Putting people at the heart of conservation

Biodiversity conservation and the sustainable management of natural resources are inextricably linked to people’s rights to secure their livelihoods and live in dignity.

Fauna & Flora International (FFI) is committed to ensuring that our conservation activities at the very least do not further disadvantage poor, vulnerable or marginalised natural resource-dependent people. We strive to design and implement conservation initiatives that, wherever possible, help to improve human well-being and social equity, and which contribute to the achievement of the internationally agreed Sustainable Development Goals.

We are committed to respecting human rights, and we do all in our power to ensure that these rights are protected and realised within our conservation programmes. We also support the improvement of governance systems that can secure those rights.

In most of the places where FFI works, people are an integral part of the landscape and are heavily dependent on nature’s resources for their food, fuel, fibre, water and medicine. Many traditional agricultural, artisanal fishing, forest management and cultural practices have evolved in harmony with nature and are based on a wealth of indigenous and local knowledge. But changing circumstances – including global population growth and consumer demand, climate change, government policies and displacement of people from their customary lands and fishing grounds – have increased pressure on nature and decreased the viability of traditional livelihoods strategies.

Poor, rural communities are commonly blamed for damaging the environment through opening up forest lands to grow crops, ‘over-grazing’ grasslands, or ‘over-fishing’ coastal areas. However, they frequently have few options for making a living and are often struggling to survive in the face of much more destructive external pressures from large-scale commercial agriculture, logging, fishing or other developments.

The challenge for conservation practitioners is how to work in partnership with these communities to achieve effective, long-term nature conservation while at the same time ensuring that local women and men have viable livelihoods that provide a decent standard of living for their families now and in the future.

Our approach

FFI has a long history of working with communities in biodiversity-rich landscapes to enable them to act as effective custodians of their precious, yet threatened, natural resources. We recognise that the livelihoods of rural communities are complex and dynamic; they are not just a means of making a living but a way of life. We therefore promote the use of participatory approaches that seek to empower women and men to make their own livelihood choices more environmentally, economically and socially sustainable.

Our experience has shown that there are a wide range of factors that contribute to people’s well-being. These include having a voice in decisions that affect their livelihoods; food, income and personal security; a sense of control, purpose and confidence in the future; the maintenance of cultural values; and the fair distribution of costs and benefits of conservation.

Through technical advice, training and mentoring, our Conservation, Livelihoods and Governance programme supports FFI staff and partners to understand and integrate the needs and rights of local communities within conservation initiatives. In addition to providing direct support, the programme also produces written guidance, tools and training materials, and facilitates the analysis, documentation and sharing of good practice and lessons learned between FFI project teams and with the wider conservation sector.  We contributed significantly to the development of INTRINSIC (Integrating Rights and Social Issues into Conservation: A Trainers Guide).

Key areas of our work include securing land and resource use rights, addressing gender issues, helping develop sustainable economic opportunities, and recognising how the multiple values of nature influence people’s behaviour.