (Table 1; Price et al., 2010; UNESCO, 2010b). This is particularly true when benefit-sharing is viewed, rightly or wrongly, as inequitable across stakeholders, i.e. biased towards a select few in the community (e.g. individuals qualifying for participation in pilot projects). Many of those who may benefit from conservation-linked development opportunities, e.g. ecotourism initiatives, may not be the ones who are adversely affected by the change in resource access rights, while those who suffer the costs may not be sufficiently reimbursed for their sacrifices (Fuentes-Quezada, Sekhran & Kunte-Pant, 2000; Fu et al., 2004).
For example, local farmers in the Wolong BR, South Western China bore the conservation costs of restricted land use, with their traditional resource use impaired by the spatial regulations of the reserve (Fu et al., 2004). They received no tangible economic rewards from the eco-tourism initiatives implemented within the BR, nor were able to afford the hydro-powered electricity offered as an alternative source of energy to the now restricted fuelwood harvests. For this portion of the community, the establishment of the BR further undermined their already fragile socio-economic circumstances, offering no opportunities for improvement of livelihood options.
When the Maya Biosphere Reserve, Guatemala, was established in 1990, the initial eviction and subsequent resettlement of the original residents from the National Park to government-established agricultural properties (‘fincas’) was generally well accepted. This resettlement mainly involved the Comunidades Población en Resistencia (CPR), a faction opposing the Guatemalan government during the 36 year civil war, who had sought refuge in the National Park. However, the relationship between Maya BR and new colonists moving into the reserve from other regions of Guatemala continues to be fraught with difficulty. The ongoing displacement of the new colonists and residents from the core zones, and limitations on access elsewhere in the ‘multi-use’ zones, has led to repeated illegal re-colonisation of the core zones, and ecological sabotage, such as setting fire to the BR to make conservation pointless (McNab & Ramos, 2007). Further compounding the lack of regard for the Maya BR designation is the government's inability to police and evict the wealthy landowners from the BR, which has precipitated a wider disregard for the Maya BR's rules and regulations in general. As a result, stakeholders of the BR have suggested inter alia, that the BR be de-proclaimed/eliminated, or that the core area's restrictions on access be reassessed, with the core zones re-designated as forest concessions (McNab & Ramos, 2007).
In the Changbai Mountain BR, China, until new legislation and a more effective management organisation prohibited such activities in 2006, reserve authorities supplemented their limited salaries by offering entrepreneurial activities, issuing collection contracts to private individuals for forest resources (e.g. pine nuts). These contracts generated significant resentment towards both the contractors and reserve authorities, and provided local residents with the motivation to continue with their own exploitation of the forest, regardless of the restrictions in place (see Yuan, Dai & Wang, 2008, for details).
The examples listed here are not representative of all the stakeholder-management relations found across the WNBR. It is certainly not the case for those BRs that have undergone review and subsequent transformation successfully; for example, the UK examples in Section III.4, the examples Reed & Egunyu (2013) discuss from Canada, or in the Kristianstad Vattenrike Biosphere Reserve, Sweden, where extensive research in co-management has been undertaken to improve the ‘fit’ of social institutions and the natural environment (see Olsson et al., 2007). Yet these examples illustrate the fragile relationship between BR managers, local government and resident communities, and the problems that may arise if managers treat BR residents as a homogenous entity, or enforce decisions without appropriate participation.
Results from ICDPs have shown that projects that fail to address equity issues (i.e. gender issues, economic discrimination) and social organisation, particularly local decision-making hierarchies (i.e. family hierarchies, traditional authorities, such as chiefs and councils) have had reduced success, especially in terms of project longevity (reviewed in Hughes & Flintan, 2001). These same cautions must apply to BR management. In the case of the Maya BR example, the modern BR may need to re-evaluate access rights to generate support around the designation (McNab & Ramos, 2007) which raises challenges for what appears to be already weak or discriminatory governance.