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The biodiversity conservation network: Evaluating enterprise-oriented approaches to community-based conservation in the Asia/Pacific region

BCN goals
Project selection
Project portfolio

Bernd Cordes
Programme Officer
Biodiversity Support Program


Several years ago, biologists, scientists and economists began discussing what it means to "make conservation pay," or what it means to "make a forest profitable." From these discussions, the Biodiversity Conservation Network (BCN) evolved, with a mandate to evaluate enterprise-oriented approaches to community-based conservation in Asia and the Pacific. The network, operates in countries spanning from India to the Solomon Islands.

BCN is a component of the United States/Asia Environmental Partnership (USAEP), created by president Bush in 1992 to transfer environmental technologies from the United States to Asia, and to organize scholastic and academic exchanges between Asians and Americans. The BCN is based in Washington DC, but has a regional office in Manila.

All of BCN's funds (US$ 20 million) come from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), through the Biodiversity Support Program. Therefore, BCN has many bosses who influence its decisions (figure 1). Input from these organizations is very useful, but also results in some constraints on the network.

BCN goals

The two fundamental goals of the BCN are:

· to promote Biodiversity conservation at a number of sites across Asia and the Pacific; and

· to evaluate the viability of enterprise-oriented approaches to community-based conservation of diverse biological resources.

This evaluation is particularly important because there is a lack of data available on NWFPs and various approaches to conservation and development. The BCN was created to test a specific, narrowly defined hypothesis regarding the viability of enterprise-oriented approaches to community-based conservation of diverse biological resources. BCN's hypothesis is that if conservation is to occur, the enterprise must:

· have a direct link to biodiversity;
· generate benefits; and
· have a community of stake-holders.

Figure 1. The BSP structure - 1992

Direct link to biodiversity

If conservation is to occur, then the enterprise must depend directly on in-situ diverse biological resources. The enterprise thus must pass the test: "If the biodiversity of the site were to be degraded, would the enterprise fail?"

· If "yes" then the project is eligible for BCN funding.
· If "no" then the project is not eligible for BCN funding.

In addition, the project must address threats to the biodiversity at the site.

Generation of benefits

If conservation is to occur, then the enterprise must generate benefits for the community, both in the short term, and, after BCN funding ends. These benefits can be:

· monetary (such as cash or shares in an enterprise);
· social (such as tenure rights); or
· environmental (such as watershed protection).

For example, BCN has a project in India where the core benefit is to be the maintenance of a watershed system in a particular area.

Community of stakeholders

If conservation is to occur, then the community, as stakeholders in the biologically diverse resources, must:

· be organized and have the capacity to take long-term action;

· be informed regarding the benefits from the enterprise and believe that they are equitably (fairly) distributed;

· have a measure of enforceable control over the natural resource base; and

· participate in the development of an enterprise through its establishment, operation and or maintenance.

This latter aspect is problematical. What exactly is a community? Who is a stakeholder? These are extremely important issues and ones that are very difficult to define. BCN does not necessarily try to make that determination. That is left up to the people who are implementing the project.


BCN provides both planning grants and implementation grants. To date, BCN has awarded about 30 planning grants and three implementation grants. At least three more implementation grants are currently being finalized (December 1994).

Planning grants

Planning grants can be for up to US$ 50,000 and 3 to 9 months in duration. This type of grant is used primarily to bring people together who can undertake the enterprise; to Undertake market studies and to devise biological monitoring frame works. Establishing the socioeconomic and the biological components of each project is extremely difficult. Planning often entails collaboration between the private sector and the non-governmental sector and among government departments. BCN planning grants often lead to unique collaboration among diverse organizations.

Implementation grants

Implementation grants can be for up to US$ 300,000 per site per year, lasting up to three years in duration. This type of grant funds project activities.

Project selection

Projects are selected on the basis of criteria at both the individual project level and the overall portfolio level. At the individual project level, the project site must have significant biodiversity, and the local community must be dependent on the sustainable use of in situ biological resources. The project design must also biological, socioeconomic, and enterprise issues and their on-going monitoring; demonstrate participatory design and implementation; and address issues of intellectual property rights where needed.

In addition, the project must complement the overall BCN project portfolio and contribute to the broader networking objectives. BCN considers its total portfolio of projects carefully, because of the overall object of gathering data and testing a specific hypothesis. This means BCN wants to fund projects which are unique in one way or other. Perhaps a project has a unique policy framework within which it is operating. Or, perhaps one of the collaborating organizations has a particularly strong enterprise/organization.

Project portfolio

As can be seen from figure 2, BCN supports a wide variety of projects - timber, ecotourism, bioprospecting etc., but the largest number of projects fall under the category of NWFPs.

Once BCN began reviewing projects, several programme officers strongly proposed expanding the notion of in situ biodiversity because the differences between degraded and primary forests are not always very clear - there is a continuum between the two. As a result, BCN has begun to look at the complexities of different types of systems. Often the core enterprise is being supplemented or supported by enterprises in other habitats such as agroforestry. For example, BCN is supporting an agroforestry project of the Kalahan Foundation in the Philippines.

In figure 2, the "herbs" referred to are mainly medicinal and aromatic plants. The "trees" category includes damar resin tapping. The "insect" category includes butterfly projects.

Figure 3 shows the distribution of projects across the region. BCN could provide funding for projects in 23 countries in the region, but managerially that is virtually impossible. BCN's portfolio has therefore been determined by project proposals received from the countries listed in Figure 3, and that is where BCN focuses its attention.

In the Philippines, BCN supports the Kalahan Foundation's agroforestry project. Indonesian projects concern damar, ecotourism, bamboo and rattan. Projects in Nepal concern medicinal herbs and ecotourism in Chitwan National Park. Papua New Guinea's projects deal with tourism and the sustainable harvest of timber using "walk-about" sawmills. BCN is also supporting a bioprospecting project in the Solomon Islands to see whether or not a legal system can be created whereby revenues over the long term will remain with the community.

BCN is trying to avoid providing subsidies for NWFPs or ecotourism. Rather, BCN is encouraging collaboration among partners with various sources of capital - commercial banks, social funds, environmental venture capital funds and community-oriented donor organizations like the MacArthur Foundation.

For example, BCN works closely with the Environmental Enterprises Assistance Fund (EEAP) to identify projects based on NWFPs. EEAP asks organizations to produce profit/loss statements and cash flow spreadsheets. If enterprises appear viable, EEAP provides equity for the start-up of those enterprises.

BCN is attempting to address the lack of information concerning profit points and distribution chains for various enterprises. It is also trying to determine if it is possible to sustainably harvest products or if it is better to domesticate or cultivate NWFPs in plantations or forest gardens.

BCN is also trying to determine under what specific conditions conservation can occur. Are tenurial rights absolutely necessary? Is the community's active involvement or ownership of an enterprise a necessary condition?

BCN is meant to test a hypothesis but has been reminded (and rightly so) that there is an ethical issue involved. While BCN is attempting to test a hypothesis, its projects do not take place in a laboratory.

Conservation of unique resources and the conomic future of communities are often at stake. It is, therefore, extremely important to recognize the human elements that underlie BCN data.

Figure 2. Distribution of projects across enterprise types

Figure 3. Distribution projects within regions

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