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Book The economics of biodiversity conservation valuation in tropical forest ecosystems

Book>> The Economics of Biodiversity Conservation Valuation in Tropical Forest Ecosystems

By Bhaskar Sinha
Published: Monday 31 December 2007


Economic valuation of biodiversity and ecosystem services is arguably the most powerful tool for halting the loss of biodiversity while maintaining incomes and livelihoods. Rarely, however, have such approaches been applied to tropical forest hotspots, which house the vast majority of plant and animal species. Although biodiversity conservation is emphasized in policy circles in India, there has been little attempt to put an economic value to its benefits. In this respect, the book under review is ground-breaking.

It focuses on tropical forests, which are without doubt the most important ecosystem type from the viewpoint of global biodiversity.That the rate of deforestation and degradation of forests is far more extensive in the tropics as compared to the rest of the world makes the study further relevant.

The sample A general discussion on key issues pertaining to biodiversity conservation sets the tone for the analysis. Citing Forest Survey of India data, the authors note that dense forest cover (forests with a crown canopy of over 40 per cent) in the country as a whole and in four of the six states in the Western Ghats region, Karnataka, Kerala, Gujarat and Maha-rashtra, fell between 2001 and 2003.

The samples, used for economic evaluation, have been drawn from more than 300 households/respondents spread over a cluster of villages in three districts, representing different socio-economic conditions of the Western Ghats. There is, for example, a plantation-dominant village where coffee-cultivation over forestland is an economic option. Then there are two farming villages where there is close interaction between agriculture, livestock and forests. The authors have also studied a cluster of tribal villages/hamlets in and on the periphery of a national park. The methods and techniques used here can be tested and modified for different settings in other parts of the country.

The findings reveal that local opportunity costs of biodiversity conservation in different sets of villages are quite high. Local people, in other words, have to forego a lot of the economic benefits they derive from forests if the biodiversity contained in these forests has to be conserved. From an economic perspective, this means that primarily unpriced and non-market benefits could justify biodiversity conservation. So the authors argue that people living within or near the forests and protected areas must be compensated for foregoing the benefits they derive from forests.

The authors point to another compensation issue that for crop damage by wild animals. They show that the present system of compensation is actually inimical to the suffering farmers. For instance, a survey conducted among farm households in Maldari village in Karnataka's Kodagu district, shows that for every rupee of compensation farmers got from the state forest department they spent between Rs 3.40 to Rs 21.70 to make trips to get the money. Forest departments need to simplify the procedure and relax the norms for compensation. The authors also make a case for giving subsidies to coffee planters and farmers to install solar-powered electric fencing around coffee estates and farms to reduce the hazards of wildlife attacks.

The book concludes with discussion on possible institutional alternatives to promote biodiversity conservation as well as to minimize the social costs of conservation. The authors suggest that since local opportunity costs of biodiversity conservation are high, the residents of Bangalore, Mysore and other towns as well as farmers of the Cauvery delta should pay a biodiversity conservation cess, which could be used for development in Kodagu and other areas in the vicinity of protected parks. The authors say that a decentralized and participation-based strategy for biodiversity conservation is more effective than other institutional alternatives.

The book is highly recommended read for policy-makers and managers dealing with conservation of biodiversity/natural resources and livelihoods of forest dwellers. It should also be a must read for researchers in forestry.

Bhaskar Sinha is Fellow, Ashoka Trust for Research in Environment and Ecology

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