National Parks in ChileChile lines the West Coast of South America. At 4,270 km long, the country hosts a diverse and unique set of ecosystems, with many of the plants and animals being found only in those regions. These ecosystems are at risk though with the threat of droughts, desertification, devastating wildfires, deadly heat waves, sea level rise, coastal erosion and the increasing intensity of extreme weather events ruining them.

The threat of the collapse of these ecosystems not only affects the plants and animals in Chile but also the people. It has been proven that the preservation and conservation of these lands have helped to reduce poverty in Chile; therefore, it is imperative that efforts are made to ensure the continuation of these ecosystems. The Tompkins Foundation has made it their mission to both conserve land in Chile by creating national parks and rewild Chile by reintroducing native species that have already disappeared from these lands. These efforts directly impact poverty reduction, allowing the Chilean people to thrive.

The Tompkins Foundation

In the 1980s, both Douglas and Kristine Tompkins decided to sell their shares of the companies they owned and operated from the United States down to Chilean Patagonia. Douglas had started the multimillion-dollar companies The North Face and Esprit, and Kristine was the former CEO of the company Patagonia as well as a lifelong conservationist.

Using their funds, they founded the Tompkins Foundation and over the next 30 years they were able to purchase and preserve over 14 million acres of land in both Chile and Argentina. They felt a duty to give back to an earth that they had grown up in, explored and enjoyed. The couple then worked tirelessly to convert the lands that they had purchased into parks.

In 2017 they reached an agreement, in collaboration with the Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, to transform many of these privately owned parks into national parks for the Chilean people. Douglas, unfortunately, passed away in 2015 before he was able to see their plan to fruition. Kristine and the rest of the Tompkins Foundation continue to be dedicated to the mission of “preserving [the] land and sea, restoring biodiversity, and helping communities to thrive.”

Poverty Reduction and National Parks

One of these aforementioned parks donated by the Tompkins Foundation in 2017 was Patagonia National Park. Subsequently in 2020, the Conservation Strategy Fund conducted a study commissioned by The PEW Charitable Trust that found that living near these protected areas has helped Chileans avoid poverty. The research done by the Conservation Strategy Fund highlights a broader conversation on how conservation is obtainable while fitting in with economic development and human well-being.

This study focused on the economic indicators of poverty in Chilean households both close to Patagonia and far away, by looking at access to running water, electricity and if the household had a refrigerator. Over a 20-year period, they found that people living near protected areas had higher access to these economic indicators in comparison to people living far away from them.

Although the study took place over many regions both protected and unprotected in Chile, they found that the greatest positive impact was in the Patagonia region, which was the region with the largest amount of newly protected land added during the study. The reasoning for this is still unclear. Overall though, the study found two reasons as to why a decrease in poverty was seen for people situated near public lands; tourism and infrastructure.

These two factors go hand in hand. As the beautiful lands of Chile are turned into National Parks, tourism increases boosting the economies of both these regions and the country. Furthermore, as more tourists flow into the country federal funds are directed towards creating and updating infrastructure to accommodate them. One of the most influential additions to infrastructure is road connectivity, allowing the flow of goods and services, as well as people, to reach these areas further benefiting the economy.

Continuing Debates

Regardless of the apartment positive attributions public lands make to poverty reduction, they are still controversial. Many see conservation as a roadblock to economic development and poverty reduction because it does not allow access to lands that could be used for their natural resources. The two contrasting viewpoints regarding the purpose of protected areas, one that emphasizes conservation without direct socioeconomic benefits and the other that advocates for using protected areas to contribute to local well-being, are not new.

A Conversation With The Tompkins Foundation

Regarding this debate, The Borgen Project was able to speak with the Executive Director of the Tompkins Foundation, Carolina Morgado. Her take on the aforementioned debate was that “The notion that conservation doesn’t yield direct socioeconomic benefits relates to a failure to appreciate nature’s inherent value and its services to communities, relegating it solely to considering its instrumental value.” This comment contributes to the aforementioned study demonstrating a different and more sustainable perspective on how lands can contribute to human well-being. Both humans and the planet are taken into consideration and are able to thrive simultaneously.

Morgado underscores the importance of “framing access to public lands in Chile as advantageous for its citizens, highlighting benefits beyond the failure of valuing nature as an unlimited resource.” Notably, these insights align with the United Nations’ 2015 agenda, aiming to achieve global sustainable development by 2030 through the harmonization of human well-being and ecological preservation.

The amalgamation of the Conservation Strategy Fund’s recent discoveries with preceding research forms a compelling argument advocating for heightened financial support from the Chilean government to effectively manage the nation’s protected areas. Beyond demonstrating the societal merits of safeguarded regions, the presented findings hold the potential to attract fresh investments and crucial financial backing for presently underfunded Chilean protected areas.

– Ada Rose Wagar
Photo: Flickr

Displacement of African tribes Protected parks offer much in the way of land conservation and the protection of wildlife. However, many conservation projects have displaced and therefore harmed Indigenous communities across the globe. Throughout Africa, the displacement of African tribes is an ongoing concern as conservation efforts threaten Indigenous livelihoods.

Conservation Exiles Tribes from their Homes

As global efforts are underway to protect and conserve nearly 30% of the world’s land by 2030, experts are raising concerns, suggesting that the expansive and unethical “land grab” would not only be the largest in history but also would lead to the estimated displacement of nearly 300 million people–most of whom are Indigenous.

For example, the Baka forest pygmy tribe of southeast Cameroon, Africa, near Nki National Park lost the right to hunt or fish on lands the tribe has used for generations. Without legal access to their forest, the tribe suffers a loss of livelihood, even though their hunting reportedly does not negatively impact the environment.

And the Baka is not alone. Many other African tribes are suffering at the expense of conservation.  These include the Sengwer tribe of Kenya. Its 5,000 hunters suffer from a 1964 ban that stops them from returning to their ancestral forests. The San Bushmen in Kalahari Desert, Botswana, lost their lands to mining and tourism. The Ogiek of Kenya lost rights to the Mau forest.

Also, while wildlife reserves offer employment and opportunity to local communities, their benefit may be exaggerated. There are many documented cases of abuse against the Indigenous people who live there.

Indigenous Tribes Benefit the Land

Not only does the displacement of African tribes hurt Indigenous communities, but it also may not help and may even hurt the land itself.  For example, the Rainforest Foundation – United Kingdom (RFUK)  documented that while conservation efforts in the Congo Basin totaled hundreds of millions of dollars over ten years, there is little to no evidence that protected areas are actually protecting biodiversity.  Elephant and gorilla populations have declined drastically despite substantial funding for patrolling, anti-poaching and ecotourism.

On the other hand, there is evidence that Indigenous tribes do benefit the land.  A 2022 study by the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact found that Indigenous Peoples offered strategies and traditions benefiting the fight against extreme weather patterns and supporting the overall improvement and sustained health of the lands they inhabit. Additionally, Indigenous lands offer critical biodiversity and sustainability practices, which experts emphasize should be at the forefront of decision-making when governments create conservation and climate change policies, laws and strategies.

Strategies for Harmony of Land and People

For this reason, as conservation efforts move forward throughout the world, many look to strategies that allow Indigenous peoples to remain and have access to and foster their land. Such strategies include ways to reverse the damages of the displacement of African tribes.

As Dr. Grace Lara Souza, a political ecology activist from Kings College in London, emphasizes, “any conservation initiative that does not include Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities in its design, implementation and management, should be called into question.”  She and other like-minded advocates suggest a community-based conservation model that empowers Indigenous people to oversee the protected lands rather than removing them from their ancestral grounds.  When protected land is left without community monitors, miners, loggers and hunters often invade and destroy the ecosystem.

Since the year 1968, the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA)  has committed to “protecting, promoting and defending the rights of Indigenous peoples” across several regions, including Africa.  To achieve this, the IWGIA  partners with Indigenous peoples’ organizations across Africa. For example, the IWGIA partners with the Rwanda association for Indigenous people (CAURWA) to combat economic, social and political discrimination toward the Batwa people, hunter-gatherers who are the smallest Rwandan ethnic group.  Together CAURWA and IWGIA advocate to apply existing land rights legislation to the Batwa.

Looking Forward

Organizations including IWGIA and activists including Dr. Souza offer hope to Indigenous people and their ancestral grounds.  In Africa, their campaigns simultaneously improve conservation efforts and reverse the displacement of Indigenous African tribes.

– Michelle Collingridge
Photo: Flickr