What’s wrong with ICDPs? (Part One)

In my introduction to this blog I criticise Integrated Conservation & Development Projects (ICDPs) without going into much detail, but recently I have been queried on the subject, so here’s the fuller explanation. ICDPs first started appearing about 20 years ago and were a response to the criticism that traditional conservation projects did not take into account the needs and livelihoods of  local people, despite those same people often being central to the problems that the conservation projects sought to address. Poverty was often identified as a root cause of habitat destruction or unsustainable exploitation of natural resources, so conservation practitioners were challenged to try to alleviate this poverty. Unfortunately, as the mainstream development sector knows all too well, poverty alleviation is a deuced tricky thing to pull off, and a bunch of conservation biologists whose primary concern was the critically endangered <insert flagship species> were not likely to succeed where others had failed.

That, of course, is not a reason to abandon hope. If poverty really is the root cause of a conservation problem, and there is enough money behind solving the conservation problem, then it ought to be possible to make at least some serious inroads into local poverty concerns. The bigger error was in designing projects in which the only real integration between the conservation and development work was in the project title. (And presumably some overlap in intervention sites and resource commitments.) So, to take an example, the project might urge the community to protect a local forest, and offer a ‘bribe’ to gain the community’s support in the form of support for alternative income generating activities (which didn’t need forest land or resources) and/or new village infrastructure such as a new school. Now I don’t know about you, but if I was a poor farmer who was given an extra means of earning income, and/or a better school for my kids, I might be grateful, but if that small patch of forest was still the cheapest, easiest and closest source of firewood, then I would still go there to collect my wood fuel. In order to keep the project staff happy I might make some marginal attempt to utilise other sources and/or refrain from blatantly marching out of the forest with a pile of firewood when project staff were around, but unless you directly incentivise me to get my firewood elsewhere I am unlikely to change my practices*. And if you incentivise me negatively I am unlikely to have such a rosy view of your project any more, whilst both positive and negative incentives may well not be sustained beyond the end of the project, assuming they are dependent on external funding.

The fundamental error was committed at project design stage when the conservation and development elements were decoupled. For poverty alleviation to make a meaningful contribution to conservation, it has to be directly in the interests of local people to follow the conservation path. Hence why I have much more faith in the various flavours of Payment for Ecosystem Services strategies (watershed, REDD and biodiversity protection can all be directly rewarded), and community management of hunting concessions (e.g. the much discussed CAMPFIRE project in Zimbabwe). Also in forestry, FSC certification and bee-keeping can be combined with participatory forest management to deliver real benefits to forest conservation, whilst in fisheries, no-catch zones have been shown to increase catches overall by giving target species safe areas in which to reproduce. (Though convincing fishermen of this fact can be rather more difficult.) All of these approaches also contain within them some of the necessary ingredients to address the sustainability problem. But ICDPs as originally developed belong in the dustbin.

* This is the same kind of problem which face anti-corruption drives. Low pay may be a major cause of corruption in the first place, but simply raising peoples’ pay now is unlikely to put them off a lucrative additional earner.

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