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Getting conservation into the mainstream

July 18, 2007 By Emma Marris This article courtesy of Nature News.

Emma Marris finds out how two South Africans in the field are convincing business and government to value biodiversity.

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Protecting nature within the context of human activity is a complicated thing to do; and it can be even harder to convince people to do it. One way that people try to make sure that nature is protected is through 'mainstreaming' — integrating ecological goals into the practices of businesses and governments.

Nature's Emma Marris sat down with two people who are trying this in South Africa. Trevor Sandwith is coordinator of Cape Action for People and the Environment (CAPE), a programme endorsed by the South African government, and deputy chair of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Commission on Protected Areas. Mandy Driver works on policy and planning for the South African National Biodiversity Institute.

EM: What is 'mainstreaming', and where did the term originate?

TS: The term comes from the Convention on Biological Diversity, back in 1992, which required parties to mainstream biodiversity into policies and programmes.

MD: In this context, it is mainstreaming biodiversity priorities or considerations into sectors whose core business is not biodiversity.

TS: Ultimately, mainstreaming means that sectors recognize the value of biodiversity, but not simply as an add-on — as one might "respect human rights" or "respect biodiversity" — but actually incorporate into their business practices a respect for biodiversity, or actually run their business dependent on biodiversity.

MD: Or get some set-asides — actual hectares conserved on the ground.

EM: So how do you convince a mining company that it is in their business interest to do this?

MD: It can be tricky. It depends partly on how much it affects their costs and bottom line. It's relatively easy for a mining company (or any company) to talk about incorporating biodiversity in their operations, but when it comes down to finding a rich deposit of a lucrative mineral on the last remaining patch of a particular ecosystem type, which doesn't exist anywhere else, what happens then? That's the real test.

EM: So how about somehow making that destruction cost something - making that 'precious' ecosystem actually monetarily precious?

MD: Right, that's mainstreaming into fiscal policy. One big area that we deal with is mainstreaming biodiversity in regulatory systems, especially in the public sector, especially around land-use planning and environmental impact assessments.

EM: So if you can't mainstream the industry, you can mainstream the regulators.

TS: Right. You start with things that are highly dependent on biodiversity — the easiest opportunities. So, forestry, agriculture, tourism. We've dealt with these regulatory sectors a lot. We have had success by lowering the cost to the regulators of incorporating biodiversity considerations. We provide good information so that they don't have to go out and pay a lot of money for it.

MD: An example is maps we made of critically endangered areas in the Eastern Cape for land-use planners.

EM: Do you have any success stories?

TS: We have this biodiversity and wine initiative in CAPE. It is a real natural, because the wines have unique origins in various estates, they have terroir. And what we are going to bring to the table now are wines produced in a landscape that is conserved. The wines can be marketed internationally with the slogan "Variety is in our Nature".

In South Africa, rhinos are increasing in number at virtually their biological potential. Why? They are sold. You pay half a million Rand [US$70,000] for a group of rhinos on auction [for wildlife reserves, tourism and limited trophy hunting], resulting in people converting unproductive cattle-farms into sanctuaries for wildlife. As a result, there are more rhinos in the world today.

EM: Is it easier to enact policies such as this in South Africa than elsewhere?

TS: We have a huge opportunity because of the generally low level of development. Think about a country like Bangladesh, with 150 million people in a tiny space. What is the chance of mainstreaming biodiversity there? You may need a substantial resource of biodiversity to start with to even try it.

Mainstreaming works well in a revolutionary policy environment, such as South Africa, where everyone recognizes that the past has been inequitable and unjust and that we need to do things differently. South Africa has a bill of rights, and one of those rights is to an environment that is not detrimental to your health or wellbeing. When you open your mouth and start talking to a mining company, you can say, "Listen, to operate in our new democratic society..."

There are frightening things about our society in South Africa. But there is also a great humanity and a collective mobilization of people. The struggle for democracy had a huge groundswell and huge spirit — not self-seeking but for the good of all. I would like to think that we could get some of that behind biodiversity.


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