BIORIGHTS: The Conservation Paradigm for Poverty Alleviation

South Asian Forum for Environment (SAFE) has been successful in completing India’s first project on BIORIGHTS at East Kolkata Wetlands, a threatened Ramsar International Site. This project, supported by DFID (UK) through the Kolkata Urban Services for the Poor, compensates the opportunity costs of the peri-urban poor wetlanders for preserving the unique ecosystem of East Kolkata Wetlands by transforming the nature services of these wetlands into a fiscal pay-back paradigm. This intervention on Biorights has been accredited by UNEP in the 4th TEEB report and is available at TEEB Report

BIORIGHTS is an innovative concept of sustainable development for conserving valuable but vulnerable ecosystems along with poverty alleviation in global south. It tries to protect areas of global environmental importance by compensating poor people who live near nature areas and are dependent on these nature areas for cash generating activities. The hypothesis is that in this way a sustainable rural development is possible as the negative link between poverty and nature degradation will disappear. Developing countries of global south may find it as an attractive solution to reach the Millennium Development Goals for 2015, which state that extreme poverty has to be decreased by 50%, but adopting the innovation in making a feasible and reproducible model many aspects of the environment and its economics need to be reviewed.

In an attempt to highlight the integral facets of BIORIGHTS as a financial tool for both poverty alleviation and environmental sustainable development, South Asian Forum for Environment plans to come out with a framework for policy implication entitled “BIORIGHTS: The Neo-economic Conservation Paradigm for Poverty Alleviation” to initiate a discussion on the green dais with inputs from scholars, researcher, eminent economists and environmentalists along with case studies from different corners of global south to rummage around the viability of this concept. The main facets of this frame work includes

(a) The economics of ecology: The monetary value of nature has so far not been recognised by the world community with our current economic system and hence its value is only marginally present in the market. Mostly the costs of nature conservation are visible in the market and only the most obvious benefits, such as tourism revenues, are accounted for in the market. That is why it is not possible at present to make an unbiased cost-benefit analysis of existing nature reserves. Therefore, other tools have to be found that can prioritise nature areas that are the most important to conserve. A cost-effective analysis may be an interesting tool to find what the most important areas of global biological importance are. SAFE has documented research innovations related to economics of ecology testifying one of the suggested solutions for poverty problem as to compensate people for managing their natural resources

(b) The dilemma between poverty and SDGs: The stand of sustainable development through reciprocity, equity and partnership in global south will definitely provide means and modes to optimize economic growth without compromising with environment. But on the other hand the socio-economic condition suggests that people are still dependent on domesticated and wild resources for staple food. 79% of the total population residing in the rural areas in south Asia solely use biomass resources and survive only over arable land. In such cases, where there is no clear-cut demarcation in diversity between cultivated and natural ecosystem, it is just not feasible to preach the ‘conservation tantrum’ of sustainable development against the counter current of poverty. We debate on the issue of feasibility of conservation via poverty and search for technological innovations in conquering both with minimum opportunity cost for the poor.

Biorights could contribute by compensating local people in developing countries directly for not degrading the natural environment. The global average compensation cost that is needed to cover the opportunity costs of the local people, lies in the range of US$13.65 ha-1 yr-1. Although Biorights is a new concept, yet it does hold elements that are new and that have potential, such as:
1. The direct payments to compensate for poverty related costs. These payments are also for the long term to guarantee a sustainable rural development.
2. The distribution of payments to communities and not to individuals on the basis of nature conservation. SAFE, therefore, opens a discussion to introduce BIORIGHTS as commons property rights on natural resources which they conserve and are compensated for the opportunity cost towards poverty alleviation.