Malagasy farmer  

Conservation Stewards Program

Helping people choose nature


In many parts of the world, communities are using their land, water and other natural resources in unsustainable ways — simply because there is no economic alternative.


Bridging Conservation & Development

When conservation offers concrete benefits to rural farmers and local communities, protecting the environment becomes an increasingly viable and attractive choice. Our Conservation Stewards Program (CSP) works with communities who agree to protect their natural resources, as well as the benefits they provide, in exchange for a steady stream of compensation from investors. This approach helps conserve biodiversity while improving the quality of life for local communities.

CSP’s conservation agreement model offers direct incentives for conservation through a negotiated benefit package in return for conservation actions by communities. Thus, a conservation agreement links conservation funders — governments, bilateral agencies, private sector companies, foundations, individuals, etc. — to people who own and use natural resources.

Benefits typically include investments​ in social services like health and education as well as investments in livelihoods, often in the agricultural or fisheries sectors. Benefits can also include direct payments and wages. The size of these benefit packages depends on the cost of changes in resource use, as well as conservation performance. Rigorous monitoring verifies both conservation and socioeconomic results.​​


Why Conservation Agreements?

Stewardship building
Conservation agreements help people drive the solution to conservation challenges
Adaptable and fair
The terms of conservation agreements are designed with local communities, and they are tailored to specific situations and needs
Positive results
Conservation agreements deliver concrete, measurable benefits for human well-being
Conservation agreements offset the opportunity cost of doing conservation

By the numbers

5.8 million hectares under improved management

Since 2005, CSP has worked with communities and NGO partners worldwide, with more than 3,000 community and individual agreements signed in 20 countries, benefiting a total of 147,000 people and leading to the protection of 5.8 million hectares of key habitat.

To date, CSP has committed $7 million in grants.


Our solutions

Engaging the private sector

Given the popularity of the conservation agreements model with private-sector partners, Conservation International launched the Conservation Agreements Private Partnership Platform (CAPPP) in 2015 to catalyze private-sector support for biodiversity conservation and maintenance of ecosystem services in globally important sites. With support from the GEF Earth Fund, and in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme as implementing agency, the CAPPP forges mutually beneficial links between the private sector and local communities or landowners who commit to achieve biodiversity conservation, reduce land degradation, support climate regulation efforts and promote sustainable natural resource management.


Man navigating a canoe through Cispata mangroves, Colombia
© INVEMAR-Fundación Natura

At its conclusion in June 2020, the CAPPP include 10 projects in 9 countries, each with unique environmental and socioeconomic objectives and metrics. Key results included:

  • 1.2 million hectares (3 million acres) of areas important for nature under improved management across the portfolio
  • 27,000 people directly benefitting through conservation agreements
  • Improved water production and improved management of 64,000 hectares (158,000 acres) of key watersheds in Bolivia, benefiting over 500 families
  • New market access for livestock farmers from sustainably managed rangelands around Kruger National Park and Succulent Karoo Biodiversity Hotspot in South Africa
  • Protection of important mangrove forests and key species by communities on Colombia’s Pacific coast

To learn more about this initiative and our recommendations for replicating, please read the report below, "Can conservation agreements catalyze private sector support for community-led conservation?"

Funding community conservation projects

CSP works with communities to maintain ecosystem services that sustain livelihoods — allowing people to become stewards of natural resources. By working with communities, CSP’s projects protect biodiversity against illegal fishing and logging and support climate, freshwater and cultural security.

In 2009, CSP and Conservation South Africa (CSA) initiated the Biodiversity and Red Meat Initiative (BRI), through which farmers commit to sustainable approaches to grazing, water management, stock numbers and predator control. In return, they get higher prices for their stock and other benefits.

READ MORE: Improving Grazing Practices


CAPPP Projects



A Shared Vision for a Healthy Future

The Conservation Stewards Program celebrates 15 years of conservation agreemeents in 2020.

Conservation Agreements in Alto Mayo, Peru

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