In Cambodia’s Cardamom forest, the 73 families of the Chumnoab community were practicing slash-and-burn agriculture and engaging in illegal wildlife trading because they lacked economic alternatives. The situation is an example of how, in certain sensitive ecological areas, the practices of local communities can be detrimental.

On April 25, the Institute for Policy Integrity and Conservation International hosted an event focused on the use of conservation agreements and cost-benefit analysis in conservation projects around the world. 

The talk, “Giving to Get: Economic Incentives and Conservation,” was the third session of the joint discussion series Conversations with Eco-Innovators. It featured Conservation International’s Eduard Niesten, who presented his work in the central Cardamom forest as a case study on the use of conservation agreements in protecting natural resources.
Getting a local community to embrace conservation often requires extending benefits that exceed the costs of engaging in preservation. So CI examined the needs of the community and devised an agreement that offered salaries for two teachers, plowing technology, and training and equipment for patrolling the area in exchange for commitments such as limiting shifting (otherwise known as slash-and-burn) cultivation, halting illegal hunting and logging, and setting up forest patrols.
The result: a win-win situation in which 20,000 hectares of forest lands are now protected, patrolled, and zoned. Endangered species have returned to the area; rice production has increased, as have available agricultural tools for the community; and two year-round teacher positions have been created.
CI estimates that $30,000 can protect these 20,000 hectares for a year, and a $2 million trust fund could protect the area indefinitely.
Just as cost-benefit analysis was utilized by CI to form a conservation agreement in Cambodia, a similar calculus can also be a powerful tool in conservation efforts worldwide, according to the IPI's Michael Livermore '06. Taking from his experiences in co-writing Retaking Rationality with Dean Richard Revesz, Livermore spoke about the ways in which cost-benefit analysis can be used to better understand and address environmental problems in developing and developed nations.
Livermore pointed to the example of Liberia's forests, the subject of a chapter in a forthcoming book he is editing with Revesz tentatively called Global Cost-Benefit Analysis. The natural resources of the area offer enormous benefits to the global community, he said, including carbon sequestration and ecological diversity. These benefits, though complex and difficult to value, easily outweigh the funds Liberia can make from logging and other deforestation activities.

Watch the full video of the event (1 hr, 1 min):

Posted on May 5, 2011