Effective conservation of biodiversity requires strategies that make conservation economically viable and attractive to resource owners. Through its Conservation Economics and Conservation Stewards Programs, Conservation International (CI) collaborates with partners around the world to pioneer the use of "conservation incentive agreements"
as a key mechanism to address this need.
Conservation incentive agreements are fairly negotiated agreements in which resource owners promise to protect specific habitats or species in exchange for a steady stream of concrete benefits. The types of benefits provided vary but may include technical assistance, support for social services, employment in resource protection, or direct cash payments.
In 2002, for example, the government of Guyana granted CI a 30-year lease to protect 200,000 acres of pristine forest. In exchange, CI pays the government exactly what it would have received had the area been logged. The approach thus permits the protection of forest slated for timber production while ensuring that these forests continue to generate economic benefits.
Incentive agreements have been initiated in various other settings around the world. In Papua New Guinea, for example, villagers receive assistance with resource management and training for local teachers in exchange for protecting the endangered Matschie’s tree kangaroo. In the Solomon Islands, the owners of the largest unlogged island in the Pacific Ocean are working with conservationists on a program that provides scholarships to children and assistance to land owners in developing ecotourism – this in exchange for a commitment to protect the island and its surrounding coral reefs. In northern Ecuador, several Chachi indigenous communities have signed initial agreements resulting in the creation of a community-managed protected area in one of the biologically richest and most threatened ecosystems on Earth.
Pilot incentive agreements are emerging as a valuable strategy for protecting key biodiversity areas around the world, particularly in places where it is difficult or impossible to establish a traditional protected area, such as private or indigenous lands. From government-granted concessions to agreements with local or indigenous populations, CI is helping to create a new conservation mechanism with potential to significantly expand our ability to conserve biodiversity.