The Costs and Benefits of Forest Protected Areas for Local Livelihoods: a review of the current literature

Author: Coad, L., Campbell, A., Miles, L., Humphries, K.
Date Published: May 2008
The Costs and Benefits of Forest Protected Areas for Local Livelihoods

Protected areas could play a significant role in the implementation of schemes to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD) in developing countries, through either the strengthening of the existing protected area network, or designation of new areas. Many rural poor people rely on forest resources, and may experience positive or negative changes to their livelihoods as a result of REDD. This review aims to assess the livelihood implications of the existing protected area network in order to inform future REDD policy.

The costs and benefits of individual protected areas for community livelihoods have been well documented. Costs can range from displacement of local communities to crop damage by wildlife, and sometimes include restricted access to resources and changes in land tenure. Benefits can include direct revenue from environmental protection, and the maintenance of ecosystem services such as watershed protection. The nature of these costs and benefits depends largely upon the protected area’s status and governance, as well as its history of use.

The net livelihood impacts of protected areas are less easy to discern, as there is a lack of standardised assessment methodologies. The effect on livelihoods of differing governance types within and between IUCN protected area management categories is rarely assessed in the literature, and requires further research. However, general patterns can be observed. The livelihood impacts of protected areas vary with protected area status, management strategies and community involvement in governance. Strictly protected areas with top-down management structures (generally associated with IUCN management categories I-II) can result in major livelihood costs and cause conflict between local communities and protected area management. Community management schemes, and protected area management allowing sustainable use of forest resources (more often associated with IUCN management categories V-VI), can provide tangible benefits. However, significant costs can still be incurred by communities if management and institutional capacity is lacking, and issues of governance and tenure are not resolved.

Inequitable distribution of livelihood costs and benefits is an obvious problem that is often yet to be adequately addressed in protected area management. These issues need careful consideration as REDD policy develops. An analysis of livelihood costs and benefits in existing forest carbon markets has identified issues similar to those for protected areas; including lack of established tenure and the inequitable distribution of resources, particularly affecting the landless members of society. Involving local communities in the planning and implementation of REDD, and ensuring that financial or other benefits are shared, is likely to result in a more sustainable solution to deforestation than are less participative strategies.