CI at 25: Creating Economic Incentives for Conservation

Throughout 2012, as we celebrate CI’s 25 years of impact, Editorial Director Todd Christopher is recounting the ways CI has been changing the face of conservation. Today he focuses on sustainable livelihoods.

A man works with tagua in a village in Colombia.

A man works with tagua in a village in Colombia. Often called “vegetable ivory,” tagua nuts are a popular material for buttons, jewelry and other products. (© CI/photo by Haroldo Castro)

Imagine a healthy, prosperous world where societies are committed to caring for nature in a way that ensures the well-being of people and all life on Earth. This is CI’s vision, and it inspired our early work developing community-level enterprise and ecotourism — based on the belief that people would preserve their natural resources if they had the knowledge, means and economic motivation to do so.

The goal was simple: Create small businesses based on the sustainable use of local resources — thereby providing the financial incentive to conserve forests otherwise threatened by the short-term economic gains of unchecked development and extractive practices.

The first such project — the Tagua Initiative — was launched in the rainforests of Ecuador in 1990, linking local communities with markets for tagua nuts — a popular material for buttons, jewelry and other products. The initiative resulted in the creation of eight community enterprises that sold more than 6.4 million pounds of tagua nuts — and informed later efforts such as Conservation Coffee™ and Conservation Cocoa™.

Other successful enterprises were launched by CI’s ecotourism program — including the Chalalán Ecolodge in Bolivia’s Madidi Protected Area, which CI helped to build. The lodge, which opened in 1998, is now owned and operated by the community — generating revenues that directly benefit 116 families and support local health, education and sanitation projects. As a result, the ecolodge won the prestigious Equator Prize in 2008 for outstanding achievement in poverty reduction.

Over the years, a host of enterprise development efforts helped shape the concept that now underpins CI’s scaled-up strategy: Healthy ecosystems are the foundation of lasting prosperity. Today we’re working with governments, industries and community leaders to transform global policies and supply chains — even entire economies — by ensuring that nature’s enduring value is considered at every turn.

Todd Christopher

Todd Christopher

Consider Liberia, where CI worked with the government to assess the impact of various forest and land-use scenarios on the national economy — and found that the carbon market could bring the nation annual revenues of at least $55 million.

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

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