Wildlife in Nairobi National Park. Photo by Kamweti Mutu.

By Tsegaye Gatiso, Lars Kulik, Mona Bachmann, Aletta Bonn, Lukas Bösch, Andreas Freytag, Marco Heurich, Karsten Wesche, Marten Winter, Isabel Ordaz-Németh, Tenekwetche Sop, and Hjalmar Kuehl.

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In recent decades biodiversity has been declining globally and poverty and food insecurity have been increasing. In response to these contradicting trends, international community has been looking for ways to achieve both goals simultaneously. To avert the decline in biodiversity, protected areas are found to play a central role. Further, protected areas could also play a positive role in promoting local socioeconomic development through promotion of ecotourism and other income generating activities. On the other hand, as most protected areas follow the principle of restricting resource access (e.g. firewood, wild fruits and meat) by local communities, they could have negative impact on local socioeconomic development. Nonetheless, there is limited evidence on whether protected areas have been effective in achieving the goals of both biodiversity conservation and local socioeconomic development simultaneously. In this study, we aim to answer this question by using face-to-face survey with managers of 66 African and 48 European protected areas. We collected data on biodiversity conservation and socioeconomic situation of local communities living around the 114 African and European PAs.

Our results show that PAs are indeed playing an important role in facilitating synergies between biodiversity conservation and local socioeconomic development.  Further, the likelihood of PAs achieving synergy was enhanced where management was empowered through access to increased resources and funds, and where local communities were more involved in the planning and decision-making process of PAs. However, those PAs that were facing higher intensity of threats to biodiversity conservation were reported to have lower probability of synergy between biodiversity conservation and local socioeconomic development.

We believe that PAs could be used as a channel to achieve the goals of sustainable development that the United Nations aspires to achieve by 2030. However, in addition to current PA management planning that focuses more on the expansion of PA coverage, our results suggest that emphasis should also be given to empowering the management of the PAs and involving the local communities in the planning and decision-making process of PAs.