Deploying funds to nurture biodiversity: A proposal

Madhav Gadgil

Chairman, GEF-STAP

Abstract

Global Environment Facility (GEF) serves as the financial mechanism for the Convention on Biological Diversity which aims to conserve, sustainably use and equitably share the benefits flowing from commercial utilization of the world’s rapidly eroding heritage of biodiversity. However, the GEF supported programmes have so far focussed largely on conservation of biodiversity through protected areas. This note is an attempt at stimulating discussion within the scientific and technological community on how to broaden this approach, to include sustainable use, especially of forest ecosystems.

The most significant lessons to have recently emerged in this context pertain to an appreciation of the limits to the scientific understanding of the behaviour of complex systems; limits that are a consequence of highly non-linear interactions amongst a large number of variables governing the systems. Surprises in the behaviour of natural ecosystems are therefore inevitable; and management systems must be designed to adjust to the unexpected, rather than act on the basis of a spurious belief in certainties. This calls for flexibility; and an ability to select at any point in time the seemingly most appropriate of the whole range of options without being rigidly committed to it.

Sustainability of use may be viewed on many different space and time scales, and with respect to different kinds and classes of resources. In particular, different stakeholders may have very different perspectives on what is to be sustained, and thereby arrive at very different conclusions on the appropriate management regime. The process of adaptive management involves bringing the concerned stakeholders together to arrive at a consensus on management objectives, including what resources are attempted to be sustained and on what space and time scales. Management practices that may achieve the agreed upon objectives are then selected from a range of possible options based upon the necessarily limited understanding of the system behaviour. Whether these practices are fulfilling the accepted objectives of sustainability is then assessed through an appropriate process of monitoring which is included as an integral component of management practices. Thus adaptive management substitutes prescription of a rigid solution by a group of experts or managers with a periodically updated informed choice from amongst a spectrum of available options identified in light of objectives agreed upon amongst a broad based set of stakeholders.

It is suggested that GEF portfolio in the area of sustainable use of biodiversity may then focus on building of capacity to undertake such adaptive management of natural resources with the involvement of a range of stakeholders; instead of promoting large scale programmes planned in detail by centralized bureaucracies. Such an approach would be entirely compatible with the conclusion of the World Commission on Forests and Sustainable Development that localized community based management and participatory decision making are the key components of sustainable forest management.


Introduction

Conserving earth’s rapidly eroding heritage of biodiversity, sustainably using it, and equitably sharing the benefits that accrue from such utilization have emerged as major human concerns of recent times. These led to the formulation of the Convention on Biological Diversity at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, and its coming into force by December 1993. Global Environment Facility has been accepted as the financial mechanism for CBD and has promoted a series of projects in its focal area of biodiversity through the four Operational Programmes focussed on the marine and coastal, arid and semi-arid, mountain and forest ecosystems. These projects are largely concerned with conservation in protected areas (Global Environment Facility, 1998). This is primarily because there is broad acceptance over identification of localities of global significance from a biodiversity perspective, so that conservation of these localities through the traditional instrument of protected area can be easily justified as activities of high priority.

Broadening the approach

It would be desirable to broaden this approach for a variety of reasons. Although there is considerable support for a list of localities deemed to be of high priority, recent scientific investigations have raised questions as to the validity of the logic underlying their choice. These localities have been often identified on the basis of flagship species such as large mammals. Studies of co-variation in the distribution of different taxonomic groups has shown that high levels of diversity in different groups are poorly correlated, so that localities identified as rich in flagship species are not necessarily rich in overall diversity levels (Prendergast et al, 1993; Lawton et al, 1998). Doubts have also been raised about the validity of the widespread assumption that protection of single large areas is always to be preferred over the protection of several smaller localities adding up to the same total size (Simberloff, 1986).

On a different level, questions have also arisen about human implications and efficacy of the protected area approach. This approach springs from the belief that to use biodiversity is to lose it. It therefore aims to exclude all human use of biodiversity and thereby impose substantial opportunity costs on many groups of people. Particularly susceptible to such costs are what Dasmann (1998) terms "ecosystem people", people dependent for their livelihoods on natural resources gathered from their own localities. Such people may be particularly significant stakeholders in many developing countries. Their consequent unwillingness to co-operate with protected areas programmes may seriously limit the efficacy of these endeavours (Kothari et al, 1998).

There are then definite reasons to take a second look at the near-exclusive focus of GEF portfolio on conservation of biodiversity through protected areas. The broader aims are surely to conserve biodiversity over whole landscapes, in conjunction with use, so as to bring benefits especially to local stewards. The benefits may include non-monetary benefits such as satisfaction of acquiring a role in decision making. The Global Environment Facility is very much interested in such an assessment, beginning with an assessment of the possibilities of sustainable use of tropical forests in conjunction with biodiversity conservation projects.

Dealing with complexity

The scientific and technical community has an important contribution to make in this endeavour of broadening the GEF approach to nurturing biodiversity. It would involve an assessment of the scientific understanding of the behaviour of the biophysical systems, as well as of the variety of human stakeholders that impinge on them. Some of the most important lessons that have recently emerged in this context pertain to an appreciation of the limits to the scientific understanding of the behaviour of complex systems; limits that are a consequence of highly non-linear interactions amongst a large number of variables governing the systems. It is now realized that the empirical basis of many of the assumptions underlying models of behaviour of forest or fish stocks are rather weak, and in consequence the confidence placed in their predictions has been unjustified (Ludwig et al, 1993). For instance, most models of dynamics of exploited fish populations assume particular parabolic relationships between stock and recruitment, although there is little evidence justifying such specific assumptions. In reality there are many surprises in the behaviour of, say, forest ecosystems, and it is necessary to realize the inevitability of such surprises, rather than act on basis of a spurious belief in certainties (Gunderson, 1999). In fact, a reassessment of the strength of the scientific underpinning of modern natural resource management systems suggests that carefully acquired scientific information plays little role in the decisions. Thus the systems of fire management adopted by Government agencies in Australian savannas seem to be as much based on tradition, belief and personal experience as the systems adopted by aborigines (Andersen, 1999).

It is also clear that the current official systems of management of natural resources do not incorporate an adequate understanding of the behaviour of various stakeholders. Thus it is not only necessary to understand the consequences of certain practices embodying reduced impact logging on forest biodiversity, but whether forest managers will have the motivation to put in the detailed investigations required to prescribe the appropriate logging pattern, and whether the concessionaires will have the motivation to put the prescriptions into practice. Such an analysis is beginning to be undertaken only in more recent times, for instance, in context of logging for mahogany in Amazonia (Rice et al, 1997; Reid and Rice, 1997).

Advantages of flexibility

The principal lesson from the growing appreciation of the limits to predictability in complex systems is the need to eschew rigidity in systems of natural resource management. Thus we are now striving to get away from situations such as that in Bharatpur National Park, a wetland well known for its water birds near Agra in India. Here the decision was taken in 1982 to ban all grazing by domestic buffaloes that had been going on since the creation of the man-made wetland more than a century earlier. The decision was taken by a centralized bureaucracy, local communities protested, but were overruled. The ban on grazing was followed by a surprise; the shallow wetlands became choked by rank growth of a grass, Paspalum that had earlier been checked by grazing (Vijayan, 1987). Unfortunately, having initially enforced the ban against widespread protest, it is difficult for the managers to revoke it. The episode clearly highlights the need to retain flexibility in view of the fact that our understanding of the behaviour of the complex ecological systems is and possibly for many decades will remain inadequate to provide definitive guidance for designing management practices. The best course then is to select at any time the seemingly most appropriate of the whole range of options without being rigidly committed to it. Indeed an important consideration in selecting the option would be to ensure that the management regime put into practice provides adequate opportunities to further enhance the understanding of the working of the system. That is, a carefully designed programme of monitoring must be an integral component of management, which should be open to experimentation, to learning by doing. Management practices should in turn be adjusted in light of the enhanced understanding of the behaviour of the system. Such a system designed to continually adapt to surprises that may spring up, and assimilate the learning that is continually taking place has been termed a system of adaptive management. The philosophy of adaptive management is clearly in tune with our current understanding of the dynamics of complex ecological systems.

What is sustainable?

This philosophy provides a fresh perspective on the otherwise difficult notion of sustainability. Sustainability may be viewed on many different space and time scales, and with respect to different kinds and classes of resources. Thus graziers may use a particular pasture sustainably in terms of the amount of palatable grass available per year for livestock in times of normal rainfall. However, they may simultaneously be overgrazing some other pastures, or overgrazing the same pasture in occasional years of scant rainfall. At the same time, while the grazing management may sustain the amount of fodder obtained, it may be depleting the variety of herbaceous plant species in the pasture. It is then simply impossible to prescribe a specific set of grazing practices as decidedly sustainable, from all perspectives, for all times to come. In particular, different stakeholders may have very different perspectives on what is to be sustained, and thereby arrive at very different conclusions.

Adaptive management

The philosophy of adaptive management embodies a different approach. It suggests that one begin by getting the concerned stakeholders together to arrive at a consensus on management objectives, such as what resources are attempted to be sustained, and on what space and time scales. Management practices that may achieve the agreed upon objectives are then selected from a range of possible options based upon the necessarily limited understanding of the system behaviour. Whether these practices are fulfilling the agreed upon objectives of sustainability is then assessed through an appropriate process of monitoring which is included as an integral component of management practices. This facilitates an enhanced understanding of the working of the system that allows of appropriate adjustments of the management practices with accumulating understanding and experience. Thus adaptive management substitutes prescription of a rigid solution to the problem of sustainability pronounced by a group of experts or managers with an informed choice from amongst a spectrum of available options identified in light of objectives agreed upon amongst a broad based set of stakeholders (Shindler and Cheek, 1999). Our current scientific understanding suggests that this would be the most appropriate approach to promote in the context of biodiversity friendly and sustainable use of forest and other natural living resources.

Sustainability and diversity

Timber and non-timber forest produce constitute two major productive uses of forest ecosystems. Sustainability of use then refers to sustaining such economic production on a long term basis. There is logically no reason why sustaining the use of some one specific resource, such production of mahogany, or of sal seeds and leaves should ensure long term maintenance of broader spectrum of biodiversity. It is not surprising then that studies have suggested that putting in place a system of sustainable logging, such as of mahogany in Amazonia may have more serious adverse consequences for biodiversity in comparison with a less sustainable system of wood extraction (Rice et al, 1997). Similarly focussing on non-timber produce such as oilseeds and leaves of a single species like sal may promote management practices that are quite detrimental to overall biodiversity. Since economic use is likely to focus on a limited range of valuable species, promotion of sustainable use is not by itself a guarantee of sustaining the broader spectrum of biodiversity. For that purpose, the practices would have to be specifically tailored to sustain not just economic use, but the larger spectrum of biodiversity as well.

Stakeholder behaviour

We have very limited understanding of the various stakeholders who would appropriate the economic benefits from use of timber and non-timber forest produce, the levels of benefits they would realize at a given time, and their expectations of future benefits. Some of the analyses of the potential of NTFP uses have been questioned on the grounds that they impute economic values as well as levels of availability that are much greater than are likely to be realised. Other questions have been raised on how stakeholder behaviour may be affected by their perception of future economic benefits in comparison with levels of current benefits. It has been pointed out that timber companies would accept a longer term perspective only if they see substantial growth in their future profits. Such growth would depend on the rate of increment of resource stocks, the rate of increase in the market value of resources, and the interest charged on capital that has to be raised. Other factors, such as the perception of stakeholders of how the broader social, economic and political developments would affect the resource stocks and their access to these stocks would also mould their behaviour (Rice et al, 1997; Reid and Rice, 1999). There will evidently be a great deal of locality to locality, and time to time variation in all the relevant parameters, and it would only be ongoing monitoring on ground that would provide adequate understanding to guide management practices tailored to the specific, changeable contexts.

Reduced Impact Logging

An important technical development aimed at promoting biodiversity friendly sustainable forest use is reduced impact logging. This involves harvest of logs based on careful mapping of the forest stand and employment of good logging practices, such as managing the direction in which the cut timber would fall so as to minimise impacts. Obviously this is a system that calls for very careful inventorying and monitoring of the forest ecosystem under use (Putz, 1994; Barreto et al, 1998). These practices could readily be made a part of a system of adaptive management that also calls for careful monitoring.

Broad based monitoring

Questions have been raised as to whether the timber concessionaires, and the forest resource managers would have the capabilities and the motivation to undertake the detailed inventorying and monitoring activities essential for the success of Reduced Impact Logging practices. There have been only very limited investigations of what motivates various stakeholders. What is emerging however is a consensus that a centralized bureaucratic apparatus would possess only a limited appreciation of the forces at work, and therefore find it very difficult to devise ways of guiding and regulating the behaviour of a multiplicity of stakeholders in appropriate ways (Shindler and Cheek, 1999). Some of these other stakeholders would also have excellent capabilities of monitoring the behaviour of the biophysical system, as well as the behaviour of other stakekholders. Thus in India today there are no organised centralised systems of monitoring the stocks of medicinal plants, either with the governmental or the private sector. In the state of Karnataka, for instance, the forest managers have limited information on 10 out of 300 species of plants in commercial use, there is no information whatever on the other 290 species. The only stakeholders who have reasonably good information on the stocks of all 300 species are the actual collectors of these plants in the field, primarily subsisting as landless farm labour. Of course, their information is limited to the plant species present in their own restricted resource catchments. Apart from the levels of medicinal plants, these collectors also have considerable information on other aspects of the biophysical system. They are also well aware of the behaviour of other stakeholders, including unrecorded, illegal harvests of timber about which the official machinery has little clue (Gadgil and Rao, 1998).

Apart from detailed locality and time specific information, stakeholders such as artisanal fisherfolk may be repositories of much broader understanding of ecosystem behaviour. Thus certain Pacific Islands have regions of upwelling and high biological productivity in the wake of strong currents flowing past the islands. Local fisherfolk have been long aware of this phenomenon; oceanographers are only now beginning to appreciate it. The fisherfolk also have at their disposal much better estimates of fish populations, since they know of the time and location of spawning aggregations of many species; information that fishery scientists are unaware of. A broad based consortium of stakeholders is therefore far better placed to undertake in a much more cost-effective fashion the detailed monitoring function that is an essential ingredient of adaptive management.

Newer management options

Involving such a broad base of stakeholders can also bring in an appreciation of a wider array of management options. Thus the focus of modern conservation efforts has been on large protected areas, with the assumption that efficacy increases with the size of areas. A single large area is thus preferred over several small areas adding up to the same size. This assumption is however questionable and the so-called SLOSS (single large or several small) debate has led to the appreciation of possible advantages of the several small option. These advantages include the possibility of representation of a wider range of environmental regimes, as well as greater likelihood of acceptance of conservation programmes by local stakeholders. However, the literature of conservation biology, as well as resource managers have paid scant attention to the option traditionally practiced in many parts of the Old World of setting aside large numbers of refugia in the form of sacred groves and ponds. Ranging in size from 0.01 to 1000 hectares and covering 5% to 10% of land and water surface such refugia may have been a highly effective system of conservation of many elements of biodiversity (Ramakrishnan et al, 1998). Remnants of this now much eroded system still persist in many parts of Asia and Africa and may provide a useful model for a revitalization of conservation efforts on a broad scale. Indeed, India has examples of local communities having reinstituted conservation practices on such a model. Bringing in a broad base of stakeholders to participate in all phases of an adaptive management process to institute biodiversity friendly practices of sustainable use of living resources may help open up many such options.

Capacity building

A review of the state of art of the scientific understanding of behaviour of complex natural systems, as well as of human stakeholders impinging them, then suggests that we should shift from promoting large scale programmes planned in detail by a centralized bureaucracy, to promoting programmes of management of natural resources in a flexible, adaptive fashion on the basis of involvement of a range of stakeholders. In particular, Global Environment Facility could best deploy its resources towards conservation of biodiversity coupled to sustainable use not through funding specific operational projects, but instead through building the capacity of the manifold different actors to organize decentralized, participatory, adaptive systems of resource management. Such an approach would be entirely compatible with the recommendations of the World Commission on Forests and Sustainable Development (1999) which throughout its report emphasizes localized community based management and participatory decision making as key components of sustainable forest management. GEF might also support highly participatory, broad based targeted research effort to promote such a paradigm shift in regimes of living resource management on a worldwide basis.

References

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A response from Kanta Kumari of GEF Secretariat

The paper is well written and easy to read. The question posed is how to conserve and use biodiversity in the wider landscape: beyond the protected areas. It makes a case for adopting adaptive management regimes in view of thescientific understanding of complex biological and ecological systems. It also makes the point of adopting participatory and stakeholder involvement issues.The two issues are very separate and discrete issues, but of course come together in an operational context when we discuss on the ground management options. The trade-offs in adaptive management based on scientific uncertainty,and the trade-offs for (and between) stakeholders in adopting a particular options need to be treated separately. If we lump these two issues together, the adaptive solution may not necessary one that is best for conservation (and maybe the socio-economic context dictates that it should not be so! but we should know that). I feel that the paper is (to me at least) not clear in distinguishing the two sufficiently.

The second point relates to our current GEF portfolio. We do indeed have a fair number of projects that have adopted flexible management regimes that work on a feedback basis and in very participatory ways. So in some ways this would not be entirely a new premise: but certainly one where there is much room for expanding and developing. I guess the issue is not of whether we adopt adaptive and flexible management approaches: but rather how we further 'secure' or maximise biodiversity conservation (within the limits of scientific and technical uncertainty). It is the "how" that we critically need advise and guidance on (and perhaps it is the next stage). The "how" should of course operate on the basic premise that we do not alienate the key stakeholders, maintain or encourage the 'sustainable use" for some profitable biological products/components.

On page 7 it says: "The philosophy of adaptive management embodies a different approach. It begins with concerned stakeholders...consensus on management objectives.." The management options suggested and selected will be based on the trade-offs of the involved stakeholders (shorter term) and have to be balanced against biodiversity conservation (longer term) in view of scientific uncertainty. The point is that the "adaptive solution" would still need to be sold back to the community, because it will entail trade-offs on their part for the longer term conservation interest. How?? that is the question. You do touch on some of the "hows": capacity building, incentives: but I would think we need to go beyond capacity building to build something!