WCS Global Initiatives

Livelihoods and Conservation

Poverty forces people to adopt a short-term view in which the future is discounted because any given child , or parent's, survival is so uncertain. Secure livelihoods and resilient economies are essential if rural families are to take a long view on the environment.

Families that lack ways to protect themselves from droughts, floods, wars, economic and health crisis are much more likely to mine natural resources to keep them from plunging into poverty. WCS understands this and we look for ways to help families make the present more secure while constructing a pathway to a safer, healthier and more prosperous future.

At WCS we use both market-based incentives (e.g. sustainable natural resource–based enterprises) and non-market based incentives (e.g., livestock insurance, health care, education scholarships) to encourage adoption of conservation practices while relieving local people of the burden of shouldering the costs of conserving global public goods.

To ensure that our conservation actions are benefit to local people and are not adversely influencing their wellbeing, we keep track of which families do and do not have access to the basic goods and services that local people themselves identify as necessities, those which every family should have and none should live without. This Basic Necessities Survey is easy and inexpensive to carry out, and generates reliable information about how conservation positively or negatively influences human wellbeing.

Our work

After 10 years in operation, the WCS Conservation Enterprise Development Program will have helped at least 20 sustainable conservation enterprises to generate $150 million in annual sales, conserve 500,000 hectares of high conservation value lands and enhanced the wellbeing and resilience of 600,000 rural poor. Economic multipliers will extend our impact to over 1 million families.

WCS founded the Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network to help consumers choose products they want but are certified not to harm the wildlife they like. By using the purchasing choices of a vast world of consumers we are making sure that what we eat, wear, and sit on is produced in ways that are friendly to wildlife.

Starting with a few poachers willing to give up their guns for help increasing their income from conservation farming, COMACO now helps over 40,000 people in the Luangwa watershed in Zambia, improving peoples wellbeing and resilience, restoring habitat, and stopping illegal and unsustainable hunting of wildlife.

Over the last decade WCS has worked with over 60 rural communities in Makira, the largest remaining patch of dense moist forest in Madagascar, to secure their rights to their land, and to ensure they gain 50% of all proceeds generated by the government's sales of VCS and CCBA certified forest carbon.

In the Northern Plains of Cambodia, WCS helped establish village marketing networks that allow rural farmers who follow wetland conservation plans to market their rice, to premium outlets in Siam Reap and Phnom Penh, under the label Ibis Rice™ - a Certified Wildlife Friendly® brand. This wildlife-friendly enterprise, created in 2009, provides hundreds of Ibis Rice farmers with a price premium for their crop and secure access to higher value markets, and wetlands critical to the survival or rare and endangered water birds such as the Giant Ibis.

Latest News

Op-Ed: Conservation Is About Caring for Nature and People
Posted on: November 04, 2013
Op-Ed published on the link between human livelihoods and conservation in LiveScience

Further Reading

Author(s): David Wilkie, Michelle Wieland and Diane Detoeuf
Year: 2015
Description/Abstract: French version also available.
Publisher: Wildlife Conservation Society, USAID
Full Citation: Wilkie, D., Wieland, M. and Detoeuf, D. 2015. A guide to the modified Basic Necessities Survey: Why and how to conduct BNS in conservation landscapes. WCS, New York, USA
Author(s): David Wilkie, Michelle Wieland and Diane Detoeuf
Year: 2015
Description/Abstract: English version also available.
Publisher: Wildlife Conservation Society, USAID
Full Citation: Wilkie, D., Wieland, M. and Detoeuf, D. 2015. A guide to the modified Basic Necessities Survey: Why and how to conduct BNS in conservation landscapes. WCS, New York, USA
Author(s): Emily Woodhouse, Katherine M. Homewood, Emilie Beauchamp, Tom Clements, J. Terrence McCabe, David Wilkie, E. J. Milner-Gulland
Year: 2015
Description/Abstract: Measures of socio-economic impacts of conservation interventions have largely been restricted to externally defined indicators focused on income, which do not reflect people's priorities. Using a holistic, locally grounded conceptualization of human well-being instead provides a way to understand the multi-faceted impacts of conservation on aspects of people's lives that they value. Conservationists are engaging with well-being for both pragmatic and ethical reasons, yet current guidance on how to operationalize the concept is limited. We present nine guiding principles based around a well-being framework incorporating material, relational and subjective components, and focused on gaining knowledge needed for decision-making. The principles relate to four key components of an impact evaluation: (i) defining well-being indicators, giving primacy to the perceptions of those most impacted by interventions through qualitative research, and considering subjective well-being, which can affect engagement with conservation; (ii) attributing impacts to interventions through quasi-experimental designs, or alternative methods such as theory-based, case study and participatory approaches, depending on the setting and evidence required; (iii) understanding the processes of change including evidence of causal linkages, and consideration of trajectories of change and institutional processes; and (iv) data collection with methods selected and applied with sensitivity to research context, consideration of heterogeneity of impacts along relevant societal divisions, and conducted by evaluators with local expertise and independence from the intervention.
Journal/Source: Philosophical Transactions B
Publisher: Royal Society Publishing
Full Citation: Woodhouse E, Homewood KM, Beauchamp E, Clements T, McCabe JT, Wilkie D, Milner-Gulland EJ. 2015 Guiding principles for evaluating the impacts of conservation interventions on human well-being. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 370: 20150103. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2015.0103
Author(s): Daniel Brockington and David Wilkie
Year: 2015
Description/Abstract: Protected areas are controversial because they are so important for conservation and because they distribute fortune and misfortune unevenly. The nature of that distribution, as well as the terrain of protected areas themselves, have been vigorously contested. In particular, the relationship between protected areas and poverty is a long-running debate in academic and policy circles. We review the origins of this debate and chart its key moments. We then outline the continuing flashpoints and ways in which further evaluation studies could improve the evidence base for policy-making and conservation practice.
Journal/Source: Philosophical Transactions B
Publisher: Royal Society Publishing
Full Citation: Brockington D, Wilkie D. 2015 Protected areas and poverty. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 370: 20140271. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2014.0271
All Livelihoods Publications >>

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