Year : 2014 | Volume
| Issue : 3 | Page : 318-328
What is 'Successful Development' in Conservation and Development Projects? Insights from Two Nicaraguan Case Studies
Sandra K Znajda
Independent Research Consultant, Ontario, Canada
Sandra K Znajda
Independent Research Consultant, Ontario
Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None
|Date of Web Publication||20-Nov-2014|
| Abstract|| |
The lack of clear indications of success in integrated conservation and development projects has resulted in strong criticisms of these projects, and a call for the return to conservation activities that exclude local communities. Impeding this discussion is the lack of clarity around how project success is defined and measured in conservation and development projects, especially in terms of development goals. This study involved an in-depth exploration of two agroforestry-focused conservation and development projects in Nicaragua to provide insights into how success in reaching development goals is interpreted in such projects. In both projects, development was equated with increased household income, in contrast to more contemporary definitions that include aspects such as self-respect and social integration. Both projects in turn relied on income as a measure of development success, which ultimately lessened attention to impacts not easily measured quantitatively as well as participant perspectives on desired goals. The paper concludes with a discussion of implications for conservation practitioners; specifically the need for better alignment of project goals with contemporary explanations of development, and a need to move beyond primarily numerical indicators to measure change through an interdisciplinary approach in order to have a more comprehensive understanding of project impacts.
Keywords: conservation and development, development goals, project impacts, agroforestry, Nicaragua
|How to cite this article:|
Znajda SK. What is 'Successful Development' in Conservation and Development Projects? Insights from Two Nicaraguan Case Studies
. Conservat Soc 2014;12:318-28
| Introduction|| |
Conservation and development projects are the product of a 1980s conceptual shift that involved increased recognition of the links between biodiversity conservation and poverty reduction, and attempts to integrate the two in practice. Before this time period, conservation of biodiversity and development were addressed as separate entities, with a history of primarily 'top down' approaches that excluded local communities (Adams 2004). With the shift, conservation was seen as less likely to succeed without addressing local community members' rights and needs, and environmental degradation was seen as an impediment to development goals (Roe 2008). Several factors influenced the conceptual shift including: rising criticism of top-down projects from practitioners and local communities, past project failures, influence of the 1987 Brundtland Report, evidence of geographical overlap between areas of high biodiversity and areas of high rural poverty, and increasing recognition of the dependence of rural peoples on natural resources for their livelihoods and day-to-day needs (Nederveen Pieterse 1998; McNeely and Scherr 2003; Adams and Hutton 2007; Roe 2008).
The integration of development goals into conservation has been tested under a variety of monikers including International Conservation and Development Projects (ICDPs), community-based conservation, community-based natural resource management, and initiatives associated with parks such as ecotourism and agroforestry. The conceptual shift has occurred to such a degree that it can be challenging for conservation projects to acquire funding without some degree of attention to achieving positive socioeconomic change (Campbell and Vainio-Mattila 2003; Roe 2008). The logic driving these projects has been as follows: provide communities living in biodiversity-rich areas with alternative livelihoods that foster improved development, and the combination of education and increased income will result in a decreased need to remove resources (fuelwood, animals, plants) from these areas, thereby benefiting local ecosystems (McShane and Wells 2004). Integrated conservation and development projects are seen to be 'win-win'-conserving biodiversity and improving the livelihoods of people involved with or impacted by a project. Supporters argue strongly for the integration on both ethical and practical grounds (e.g., Kaimowitz and Shiel 2007; Roe and Elliott 2004).
Putting the concept into practice has not been without its challenges, and projects that integrate conservation and development have been highly criticised over the past decade. Critics suggest that benefits are not being shared equally and there is a lack of participation of local communities (Chapin 2004; Igoe and Croucher 2007; Haller et al. 2008), oversimplified concepts of 'community', 'participation', and 'empowerment' are being used (Brown 2002; Klein et al. 2007), and there is little evidence of success in achieving either conservation or development goals (Adams et al. 2004; Agrawal and Redford 2006). The lack of success of conservation and development projects has been attributed in part to development being seen as a means for conservation instead of an end-goal in and of itself (e.g., Ghimire and Pimbert 1997; Peters 1998; Wainwright and Wehrmeyer 1998; West and Brockington 2006; Igoe and Croucher 2007; Klein et al., 2007; Walpole and Wilder 2008). Others argue that addressing poverty is beyond the mandate of conservation (Redford et al. 2008; Sanderson and Redford 2004) and that in some instances there may be conflicting priorities between conservationists and local community members (Redford and Stearman 1993). The result of these debates has been calls for a return to so-called 'fortress conservation' where community members are again excluded from conservation activities and/or areas (Adams and Hutton 2007) and the development component is disconnected from conservation.
The challenge involved in evaluating conservation and development projects has strongly influenced this debate. For much of conservation's history, in-depth project evaluation was limited (Hockings et al. 2000; Kleimen et al. 2000; Fien et al. 2001; Saterson et al. 2004). More recently, much work has been put into trying to measure progress in achieving conservation goals, by identifying and measuring conservation outcomes in terms of species and habitat improvements and threat reduction (e.g., Margoluis and Salafsky 1998; Salafsky and Margoluis 1999; Conservation Measures Partnership). Less emphasis has been placed on evaluating the development component of such projects (Hockings et al. 2000; Kleimen et al. 2000). Income or proxy values are typically the main indicators of development used (Agrawal and Redford 2006; e.g., Dudley et al. 2003, Gjertsen 2005) and there is little in the literature about the broader conceptual perspectives of what "successful development" means to various actors for the purpose of evaluating project progress and impacts on local livelihoods.
This paper contributes to filling this gap by exploring the different perspectives and interpretations of 'successful development' in conservation and development projects. It involves an ethnographic study of two agroforestry conservation and development projects in Nicaragua. Special attention was paid to how projects are affecting participants beyond economic achievements, focusing on changes that are difficult to measure with numerical indicators. In so doing, the paper points to alternative ways information can be collected to ascertain progress in development goals in conservation projects. Detailed observations are provided from each case study to provide insights to the question "how is 'successful development' interpreted and measured in conservation and development projects?" It concludes with a discussion of the implications for conservation and development practitioners.
Conservation and development through agroforestry
With the assumption that the expansion of subsistence crops is the cause of much tropical deforestation, alternative sustainable agricultural practices outside of protected areas have been increasingly promoted by conservation organisations as a way to address local land degradation (Margoluis et al., 2001). Agroforestry is an example of one such initiative that encompasses and promotes benefits to both local livelihoods and local biodiversity. As an integrated system of trees, food crops, fuelwood and other plants, agroforestry has conservation benefits in terms of supporting environmental health and reversing environmental degradation through low-input species-diverse land use practices (Alcorn 1991; Nair 1993; ICRAF 2008). High levels of biodiversity have been found in agroforestry systems (Perfecto et al. 1996; Greenberg et al. 1997a, b), prompting the adoption of agroforestry as a biodiversity conservation strategy by large agencies such as the World Wildlife Fund and Conservation International.
Benefits of agroforestry to small farmers are promoted as increased income, poverty reduction, improved food security, health and nutrition, and an overall greater quality of life, gained from farm products such as timber, food, medicinal herbs, and market-oriented crops such as coffee (Caffea sp.) and cacao (Theobroma cacao) (Nair 1993; ICRAF 2008). Due to the benefits of agroforestry to both biodiversity and small farmers, agroforestry was highlighted at the 2000 Millennium Development Summit as a promising tool to reach all eight Millennium Development Goals (CIDA 2003; Garrity 2004; Nair et al. 2005).
The increased interest in agroforestry and its potential benefits has produced a spread of agroforestry projects throughout Latin America where coffee and cacao are important cash crops. In terms of development goals, agroforestry projects typically operate under the guiding assumption that the quality of life of participating farmers will improve as a result of increased yields, diversification of farm products, and ultimately a cash profit from the sale of marketable produce (such as coffee and cacao). Project activities focus on increasing yields through education and knowledge sharing about new or improved methods to establish the agroforestry system, managing soil fertility and pests, propagating plants, caring for the crops, and processing the harvest. Standard indicators used to evaluate the success of agroforestry projects are typically yield, income, workshop attendance, and adoption of agroforestry practices (e.g., Current and Scherr 1995; Fischer 1998; Fischer and Vasseur 2002; Pattanayak et al. 2003; Zubair and Garforth 2006).
| Methodology|| |
Nicaragua is considered the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere after Haiti, and faces significant environmental destruction, as seen in the loss of 117,000 hectares of forest between 1990 and 2000 (Vandermeer 2003). A variety of factors and events have contributed to current poverty and environmental crises, including dictatorships and armed conflicts, economic collapse in the 1980s, structural adjustment plans, land reform policies to address civil conflicts, government corruption, and natural disasters (Rice 1989; Faber 1993; Walker 1997). Out of a population of 5.5 million people, 2.5 million are affected by poverty (UNDP 2007) with the majority of those living in rural areas. Inequality is prevalent, with two-thirds of households owning 5% of total land area and the richest 6% of the population owning more than two-thirds of the land (Broegaard 2005).
While agroforestry has been practiced informally across Nicaragua for decades, it has more recently been increasing as a farm management practice due to the economic importance of coffee and cacao. Two contrasting agroforestry projects were the focus of this study (see [Table 1] for a summary of project characteristics). Proyecto Cacao 1 operates in the south of Nicaragua, uses cacao as a base cash crop, and the average income of participants had not yet increased substantially at the time of the study in 2007. Café Ecoforestal operated in northern Nicaragua, used coffee as the base cash crop, and evaluation reports documented an average increase in income of participating farmers.
|Table 1: Characteristics of the two case study Agroforestry Conservation and Development Projects in Nicaragua|
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The projects were selected using four criteria: 1) the initiative had been operating in Nicaragua for at least three years; 2) the goals of the initiative were clearly identified and included both an environmental/biodiversity conservation component and a component addressing improved livelihoods of local farmers; 3) the activities of the initiative were focused on agroforestry, defined as a system of land-use where trees are planted with a main agricultural crop, along with vegetable and medicinal plants, and animals, either sequentially or simultaneously (Nair 1993); and 4) the number of participants involved in the initiative were over fifty individuals or families. The boundaries of each case study (Yin 1994) were defined as all of the activities, events and people involved in the development of or current implementation of the agroforestry initiative (including administering, advising, and participating activities, events and people).
Ethnography was selected to explore the research question in order to apply an integrated, interdisciplinary, holistic, and inclusive approach to the complex issues of environmental degradation and poverty. Field methods were drawn directly from ethnography (e.g., Atkinson et al 2001), including in-depth conversational interviews, semi-structured interviews, informal conversations, context observation, focus groups, and document collection and review. Fieldwork was conducted in Nicaragua from April to December 2007.
In-depth interviews were conducted with up to 15 participants in each project to ascertain their perspective on how the initiative was impacting their quality of life. The conversational interviews were loosely structured with a handful of questions to engage participants and their families in conversation about their life before joining the initiative, their current activities as a result of the initiative, and how they perceived the experience has affected their quality of life and well-being. Throughout the conversation with participants, comments were followed up on, examples asked for, clarification requested where needed, and generally as free-flowing an exchange of information as possible was facilitated. Interviews were also conducted with the project administrators of each project. All interviews were conducted in Spanish. The in-depth interviews lasted anywhere from one to three hours and included a tour of the participant's farm.
An initial set of participants were selected from project lists to ensure perspectives were captured across age, sex, and relative affluence. Additional interviewees were added through snowball sampling. This involved asking interviewed farmers to suggest other people to talk to nearby who were also participating in the project. The number of farmers interviewed was a product of time availability in the field. As both projects required land ownership as an eligibility requirement, and most land owners in Nicaragua are male, the interview lists were noticeably dominated by males. This was addressed by speaking to the spouses of male participants to obtain additional perspectives from women about the projects. The direct prompting questions used with male participants were found to be intrusive for women participants, and therefore the interview process was adapted to a more informal conversation about life and wellbeing in general.
Observation took place as opportunities presented themselves, including attending project meetings and workshops, day-to-day activities, and special events related to coffee or cacao in the region, as well as general time spent living, cooking, and eating with participating families in the communities where the projects operated. Participation in various meetings, conferences and workshops allowed an inside view of how that organisation was administered and gave multiple opportunities to talk to community members, staff, and other agencies about the project. They also helped explore any discrepancies between what staff and community members said that they were doing versus what they were actually doing in practice. To understand the local and regional context, semi-structured interviews were conducted with representatives of organisations with the mandates of agriculture, health, and natural resource management. Focus groups were carried out with the participants in Proyecto Cacao after interviews were conducted, providing an opportunity to confirm the information gathered, and to ask additional questions of participants as necessary. Time, distance between farms, and lack of opportunity played a role in the inability to similarly hold focus groups for the Café Ecoforestal case study.
Analysis proceeded inductively, by comparing key themes, ideas, and observations across participants and between case studies for areas of commonality and divergence. Transcribed interviews, and notes from focus groups, observations, informal conversations, and review of project reports, newspapers, and other gray literature were coded using Atlas.ti, first with categorical or index codes to enable quick access and sorting, and then with theme-based codes to encompass broader and deeper themes emerging from the analysis. In exploring the conservation/development model of each case study, comparisons were made between how the written rhetoric about goals, objectives, achievements and benefits played out in practice through the perspective of participants and other observations.
| Argument|| |
Case study: Proyecto Cacao
Proyecto Cacao is run by a small non-governmental organisation that was founded in the 1990s primarily to address the rapid deforestation occurring in an area of intact lowland tropical forest. The majority of the local population balances the cultivation of corn and beans for subsistence, raising small livestock, and caring for a few cows, however the area is also characterised by large absentee cattle owners. In 2007, over 50% of land use in the area was identified as pasture for livestock, with small scale subsistence agriculture the second largest land use. The closest urban centre is considered an 'agricultural frontier town', and although there is a concentrated urban core, 80% of the population (approximately 140,000 in 2006) lives in dispersed rural communities scattered throughout an almost 3000 sq. km land area. Poverty is also high in the region, estimated at 33.5% (UNDP 2000).
The operating assumption of Proyecto Cacao's agroforestry project is that increasing the income of local farming families will reduce threats to biodiversity, and improve the health, education and quality of life of local farmers.
Specific goals of the project as stated in project material are included in [Table 1]. Proyecto Cacao promotes the incorporation of intense organic agroforestry systems plots including over 40 species of food, fuel and timber species, and the sale of fresh, dried or otherwise processed products from the farm in local and international markets. Added value is placed on cacao that is organic and has been fermented before drying; in 2007 46 kg of conventional cacao sold for USD 55 to USD 70, while organic fermented cacao sold for USD 120 on the international market. The long-term goal of the organisation in 2007 was to collectively gather and process enough produce across all participating members to sell internationally at an organic price premium.
To support farmers, Proyecto Cacao provides on-farm technical assistance and runs adult education workshops on topics including technical aspects of establishing an agroforestry farm, the use of previously unknown fruits and vegetables, product processing techniques, and themes in the area of social issues (e.g., the role of women in the community). During these workshops participants sleep on-site and share meals, on account of the large travel distances. Inter-regional exchanges are carried out annually, where participants from all geographical zones in which the organisation operates are gathered in one location to promote farmer-to-farmer learning. The project also provides seeds, plants and patio animals on a rotating credit basis.
Project achievements: uncaptured positive change
Proyecto Cacao did not have a formal evaluation system in place at the time of the current research. Instead, there was information from reports to funders summarising specific achievements. A 2005/06 Annual Status Report to the primary funder for the agroforestry project highlighted: 46 hectares of agroforestry plots were established; 40,000 trees were planted; outreach was made to 23 communities; and 20 workshops were delivered. The report noted that a small subset of participants increased their income, but the majority had not, in part due to the three-year lag time of planting and harvesting the main cash crop of cacao. The fact that many participants had not yet experienced an increase in income was of evident concern to project administrators. They spent much time explaining why this indicator was not reflecting positively on the project.
Despite the lack of an immediate increase in their income, participants voiced other ways in which they were benefiting from the project that was not captured in economic indicators. The workshops and inter-regional exchange components of the project were particularly highly praised by participants. Many participants stated that they had benefited strongly from the new knowledge they had gained from these activities, including knowledge about how to grow, prepare and eat new fruits and vegetables that they had not grown before. As many participants had migrated from the dry inland cattle rearing regions of the country, they did not necessarily have a history of agroforestry or farming practices in the considerably wetter lowland region making this new knowledge significant for their subsistence livelihood. Several farmers talked about the information gained as a means for them to manage their farms and soils better independently, and to "grow and get ahead". The long-term implications of this knowledge were recognised, one participant commenting that "education is a legacy that you don't sell or lose".
Participating farmers noted that the workshops and exchanges provided them with an opportunity to meet other producers with similar interests and to share ideas. This included exposure to foreign researchers when external subject experts were brought in to speak at the workshops.
Women especially commented on the benefit of the few workshops they were able to attend.
One female participant was extremely pleased that she was able to make friends at the workshops, a challenge for many rural Nicaraguan women as they do not often have the opportunity to leave their responsibilities at home. Given that 80% of the population of the region live in dispersed rural villages far from semi-urban cores, these workshops represent rare opportunities for small farmers to interact both formally and informally.
The combination of new knowledge gained and solidarity from interacting with other farmers likely contributed to the expressions of self-confidence and feelings of empowerment by project participants. Participating farmers noted that they felt better prepared for dealing with unexpected changes now, less worried about the future for their children and grandchildren, and better able to manage their farm alone compared to before participating in the initiative. From engaging in the project, meeting other farmers, and participating in workshops, participants stated that they felt supported, and were able to achieve more as a group than as an individual. One participant noted that the project had taught him not only how to farm, but that he has "also changed in terms of not working as an individual but working together; because organisation is something fundamental for getting ahead."
Unintended social conflicts
Proyecto Cacao uses the same implementation activities across all communities in which it operates despite diversity in terms of history of settlement, political affiliations, experience working with other NGOs and other characteristics. In assessing progress in development goals, little attention was placed on how the experience of participants varied across the diversity of communities in which they operated, how participants' perspectives regarding desired outcomes compared to project assumptions and activities, and any unanticipated social impacts. Social conflict was indeed observed, conflict which influenced retention and ultimately success in either conservation or development goals.
Physical access to communities and homesteads was one of the largest differentiators among the communities. In some areas of lowland coastal Nicaragua, transportation corridors include unpaved roads, steep and muddy livestock paths, and river routes to get to the interior of the region, many of which are impassable during the long rainy season. Some of the more remote participants spoke of difficulty getting materials and produce both into and out of their farms, including live plants to be included in the agroforestry system dying en route. In one case, a 300-pound iron stove, intended to construct a dryer for processing cacao and other produce, had to be abandoned one hour along a horse trail into one community (after travelling two hours by truck and six hours by horse) as there was not sufficient people-power to move it. In another case, a participant pointed out the 300 pineapples decomposing on his farm, a product which the organisation encouraged him to plant, but which were left there because he was unable to transport them out of his farm to sell at the market.
Intensifying conflict was evident between participants living in more remote locations and both the project administrators and participants with easy market access-a conflict with roots in the difference between project assumptions, participant perspectives, and local realities. Participants in remote locations were often referred to in a negative tone by administrators and other participants for not bringing produce to markets regularly for sale. Comments included that remote participants needed to try harder, and they were often characterised as stubborn, traditional, or resistant to change. Participants living in these remote regions, on the other hand, expressed frustration and disillusionment with the project because their own needs and objectives were not being met, and a few expressed doubts as to whether they would continue participating. One participant who needed to travel six hours by boat and truck to get to the market stated:
…it is a lot of effort to carry a little bit of produce to the campesino market, it could be that we have some small things to bring and sell Fridays, but it is very difficult to come with only a few things, it doesn't produce results … it isn't that one doesn't want to go and cooperate with the association, but that for us it is difficult to come from so far away, difficult to transport, and to go and sell a little chocolate I will not make enough to cover the costs.
Conflicting perspectives on development goals
The reasons expressed by participants as to why they joined the project contrasted with the project's focus on measuring increased income and assumption that income would be the most important factor influencing participation rates. When asked about joining the project, participants spoke of the opportunity to improve their current livelihoods. While income was occasionally mentioned, participants more often talked about their desires for improved well-being in terms of other livelihood categories: having a well-balanced diet, working with animals, the ability to improve their house, being self-sustainable, and, as one participant put it, "having a farm, doctor, a wife, and no suffering". Several participants spoke about improved food security, which they defined as a more varied diet than the staple of rice and beans, and being able to harvest produce from the farm throughout the year (as opposed to only once or twice a year with corn and bean harvests). Participants spoke of less tangible aspects such as being able to help the community, to cooperate with neighbours, and to receive satisfaction from a job well done by your own hand.
Also mentioned were infrastructure improvements in terms of roads, health centres, schools, churches, and bridges. These were considered a high priority for participants in communities where access was a major challenge restricting their ability to bring produce to markets.
That increased income was not the only factor influencing participant decision-making was also seen in the promotion of fermenting cacao before sale; a processing technique said to enrich the flavour of cacao, and one that is the preferred method of processing by a potential buyer in Managua. Adoption of the practice was low, especially in remote regions. While the reasons for the lack of uptake was explained by project administrators as resistance to change from traditional practices (that of drying cacao in the sun) and project meetings focused on ways to motivate participants, interviews with remote participants revealed another explanation. These remote participants shared that the colour of fermented cacao (a pinkish hue) was unfavourable to local buyers. By agreeing to ferment the cacao, those living in remote regions with no market access would essentially be agreeing to abandon opportunities for local sales in exchange for, what was at that time, an insecure promise for an external international buyer. In this case, dependability of a buyer was of higher priority than income for some participants.
Another incident during the research reflected a mismatch between administrator and participant perspectives on livelihood goals. During the study, an issue regarding the desire of some participants to raise a small number of cattle on their subsistence farms was discussed by participants and administrators alike. From the perspective of participants, maintaining one or two cows is a livelihood strategy. A single cow represents a savings account for future economic needs such as medicines and education (each head of cattle sold for USD 360 to USD 560 in 2007), and provides daily nutritional supplements through milk and cheese. Given that access to markets was limited in several communities and there was a time lag before the cacao came to fruit, project participants desired to keep the few cows they had or add one or two more to their farm as an economic buffer. The project was guided by the belief however, that cattle-raising was one of the primary factors for deforestation in the country. Participants were therefore encouraged to keep smaller livestock such as sheep, pigs and fowl instead; animals having a smaller ecological footprint, but which also required different care, receive a lower price on the market, and do not necessarily provide the same daily sustenance. The resulting frustration in some participants influenced their continued participation in the project, one participant saying "you can already see fewer members because they don't see [the project] as a solution." The frustration may also have influenced the lack of ownership seen in the project-participants regularly referred to the project as "them" as opposed to "us".
Case study: Café Ecoforestal
Café Ecoforestal was a project under a larger nationally run programme, Socio-Environmental and Forestry Development Program (POSAF), overseen by the Ministry of Natural Resources (MARENA) and the Institute of Forestry (INAFOR) 2 . POSAF was supported by funding from the Inter-American Development Bank and the Nordic Development Fund, running for five years from 1997 to 2001 (POSAF I) and renewed for a second phase from 2003 to 2007 (POSAF II). The Café Ecoforestal project was initiated in 1999, and ran until 2007. An evaluation and feasibility study was conducted after POSAF I, the results of which had a direct impact on the implementation of Café Ecoforestal between 2003 and 2007, specifically in terms of eligibility requirements (discussed further below).
Local Nicaraguan NGOs implemented the project on the ground, and for the subset area focused on in this study, three NGOs were responsible for implementation at various times throughout Phase I and Phase II. Key goals guiding Café Ecoforestal were to address the rapid conversion of forest to pasture and farmlands that had been putting pressure on urban drinking water supplies, and to address the impact of declining coffee prices by improving local livelihoods and quality of life of small farmers. Specific intended benefits (MARENA-POSAF II 2005a) are listed in [Table 1].
Café Ecoforestal was implemented across the northern coffee-growing regions of Nicaragua. In the particular sub-area focused on in this study, standard of living levels were higher than in Proyecto Cacao and access to markets was good through well-established road networks. The project promoted a model of coffee grown under the shade of fruit, banana, firewood and timber species, using integrated pest management, water conservation techniques and minimal chemical inputs. It included all aspects of managing the coffee farm, such as using home-made organic foliage sprays, compost, vermiculture, integrated pest management with low to no chemical use, shade management, soil conservation management techniques, and water storage ponds. The sale of coffee, fruits and other products were intended to offset the economic costs of establishing and managing the coffee farm, in addition to a cash incentive of USD 1100 to USD 1300 for tools, supplies and labour. While workshops were conducted in Phase I (1999-2001), there was little evidence of workshops having occurred in the study area in Phase II.
Project achievements: higher economic benefits, fewer social benefits
In contrast to the first case study, Café Ecoforestal had documented success in increasing participant income. A 2005 evaluation report stated the following improvements in the period starting in 1999: a 44% increase in farm income in participating farmers, an increase in yield of 131 kg of coffee per hectare, over 160,000 timber, fuelwood, and fruit trees planted, and an 80% adoption rate of promoted techniques (MARENA-POSAF II 2005b). With these figures, the project was considered a success by government officials and implementing non-governmental agencies interviewed during the current study. One project administrator in Café Ecoforestal clearly articulated that the observed increases in yield "allows you to say that [participants] are improving in terms of income, therefore in one way or another there will be benefits in terms of social impacts on the family"(emphasis added).
The perspective that participant livelihoods would improve with increase income alone influenced project activities, which focused more on providing economic benefits and less on the educational workshops and regional exchanges that influenced positive social benefits seen in Proyecto Cacao. During interviews, Café Ecoforestal participants pointed out many new farming implements, housing renovations, and areas where the farm had been improved through planting of timber and fruit trees. Several farmers mentioned that they chose to do the labour on the farm themselves, in order that they could reinvest the incentive money by purchasing other materials for their farm. Participants who were only involved in Phase II spoke primarily of material benefits, praising the tools, machetes, plants, and wire they would not have been able to purchase to improve their farm without the project, as well as the monetary incentive provided. In contrast, only a handful of participants interviewed expressed that they had acquired new information that benefited their farming practices. There was little evidence from conversations that participants were experiencing new social networks, knowledge, or improved self-confidence as seen in Proyecto Cacao. Project ownership was also low, and participants were generally unaware of the name of the project or NGO carrying out project activities, associating the project only with the name of the agronomist visiting their farm.
Even with documented economic benefits, these benefits did not appear to be reaching the intended audience of poor small-scale to mid-sized rural coffee producers. This was influenced in part by several changes in eligibility criteria due to a 2001 evaluation report (Orgut 2001) that argued POSAF would benefit from clarifying which of their two goals (watershed conservation or local development) is more important. Minimum eligible farm size was increased from 1.4 hectares in Phase I to 3.5 hectares in Phase II, impeding the participation of farmers with small pieces of land balancing a livelihood of coffee with subsistence crops who would benefit most from assistance with coffee farming. Speaking to community members not involved in the project, one farmer noted he was refused participation in the project with no explanation despite the fact that he just reached the minimum farm size, and another was dropped from the participant list between the first and second phase with the only notification being that the agronomists stopped visiting his farm.
Maximum farm size (17.5 ha in Phase I) was also eliminated in Phase II, opening up project eligibility to community members at a higher income level. Of the list of 21 participants in one community, further examination revealed that nine had ways of making a living other than their coffee farm, including small businesses and professional jobs (e.g., doctors, pharmacist, hardware store owner), funding from other projects in the area, or had significant family money and large haciendas (from 500 to 3000 ha). Many of these more affluent participants had a pattern of participation in other development projects in the same geographic region; up to four other previous projects, often representing continual project support from 1999 to 2007. These large landholder participants generally articulated the main goals of the project as reforestation and coffee yield improvement, as opposed to improving local livelihoods.
Interpreting 'successful development' in conservation and development projects
The Nicaraguan case studies provide interesting insights into how development progress and success is interpreted by multiple actors in conservation projects. From the perspective of program administrators, it was seen as increasing household income, with other social benefits assumed to follow. In other words, when the income of participants increased, the development component of the project was considered successful. This contrasted with the perspective of participants, whose interpretation of success in development was more qualitative, including factors such as self-reliance and working well with neighbours. Income was not the only factor considered by community members in deciding to participate in a project, with market access, dependability of a local buyer, and security of livestock on the farm also playing a role. In Proyecto Cacao, when these factors were not present, participants had reduced interest in continuing with the project, ultimately affecting success in achieving either conservation or development goals.
These insights support other studies which have shown that the assumption that a participant desires to maximise their cash income is not supported in practice. Russell and Harshbarger (2003) note that participants in conservation and development projects may have other goals such as security, insurance from risk, spiritual purity, good relations with neighbours, respect, prestige, or adventure. A study by Yamada and Gholz (2002) found that local farmers preferred a livelihood in pasture over agroforestry even through agroforestry netted a higher profit, due to the increased security, lower labour needs, and ease in making legal land claims with pasture. Berkes (2004: 627, 628) concludes that "the conception of local incentives purely in terms of community economic benefits is too narrow, too simplistic, and potentially counterproductive" and suggests that projects need to include "a broader view of the livelihood goals of local people and their knowledge and interests".
In addition to contrasting with participants' desired end-goals, the perspective that income is the primary force for improving livelihoods is inconsistent with contemporary development theorists. In contemporary explanations, economic gains are generally seen as one of many components that influence quality of life changes; others considered important include self-respect, self-confidence, and being socially integrated (Sen 1993, 1997, 1999; Rahman 2001), having the information, analytical skills and ability to find and take advantage of available resources, and having political and social influence (Rowlands 1995). Social networks are also considered important factors in development, facilitating farmers' ability to draw on a range of assets, income sources, and labour markets, and providing opportunities to commiserate with other producers over challenges, successes, and methods in making a living (Bebbington 1999). Amartya Sen summarises this succinctly, stating that development should focus on "what people [are] able to do rather than what people [can] buy with their income" (quoted in Pressman and Summerfield 2000: 47).
Implications for conservation and development practitioners
way in which development success is interpreted is directly linked to the activities that are chosen to carry out desired development goals, and the measurement activities selected to assess progress. Interpreting development as an increase in income therefore has two direct consequences. The first is a focus on implementing project activities that influence economic benefits. These activities may not be in line with the goals of participants, may not facilitate the long-term intangible changes discussed above, and may not foster ownership in the project. Ownership is important for the successful long term impacts of an intervention (Marsden et al. 1994), as without ownership there is no guarantee that participants will continue to execute the desired practices once the project funding cycle has ended.
The second consequence is the use of income as the primary measure of progress in development goals. This results in important information being missed on intended and unintended changes in local communities, such as the long-term fundamental components of development discussed above, or social, political and cultural changes and influences. In Proyecto Cacao, positive changes (new knowledge gained, strengthened social networks, and improved self-confidence) and negative changes (social conflict) were found that were not captured by tracking income alone. In contrast, even when participants benefited economically in Café Ecoforestal, there was little evidence that any other positive social changes had occurred.
There are two ways that conservation practitioners can start addressing these implications. The first is to work towards a better alignment of the project framework with both participant and contemporary understandings of development. This involves ensuring that project goals, activities, and selected evaluation approaches and measures of success recognise development as more than mere increases in income. It involves including activities that can foster broader development goals and ownership-such as workshops, exchanges, building of social networks, and participant-participant learning. Aligning project activities and goals with the goals of participants and broader definitions of development can help avoid and alleviate internal conflicts between participants and administrators, and improve project ownership, sustainability, and success in both conservation and development goals.
The second way to address the above implications involves using interdisciplinary evaluation approaches to provide a more in-depth understanding of the impact on participants and local communities. This is discussed further in the following section.
Interdisciplinary evaluation in conservation and development projects
Attempts have been made to incorporate non-income measures into numerical indices, for example Sayer et al.'s (2007) approach to quantify physical, social, financial, natural and human capital, and the UN's Human Development Index (HDI) and Human Poverty Index (HPI). However, these quantitative indicators are not designed to capture the less tangible qualitative changes involved in improving livelihoods, wellbeing, and poverty reduction. As Walpole and Wilder (2008: 544) note, "pride, happiness, feelings of responsibility, empowerment and security can all enrich well-being in ways not well captured in standard indicator frameworks."
An integrated evaluation approach can help better understand the complex impacts of conservation and development projects and capture these less tangible changes. It involves a complementary integration of traditional indicator approaches with qualitative evaluation methods (case study, focus groups, interviews, participatory evaluation, ethnography and anthropological approaches) to gain better insights into project impact. An integrated approach would also engage project participants in evaluation to provide context-specific knowledge about an area, implementation successes and challenges, suggestions for improvement, and bring attention to unintended positive and negative impacts of the project. Engaging participants in evaluation itself can contribute to individual empowerment (Fetterman 2000, 2005).
This approach would ensure positive and negative social/political/economic changes in local communities are not missed and help explain why positive or negative trends evident from quantitative measurements are occurring. With this information, program administrators are better positioned to shift implementation plans to address specific concerns and challenges. For instance, some of the conflicts seen in Proyecto Cacao could be alleviated with attention to how impact varies across the multiple communities in which it operates, as well as the local social/political/economic context in each of these sites and how that context might warrant changes to implementation activities.
The field of anthropology is especially well-placed to inform the evaluation of conservation and development projects, and has developed a relevant sub-field of theory and practice called Evaluation Anthropology (Camino 1997; Butler 2005; Copeland-Carson 2005). Many resources already exist to integrate qualitative methods into conservation practice (Russell and Harshbarger 2003; Social Science Working Group (SSWG) of the Society for Conservation Biology's on-line catalogue) 3 and conservation practitioners can draw from the extensive online and print resources in the international development field about understanding social impacts.
| Conclusion|| |
Before the return to fortress-based conservation ensues, there is a need to step back and gain a better understanding of why conservation and development projects have not achieved greater success to date. Is it because the model itself is faulty, or are there alternative explanations? The current study points to a disconnect between how 'successful development' is interpreted by administrators and participants, and a lack of alignment between the assumptions of current projects and contemporary interpretations of development. It is unlikely success of either development or conservation goals will occur without better alignment in project planning with the needs of participants, other non-economic components of improving livelihoods, and activities that will support development, ownership, and sustained impacts. Without this alignment, there is a potential for increased tension, conflict, and project abandonment by participants-neither development nor conservation goals are reached, and the 'win-win' conclusion is replaced by 'lose-lose'.
There is also a procedural disconnect with how conservation and development projects are evaluated. The challenges that conservation and development projects are trying to address encompass an integration of cultural, economic, political, social and environmental factors that influence behaviour and decision-making. Understanding project 'success' in such complex situations requires moving beyond numbers to effectively capture the broader impact on people as well as on biodiversity. Many of the components included in contemporary explanations of development are difficult to measure numerically, and instead require incorporation of qualitative and anthropological approaches to measuring program success. As summarised in the quote attributed to Albert Einstein, "not everything that counts can be counted. And not all that is counted, counts". Moving towards a more interdisciplinary approach to evaluation can help ascertain unintended positive and negative impacts, and most importantly, where improvements can be made in project implementation.
There are further debates that need to be had, however. Critics of current conservation and development projects speak to development being used as a means to conservation, as opposed to a goal in its own right. This certainly appeared to be true in the Nicaraguan case studies, where improved livelihoods-equated with increased income-was hoped to increase and retain participation rates, thereby achieving conservation success (e.g., through reduced pressure on surrounding resources). In such complex conservation and development projects, there is a need to look further than "have we achieved what we set out to do?" towards "are we trying to achieve the right goals?" In other words, whose goals and definitions of success should be used to guide what conservation and development projects are ultimately trying to achieve-Administrators? Granting agencies? The participants who are directly impacted by these projects? Or a combination of all three? Here again evaluation can play a role, as evaluation is about more than measuring if the goals have been achieved; it also provides an opportunity to answer challenging questions and assess if the right goals are being targeted.
The debate over whether conservation projects should integrate development goals will likely continue. The two issues being addressed-biodiversity conservation and poverty reduction-are just too complex for simple solutions. Further in-depth case studies of conservation and development projects will hopefully shed more light on the conversation, replacing the contentious debate with constructive dialogue on how to best move forward with these two important crises.
| Acknowledgements|| |
The results outlined in this paper were based on an investigation conducted in partial fulfillment of a PhD dissertation at Dalhousie University. The author gratefully acknowledges the farmers and organisational representatives who shared their perspectives and stories with me in Nicaragua, Dr. Liette Vasseur, Dr. Jack Duffy and Dr. Liesl Gambold for input on previous drafts of this paper and general guidance, and the comments of the reviewers who helped to strengthen the paper. This research was made possible with funding from the Canadian International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), and Dalhousie University Faculty of Graduate Studies.
| notes|| |
- The name of the organisation has been changed to retain anonymity of administrators and participants.
- Due to the larger geographic scope of Café Ecoforestal, covering much of northern Nicaragua, a small subset of communities near an urban centre were selected for this current study.
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