Incentive-based conservation programs can contribute to a win-win situation

Scientists recognize farmers as stakeholders in conservation and in creating resilient landscapes that support biodiversity and preserve rural livelihoods.

Planet Outlook
July 01, 2021
Incentive-based conservation programs can contribute to a win-win situation

In a new scientific paper titled ‘Food for thought - Examining farmers' willingness to engage in conservation stewardship around a protected area in central India’, scientists examined how various characteristics of private landowners’ affect their willingness to engage in agroforestry and conservation programs.

The role of private land in biodiversity conservation is becoming more significant with growing challenges facing protected areas and many wildlife species present outside. While protected areas have been the backbone of global and Indian conservation strategies, they are constrained in meeting the country’s overall conservation goals. They cover less than 5% of India’s land area, are highly fragmented with limited connectivity and are under severe development pressure.

Scientists from the University of Florida, University of Georgia, Centre for Wildlife Studies and Duke University surveyed 602 landowners in the buffer area of Pench Tiger Reserve in the state of Madhya Pradesh to analyse their inclination towards agroforestry. Pench, the inspiration for Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book and home to Sher Khan, Baloo and Mowgli, is one of the premier protected areas of the country. It is also an integral part of the Central Indian Highlands Landscape which supports some of the highest densities of tigers and other carnivores, herbivores and primates.

“Nearly 60% of the central Indian landscape comprises low cover agricultural areas under private ownership. These agricultural lands have a key role to play in the long-term conservation of biodiversity in this landscape. Local communities in India also receive very few benefits from existing conservation models. By incentivizing private landowners living adjacent to forested areas to adopt biodiversity-friendly agricultural practices, we can increase the scope of our protected areas, and make them ecologically and socially more effective” said Mahi Puri, lead author of the study.

The study found that farmers living on the fringes of Pench required an average of Rs. 66,000 per acre per year to adopt agroforestry. The research found that the willingness of private landowners to adopt agroforestry depended on the amount of land to be enrolled, program duration and payment amount. Perceived benefits from agroforestry such as increased income, fuelwood and fodder, support of family members for enrollment in conservation programs increased landowners’ willingness to participate in agroforestry. Experience of crop-raiding by herbivores, education levels, family size and agricultural incomes were additional factors influencing landowner decision-making. By recognizing farmers as stakeholders in conservation, India can go a long way in creating resilient landscapes that support biodiversity and preserve rural livelihoods. Scientists argue that a reliable and well-designed ‘payment for ecosystem services (PES) program may also help counter the ongoing agrarian crisis in India, providing farmers a fixed alternative income.

“There are very few examples of voluntary, incentive-based conservation models in India. Private community-based PES approaches offer new approaches to support many wildlife species found outside protected areas and create sustainable livelihood opportunities” said co-author Krithi Karanth. This study establishes that participatory agroforestry practices when introduced in India’s rural development policy may support agricultural resilience against climatic variability, increase soil productivity, increase farmers’ incomes, preserve livelihoods, and can be instrumental in attaining landscape-level biodiversity conservation.