Getting the balance right between the interests of conservation and the interests of local people is not easy. After years of experience, RSCN and Wild Jordan have developed a well thought-out approach to resolving potential conflicts, but it is clear that there is no magic formula for any given situation. We are always trying to apply the lessons learned from our experience and improve our ability to put both nature and people first.
When a new protected area is planned, we go through a number of clear steps:
First, we carry out a thorough socio-economic survey of the communities living in and around the proposed protected area to identify and understand how the communities function, their livelihood base and their relationship with the site. The extent to which they depend on the natural resources of the site for their living is a critical issue and enables us to identify our target groups; i.e. those that are highly dependent are priorities for any new socio-economic initiatives. The surveys also help to identify resident skills in the communities and the potential for new livelihoods.
Second, we relate the knowledge we have gained of community livelihoods to the ecological information we have about the protected area (also gathered from extensive surveys) to see if these livelihoods pose a significant threat to the area’s ecological value. Usually, the relationship is clear and the common issues we face in most protected areas are excessive goat grazing, hunting, fuel collection, and expansion of agriculture.
Third, we bring together all the key stakeholders and discuss the setting up of the protected area and explore all the main concerns and issues. Usually, from these meetings local activists and decision makers become well-known and act as the focal points for ongoing discussions and participation. Steering groups are often formed to guide and support the protected area establishment and to help resolve resource management issues.
Fourth, we start working with the target groups identified under step one to develop ideas for ‘fast track projects’. These are most often handicraft or tourism ventures that can be instigated relatively quickly to bring some immediate financial benefits. Sources of funding are then pursued and craft workshops or tourism facilities developed with the support of the Wild Jordan team and external experts.
Once the protected area is established, all the information and experience gathered from the above process is used to support the development of a management plan, which sets out the longer term strategy for conserving biodiversity and for socio-economic development. A critical tool in the plan for reaching compromises between ecological and human interests is the zoning scheme, since this identifies the areas that can be used for appropriate economic activities without causing significant damage to sensitive habitats or species.