Why I write what I write

Happy birthday to me! Or, more accurately, happy birthday to this blog, which started with an opinionated post entitled Sustainability 3 years ago today. The blog has proved at least as sustainable as your average aid project, with 240 odd posts written since then, about 80 per year. Combined verbiage is over 110,000 words, and page views cruised over 30,000 some time ago (including email and RSS subscribers roughly doubles that). I reckon the average post is read by a modest crowd of about 250 people. As to why you read it, only you can say, but I can tell you why I write it, or more particularly, why I choose to write about the things I do.

Two dominant themes have emerged and slightly surprised even me with the frequency that I have chosen to write about them:

  1. I blog rather more about general development issues than I do about conservation specific ones.
  2. I spend an awful lot of time complaining about donors.

Both are outcomes of this blog’s basic premise: to put across the view from the coal face of implementing an actual community-based conservation programme on the ground in the tropics. Working in this context it is impossible to escape the critical fact that just about every single other stakeholder that one deals with is far more interested in economic development than they are in conservation. If you do not learn to sing to this tune pretty quickly your project will be one long and probably unsuccessful struggle.

It is also the context in which you live your life; when the electricity cuts out it affects you. When a government official is not interested in joining you in the field because they would prefer to be back in the office collecting bribes it affects your work, quite apart from all the direct impacts of poor governance on biodiversity conservation (elephant poaching, illegal logging etc). It becomes apparent pretty quickly that most solutions to conservation problems in the tropics have precious little to do with biology, and a lot more to do with basic economics and governance issues.

But in many ways, when it comes to implementing any actual conservation programme, all of that is of secondary importance. For if you have a well designed programme (admittedly a big if), then your principle constraint will be how much money donors give to you and under what conditions. So whilst moaning about arcane details of ever-changing reporting requirements issued by your (least) favourite donor might not seem quite as inspiring as all that glorious biodiversity, if you want to have any chance of saving that biodiversity then dealing with such things becomes critical. And if, by extension, you want to improve the rather disappointingly poor success rate of conservation projects in the tropics, then persuading donors to mend their ways might just be one of the most important jobs you could do.

As it is, most of my time I spend focused on more immediate issues, but occasionally I write a piece for this blog in the hope that someone, somewhere with the actual power to change some of these things is paying attention. The not-so-glamorous life of a conservationist in the tropics.


One response to this post.

  1. Thank you very much (again) for sharing you ‘bottom’ up musings. You truly captuer the “me against the world” feeling that you get ‘on-ground’ sometimes. Not just your friends who have a job in the ‘city’ and look at you strange, or the donors that want correct reporting and a data when you struggle to keep your laptop going with that tiny bit of fuel in the generator, or the community members who don’t show up for that important meeting you organised and then on top of it those officials with their – “What, you cannot pay my daily allowance for leaving the office and actually doing my job…. I am not interested!” attitude… And we still love our jobs. Everyday! At least I do…


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