The IUCN Social Policy Unit works to deliver conservation and sustainable management of biodiversity and natural resources from the global to local levels. Under this agenda, one of its priority areas of work is to manage nature for human well-being and promote an understanding that conservation and livelihoods are inextricably linked.
This Unit’s "Improving Natural Resource Governance for Rural Poverty Reduction" project is financed by UKaid from the Department for International Development's Governance and Transparency Fund (DFID's GTF) and aims to enable better environmental governance including fair and equitable access to natural resources, new benefit-sharing arrangements, and more participative and transparent decision-making processes. This project involves a portfolio of 10 projects in Africa (3), Asia (3), South America (1), West Asia (1), with one cross-cutting component on protected area management and one coordinating component based at IUCN Headquarters in Switzerland. It has a specific focus on improving governance of natural resources for the benefit of the rural poor by:
- Building capacities of community-based organizations, civil society and government actors from local to national levels to engage in and governance processes
- Strengthening opening dialogue between local, stakeholders and organizations
- Increasing participation of all stakeholders in democratic and transparent decision making for effective and accountable governance of natural resources
- Developing opportunities for improved income generation and livelihood arrangements, focusing on indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities and women
- Helping to preserve traditional systems of resource tenure that secure livelihoods and contribute to nature conservation
- Expanding an understanding of human well-being by developing culturally based indicators.
- Promoting policy improvement from the local to global level and working with other major conservation organizations to integrate human rights and governance issues into global conservation activities.
This project advocates for legal, policy and institutional changes that can serve to promote recognition and respect for the rights of poor and marginalised natural resource dependent people. By empowering communities to hold officials, state agencies and local institutions to account and take responsibility for their own natural resource management, IUCN believes that its work will help secure livelihoods and bridge the institutional gap between conservation and human-well being.
In Bangladesh, multi-stakeholder platforms have brought together community members and local government officials. This has provided poor and excluded sectors of society with a real voice in local decision-making. As a result, government officials have become more accountable and responsive. Examples of the achievements are: (i) the exploitative leasing system in haor (perennial wetland system) areas controlled by powerful elites is gradually being replaced by ‘co-management’; and (ii) communities in the Chandpur district have been able to obtain an increase in the compensation that poor fishermen receive during the lean season –time when fishing is banned- from 500 to 5,000 Bangladeshi taka per person (approximately from 5 to 50 GBP).
In Nepal, the programme addressed the community governance of a watershed and helped advocate for the integration of environmental rights and benefit-sharing mechanisms into the new constitution. A watershed conservation plan for Sardu watershed was developed and a functioning multistakeholder platform for the watershed was set up. These actions have helped solve conflicts between upstream and downstream communities and increased access to clean drinking water for approximately 11,800 people in Dharan municipality as well as neighbouring communities. Through training, advocacy and awareness raising with national Constituent Assembly members, recognition of access and benefit sharing, environmental rights and natural resources governance have been inserted in the draft version of the new constitution. For the Nepal’s approximately 20 million rural inhabitants who depend on natural resources for their livelihoods, these changes in the Constitution will increase their access to these resources, promote sustainable development and foster new income opportunities.
In post conflict Sri Lanka, three multi-stakeholder platforms have enabled thousands of poor people to have voice in policy making processes that affect their lives. An example of the important policy changes generated is the recognition and gazetting of the Puttalam Lagoon Fisheries Management Area under the Fisheries Management Act, which entails regulations that support community management. Community based fisheries organizations of Periyakalapuwa have been legally recognized as management agents.
In Lebanon, actions by our partner led to community based traditional natural resources governance systems known as himas being legally approved in three villages in Upper Akkar/Hermel region. To support sustainable development and safeguard extraordinary biodiversity including that of Karm Chbat National Reserve, the Draft Master Plan for Upper Akkar/Hermel was produced with active participation of local people. In response to local demands, this plan includes a focus on ecotourism - a sustainable alternative for increasing income for Bedouin families in this extremely poor area of Lebanon. The plan also aims to help turn Karm Chbat National Reserve from a paper park that excluded local people into a community managed area rooted in the hima approach.
Over the next year, IUCN will continue to work with partners in Kenya, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to strengthen natural resource governance and rights, to support poor people’s access to natural resources and to help secure more equitable livelihoods.