Saving biodiversity is a complex business. But sometimes, conservation solutions are beautifully simple.
Take the "conservation concession," an approach pioneered by CI with the government of Guyana
. Instead of leasing the land to a logging company, Guyana is leasing 200,000 acres (81,000 hectares) to CI for conservation.
The concession – the world's first – was established in Guyana’s Upper Essequibo region in July 2002. "It puts conservation on equal footing with extractive industry, so that the government and people of Guyana don’t have to choose between conservation and economic development," says Dr. Dick Rice, CI's chief economist and architect of the concession. "With total annual costs of less than $100,000 per year, it is a great bargain, given the importance of the area for both biodiversity and people."
The project is located deep in the Amazon wilderness, in the watershed of Guyana’s largest river, the Essequibo. These are no ordinary waters.
"The aquatic ecosystems of the Upper Essequibo Conservation Concession (UECC) are one of the most pristine, if not the most pristine, on the planet," concluded scientist Dr. Philip Willink, of The Field Museum in Chicago, after a 2007 survey.
This abundance of healthy fresh water supports an amazing diversity of species: 1,500 plants, 200 mammals, and 500 birds are found in the vicinity – as many bird species as are found in all of North America.
The Macushi and Wapishana indigenous groups depend on the area’s natural resources, and communities near the concession – in Apoteri, Rewa, and Crashwater – helped to demarcate boundaries to ensure that the UECC would not conflict with traditional claims.
GALLERY: The Upper Essequibo and Its Wildlife
They now directly benefit from the concession's community fund, which channels $10,000 annually to support a variety of environmentally sound, economically viable programs, including a community-owned ecolodge in Rewa Village, livestock rearing, and handicrafts.
"This is a national asset of global value," states David Singh, head of CI-Guyana. "People more distant from the Upper Essequibo also receive benefits from our land, whether or not they have ever heard of Guyana."
The Guayana Shield, named for the ancient geological foundation of the region, is one of the last remaining strongholds of tropical forests. The forests maintain vast amounts of carbon, and keeping them standing is one of the most efficient ways to counteract climate change.
Unfortunately, Guyana is no longer the "lost world," as it was called by early explorers. Extractive natural resourced-based industries are growing.
"Our hope is that models like the conservation concession can quickly be replicated to provide alternatives to these threats," says Singh. "We may be seen as a poor country, but we are rich in natural resources. If tropical countries like ours can be compensated for the services our forests provide, we can achieve a win-win scenario for Guyana’s people and the world at large."
VIDEO: Learn more about Guyana's conservation concession.
CI hopes to expand the concession and to guarantee long-term financing for the project by establishing a dedicated endowment. The support of CI’s Global Conservation Fund and private sector partner Save Your World continue to be essential to the UECC’s long-term success.
Meanwhile, beyond the borders of Guyana, the conservation concession model has been replicated in dozens of places, from Cambodia and China to Madagascar and Ecuador. These projects, led by CI and our partners, total more than two million acres (809,000 hectares) in some of the world's most critical areas for biodiversity conservation. They represent hope for the future – for both conservationists and developing nations struggling to provide for their people.
LEARN MORE: Check out more about CI's conservation concession work.
FEATURE: Chachi Choose Conservation over Timber Concessions in Ecuador
VIDEO: Guyana’s Conservation Officers
READ MORE: Kenyan Tribe Chooses to Save its Threatened Predators