Like good friends, I guess the reasons for starting Nature Services Peru, and its non-profit sister organization Servicios Ecosistémicos Peru (sePeru), deserve a proper introduction. Conservation, in its broadest sense, is about man’s struggle to coexist with the rest of nature. With all of it, not just the 12% covered by National Parks and other reserves. Nature in our oceans, in our agricultural landscapes and in the parks of our cities. In the remaining wilderness areas where modern civilization, as yet, has not significantly made its mark.
For the past 10 years I have worked in Park conservation, first in the Manu and Tambopata regions of Peru, then in the Luangwa valley of Zambia. My overall sense, in spite of the many successes and countless good memories I have from these privileged years, is that Parks are becoming islands in a sea of land-use change, de-coupled form the emerging economic and social processes that surround them. I beieve that if we do not balance conservation action and awareness-raising with the implementation of wealth creation systems for local actors that are dependent on sustaining natural ecosystems, we are heading for real trouble. In essence, we need to re-connect people and healthy ecosystems through their day-to-day work and life styles.
In North Luangwa National Park we supported 240 armed, well trained, and motivated Wildlife Police Officers, yet we still had a chronic poaching problem by local people.
I have experienced firsthand some of the main stumbling blocks to successful conservation.
Weak institutionality of government organizations and NGO’s, as presented by John Terborgh in his book Requiem for Nature, is a key one. The pervasiveness of a short-term Project mentality is another. The rise of the ‘conservation consultant’ is maybe less serious, but certainly worrying. While working in North Luangwa, Zambia, we had to endure paying US$900 per day to a Donor mandated consultant, while justifying a US$200 per month salary for our well qualified workshop mechanics.
By our current economic yardsticks, the value and rents of the infrastructure in 1 square kilometer (around 50 blocks) in Lima or Lusaka is ‘worth’ more to society than the 30,000 square kilometers of the entire Manu and North Luangwa National Parks combined. Ludicrous, but true. This is why I think a much greater emphasis on wealth generation, as well as on cost control, is key to the success of the conservation movement.
Some organizations have already done this by developing for-profit nature tourism or sport hunting initiatives. But tourism and sport hunting are just the cusp of the pyramid of the value of nature. Apart from its intrinsic value, the most significant value of nature lies in the life support services of ecosystems at the base of the pyramid; climate regulation, water purification and soil renewal, to name a few.
I believe that the institutionality of State and civil organizations in society is upheld and facilitated through wealth creation by businesses, and that institutionality for nature conservation will be strengthened if a stronger business ecosystem for the stewardship of nature is created. A business community that creates jobs, pays taxes, and develops infrastructure that depend on sustaining nature. This is especially true in the case of nature’s services, which have so far remained mostly outside the human economy, and which we are degrading at an alarming rate. The 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment showed that more than 60% of the services of nature are in decline. The percentage is higher if provisioning services (food, fibre and fuels resulting from agriculture) are excluded from the analysis.
In the UK, a business can be structured as a Community Interest Corporation (CIC) which is mandated to reinvest a high proportion of its profits in its social or environmental mission. In Peru, this formula does not exist, and so we have decided to start both a non-profit and a for-profit entity and to operate them as a hybrid, a solution often used by social enterprises.
How can we effectively combine conservation, social development, and commercial logics in one organization? How can we ensure that that we remain loyal to our purpose of helping society to sustain natural ecosystems in light of the commercial realities that Nature Services Peru will face? How do we manage to grow while respecting the previous considerations? There are no easy answers to these questions, and we hope to use the collective intelligence of people like you to answer them along the way.
Thanks for reading!