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As highlighted in the Millennium Development Goals, alleviating rural poverty and ensuring environmental sustainability are two of the biggest issues facing the planet, and they are fundamentally and inextricably linked extreme poverty inhibits environmental sustainability and degraded natural environments exacerbate rural poverty. Poverty and sustainability are also complex, multi-faceted issues that demand concerted attention and a variety of approaches. The PAPR is focused on one increasingly prominent and controversial approach — the use of protected areas. Protected areas can and do mitigate biodiversity loss, protect ecosystem function and integrity, and generate significant socio-economic benefits at local to national scales. As a result, calls to increase the number and extent of both marine and terrestrial protected areas have multiplied. At the same time, however, an increasing number of studies have suggested that protected areas can lead to the marginalization of local communities, increases in human-wildlife conflicts, inequity in flows of economic benefits and costs, the exacerbation of poverty, and the erosion of support for conservation. As a result, protected areas are at a crossroads. 

If protected areas are to succeed in reducing poverty and ensuring environmental sustainability, ways must be found to: 1) maximize the delivery of equitable benefits; 2) reduce human-wildlife conflict; 3) re-conceptualize and improve protected area governance and 4) mobilize existing information between academic researchers, community organizations, visitors, and managers. The PAPR will support innovative research and learning in each of these four areas that will build capacity and be of direct use to local communities, academics and government agencies.

Ghana, Tanzania and Canada share issues of acute poverty in rural communities in close proximity to protected areas that conserve ecologically significant features. However, the relationships between poor communities and protected areas differ substantially among these three countries due to: differences in the scope and causes of rural poverty; the involvement of indigenous communities in protected area governance; past and present human-wildlife interactions; experience in linking conservation and development; tourism infrastructure; conservation strategies and threats; and ecosystem type. Through a comparative research framework based on these fundamental similarities but analytically critical differences the PAPR will address not only the specific poverty/sustainability challenges faced in any one area, but also the general processes involved, allowing for the elaboration of conceptual models that can be applied elsewhere.

1) Costs/Benefits: What are the mechanisms for optimizing the equitable delivery of a broad suite of benefits (social, economic, cultural, and environmental) related to protected areas?

The PAPR will use a rural livelihood approach which will develop a more comprehensive understanding of benefits (derived from ecosystem services) and costs that flow from each of our protected areas with a particular focus on tourism. This systematic approach will help to:

  • situate the benefits and costs of protected areas within the household and community economies
  • conceptualize rural poverty
  • identify the mismatches that exist between the benefits of protected areas and the needs of the rural poor
  • refine the complicated distinction between perceptions of benefits/costs and reality
  • help situate alternative livelihood strategies (those adopted when protected areas are created and new livelihood options must be found)
  • better characterize the linkages between conservation activities and persistent rural poverty.

The distribution of these benefits and costs within households and within and across communities is critical and understanding this inequality and how it can be balanced will be an important focus of the research. For example, there is an important gender dimension to poverty – in Tanzania female heads of households (25% of the total) earn 45% less than their male counterparts and 69% of female heads of households live below the poverty line. Likewise some rural communities (such as those adjacent to migratory corridors) are shouldering a greater proportion of the costs than others.

Furthermore it will be important to identify and characterize the factors that mediate the realization of those benefits at the local, regional, national and international scales. The PAPR will examine access to capital (human, social, natural), the quality of organization/institutional capacities, and multi-scale power relationships. It will be necessary to focus on existing power structures and relationships in conducting this research as well as to connect with the poor and marginalized within communities, who are too often left out of the research process as they can be difficult to identify and engage. The focus will be on identifying and minimizing current blockages that impede the equitable delivery of benefits, on strengthening existing positive pathways, and on identifying and minimizing threats to existing benefits.

2) Human-Wildlife Interactions: How are human-wildlife interactions best managed in and around protected areas?

The research will begin by identifying key human-wildlife interactions both within and outside protected area boundaries in each of the study areas and how these are related to conditions of poverty. Drawing on extensive prior research experience in both terrestrial and marine environments, the PAPR use a structured survey approach to identify and characterize how protected area visitors interact with wildlife, and how those interactions contribute to the overall visitor experience and, by extension tourism revenues.

Visitor surveys, interviews, and GIS data systems will be used to examine how and when visitor wildlife interactions lead to dangerous visitor experiences, impacts on tourism revenue, and negative impacts on wildlife. Similar techniques will be applied to explore issues of crop depredation and illegal bushmeat hunting. It is important to acknowledge that human-wildlife interactions can be both positive and negative , qualitative descriptors that depend largely upon outcome, but also upon context and ontological distinctions and the ways in which different groups conceptualize and understand wildlife, the environment and interactions with humans.

Attention will be paid to the relationship between the nature and quantity/quality of the tourism experience, the expectations of tourists vis- -vis wildlife interactions, and the structure and practices of the tourism industry in an effort to identify optimal ecotourism planning strategies for the future. Of particular importance are processes whereby wildlife becomes habituated to close contact with humans, how habituation leads to negative interactions, and subsequently how those interactions might be better managed. In close conjunction with our benefits stream of inquiry, we will characterize how negative human-wildlife interactions exacerbate rural poverty, how those costs are distributed, and how negative interactions generate food security problems.

3) Governance: How can protected areas governance be re-conceptualize and improved within the broader, multi-scalar social-ecological system in order to better address both the poverty reduction and conservation agendas?

Through interviews, focus groups and document analyses the PAPR will begin by characterizing key aspects of current governance structures, exploring how these have changed over time, and identifying key cross-scale linkages and interactions (or lack thereof). This will identify the synergies and antagonisms between formal/informal and local/non-local elements of governance. For example, it will be important to characterize tensions between local hereditary systems of management and those elaborated by regional and national governments and how these influence compliance and local support for conservation.

Furthermore, the PAPR research will explore the relationship between the different governance models present in the study sites and the distribution of costs and benefits. Specifically, it will:

  • examine the quality of organization/institutional capacities at local to international levels, describe the role of institutions in causing/addressing conservation and poverty issues, and highlight areas where decision-making processes are opaque, inefficient or counter-productive;
  • characterize tenure regimes and access to capital (human, social, natural) and explore the ways in which capital is mobilized with respect to the poverty reduction and/or conservation agendas;
  • examine the ways in which the attitudes, knowledge, and beliefs of local communities shape approaches to stewardship;
  • examine multi-scale power relationships that will illuminate ways to effectively empower local communities and the disadvantaged within them; and,
  • refine the criteria that define good governance and identify the plurality of governance approaches required to achieve satisfactory conservation and equity outcomes in and around protected areas

4) Knowledge Mobilization: What are the best techniques for mobilizing new and existing information between and among academic researchers, community organizations, visitors and managers in a cross-cultural context?

The PAPR will involve not only the development of effective and enduring mechanisms for knowledge mobilization and exchange but will also involve conducting research on international, cross-cultural knowledge mobilization and improving the science-policy interface. Indeed, this element of the program is considered to be a central challenge of the ICURA program itself. Knowledge mobilization is an on-going process by which value is created through the creation, dissemination, uptake, and application of particular knowledge to particular communities. Accordingly, the PAPR will research and identify the forms of culturally relevant communication/knowledge mobilization that are effective in each of the study areas and explore the best ways to integrate, move and use knowledge in effective, culturally relevant ways.

The PAPR will explore and expand on:

  • existing efforts that use community radio to reach remote communities with almost a complete lack of infrastructure
  • University extension service models and helping to refine curricula
  • community mapping
  • Geographic Information Systems and other geographic visualization tools

Through exploratory field work (e.g. interviews with knowledge users) and structured discussions at early team meetings the PAPR will develop conceptual maps of communication (movement of knowledge) networks centered on each site. This will facilitate double-loop learning, identify key areas for improvement, and help target further research efforts. Through repetition there will be the ability to 1) evaluate and improve performance, and 2) identify lessons for cross-cultural knowledge exchange generally.

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