CI at 25: Securing Community Well-Being Through Conservation

CI's Conservation Stewards Program supports sustainable rice production in Madagascar. (© Cristina Mittermeier)

Throughout 2012, as we celebrate CI’s 25 years of impact, Editorial Director Todd Christopher will recount the ways CI has been changing the face of conservation. Today he focuses on community engagement.

Several years ago, CI revealed a new mission — one that emphasized human well-being as the ultimate goal of its conservation efforts. But our abiding concern for people has been readily apparent throughout 25 years of work — and perhaps no more visible than in our ongoing engagement with local communities.

From the beginning, CI has recognized the vital connections between the health of a community and the health of its environment, especially in remote, biodiversity-rich frontiers.

Through an early program in Guatemala, CI worked with local midwives and trained them to deliver conservation messages along with community health counsel — demonstrating a new and effective way to partner. The integration of health and social development needs into CI’s work with local communities was formalized with the creation of the Healthy Communities Initiative in 1997, with support from the Mulago Foundation. And in 2002, when groundbreaking congressional earmarks made USAID funding available to projects in Madagascar, Guatemala and the Philippines, CI began implementing the Healthy Families, Healthy Forests project — improving family planning, hygiene and nutrition for local communities in areas of high biodiversity.

On the heels of those successes, CI’s relationship with the Mulago Foundation expanded to focus on incorporating community needs and priorities into conservation strategy. The resulting Conservation Stewards Program (CSP), launched in 2005, broke new ground by negotiating conservation agreements with local communities. The model is clear and compelling: In return for commitments to conservation — from halting deforestation to patrolling protected areas — CI offers direct economic incentives that seek to improve community well-being, enabling those communities most dependent upon nature to take an active part in its conservation.

Todd Christopher

Through a wide portfolio of projects that protect biodiversity while improving quality of life for local people, CSP has engaged nearly 100 communities in 17 countries. CSP currently maintains 51 agreements that impact the lives of 35,000 people around the world while conserving nearly 1.5 million hectares (3.7 million acres) of natural habitat.

Todd Christopher is CI’s editorial director. Read other posts in our “CI at 25” blog series.

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