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First national round table

12 November 2001

The development benefits of protected areas

Jeremy Carew-Reid, Director of International Centre for Environmental Management, Australia

The review is a partnership between agencies concerned with economic planning, sector development and protected area management. All these partners are engaged in the Lao PDR review.

The review goal: to establish protected areas as a critical ingredient in national development.

Protected areas are "engines" for national development

The review is seeking to better define the benefits of protected areas for development and to have those benefits reflected in economic decisions.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forests and its sister agencies in the other three countries of the Lower Mekong are taking the lead in rethinking our approach to protected areas. The need for a fresh approach is simple. Protected areas in the region continue to degrade, many so rapidly that they have ceased to be of importance for biodiversity conservation or economic uses.

What we find is that protected areas have become isolated from socio-economic planning at national and local levels. They have not been recognised as productive units of the economy and so tend to be neglected areas whose contributions to development are largely taken for granted.

To manage them as major economic assets which require careful conservation and adequate investment.

There are two important characteristics of the region which show that increasing land and sea territory is being set aside for protection, but without providing adequate resources for its maintenance.

Increasing protected area coverage

The first significant trend is that governments increasingly view protected areas as a vital mechanism for managing natural resources. On average protected areas make up around 15% of the land area of the four countries under review, and this major stock of resources is increasing.

While increasing, the budget for protected areas remains less than 1% of GDP.

This level of investment bears no relation to the importance of the natural resources they contain or their large contribution to the economy.

This review is a first step in trying to identify the benefits flowing from protected areas, and, most important, to express those benefits in economic terms so that they can be better integrated into development strategies for our villages, districts, provinces and nationally.

Lets take a closer look at the kind of protected area benefits which need to be expressed very clearly and systematically in economic terms. Many take the form of natural goods and services provided to the main development sectors of the economy. All are undervalued or ignored when economic priorities and investment budgets are set.

As shown in the interactive diagram below, a typical protected area in the region under review includes:

  • forest,
  • a rich drainage pattern of rivers and creeks,
  • nearby towns and often heavy or light industrial areas,
  • villages living around and within, and
  • zones for different intensities of protection and use (community use zones - eg community forests).

This diagram illustrates how key development sectors benefit from protected areas. Move over the listed sectors to view the economic benefits.

One can view protected areas as storage and production houses for goods and services. Like all centres of economic production, they require sound investment and careful management to remain productive.

That investment needs to come from all sectors which benefit from protected area goods and services - or which may undermine their productivity.

Protected area benefits must be accounted for:

Unless the benefits of protected areas are fully taken into account in economic plans and budgets:

  1. development will continue to use benefits unsustainably;
  2. government and private investment in benefit management will not reflect their importance to the economy; and
  3. the flow of benefits will dry up and the economy will suffer.

Protected areas have zones of economic influence:

If protected areas are recognised as production houses for essential economic services and products, then it is possible to map the zones of economic influence or connections from the local economy through to national and international economies. There will be a wide range of economic actors and activities which link back to each protected area. Those actors need to be well defined and each needs to enter into a contract of mutual benefit with protected area authorities so that benefits continue to flow and protected area productivity is optimised.

The review approach, outputs and schedule.

The review team looks forward to working with you in the months to come on this initiative which is so important to economic development in the region.