In a separate survey, Leisher and his colleagues reviewed more than 400 studies and documents on projects that sought to conserve biodiversity and alleviate poverty. He and his team found that about 150 of these showed at least some evidence that the projects had benefited the poor. These included projects on marine tourism, mangrove restoration and agro-forestry.
But more often, the team found, projects had little or no economic benefit for the poorest people. And like Belcher's study, there was ample evidence that wealthy households were more likely to participate in and benefit from conservation initiatives. Leisher adds that control sites are rarely used in project assessments, meaning that any reduction in poverty cannot be directly attributed to conservation efforts.
Meeting co-organizer Matt Walpole, head of ecosystem assessment at the United Nations Environment Programme's World Conservation Monitoring Centre in Cambridge, UK, says that conservation agencies have been naïve about the contribution that biodiversity can make to poverty reduction, and that they need to be more rigorous in assessing costs and benefits.
This is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an argument against biodiversity conservation. It is merely a reality-check, as Walpole notes, for those who blithely assume that conservation automatically leads to poverty reduction.