Does conserving biodiversity alleviate poverty?

There is an assumption that conserving biodiversity can help in efforts to tackle global poverty and enhance human well-being. A small team including two of our scientists, Max Fancourt and Chris Sandbrook took a look at the evidence base for this assumption.

The team’s objective was to describe the current state of the evidence base for links between biodiversity and poverty, for which they did a systematic map of 387 studies. Systematic maps are methodical overviews of the quantity and quality of evidence in relation to a broad question, but no attempt is made to review the evidence itself or seek an answer to the question.

The studies were widely distributed geographically and the largest number focused on forests. Collection of non-timber forest products - such as fruit and medicinal plants - dominated the reported benefits. Overall, the majority of studies described a positive contribution of biodiversity to poor people’s wellbeing.

Income was identified as the most commonly used measure of poverty, although assets and food security featured often. They also noted that most studies focused on the abundance of a particular species and its impact on poverty, and very few studies explored the underpinning role of biodiversity in ecosystem service delivery for poverty alleviation. Although very few studies reported negative impacts on poverty this may only indicate that more research is required to identify them.

Considering that the overwhelming majority of studies indicate a positive influence of biodiversity on poverty alleviation, development planners should seriously consider the importance of biodiversity on the lives of poor people. However, the team observed that more evidence is needed to prove the long-term benefits of conservation and identify thresholds beyond which resource use becomes unsustainable. They suggest that the role of biodiversity in ecosystem service delivery and the benefits of diversity as a form of insurance or adaptive capacity should be future research priorities.

Publication information

Dilys Roe, Max Fancourt, Chris Sandbrook, Mxolisi Sibanda, Alessandra Giuliani and Andrew Gordon-Maclean (2014) Which components or attributes of biodiversity influence which dimensions of poverty? Environmental Evidence, 3:3