Conservation NGOs and their local partners often choose to develop a particular type of business because of familiarity with that specific industry, not because it’s the best option for their landscape. As conservation entrepreneurs, we need to take a step back and start by getting to know our landscape, to understand its distinct values and assets, before choosing a particular business strategy.
Landscapes are like products – they have unique selling points and comparative advantages relative to other places. Assessing your landscape’s natural, cultural, organisational and network capital will allow you to identify the business opportunities that draw on its strengths and are resilient to any of its limitations.
The need to take time to choose the right product came out in numerous presentations at the conference. Fanamby in Madagascar explained how they initially engaged in tourism and trialled a range of essential oils and other non-timber forest products, before deciding to focus on vanilla, which now generates US$20m in annual income for park margin-dwelling communities.
My colleagues at Fauna & Flora International (FFI) worked with Mwambao in Pemba, Tanzania to analyse a range of products before settling on octopus as the best option. The resulting conservation and livelihood benefits included an increase in community incomes, particularly for women who had traditionally earned less than men in the same market, and negotiation of a per kg contribution by the buyer to local conservation activities. This is why we specifically include landscape assessment and product or market selection phases in our market systems and enterprise development approaches.