The Urbane Ecologist

Is ameliorating poverty AND biodiversity loss possible at all? Part 1


I decided to go big and start with a review paper titled “Poverty, Development, and Biodiversity Conservation: Shooting in the Dark?” by Agrawal and Redford, 2006 (see below for full citation). This paper examined contradictions between theoretical and empirical (or case-study based) studies of poverty and biodiversity and reviewed articles that aimed to ameliorate both via three common strategies. It has a lot to offer and left me with a lot to think about. It was a great paper to start with because it challenged the assumptions of a field I am new to, and I think it will give me a more critical eye when I read case studies and other papers.

Agrawal and Redford begin by explaining that there is a broad spectrum of opinion regarding to what extent it is possible to craft policy that alleviates poverty and simultaneously prevents biodiversity loss. There are, however, two main camps:

  • Biodiversity conservation and poverty alleviation can, indeed, be achieved together in place and time, but can only be the result of distinct policy directions. In short, each side should minds its own business. 
  • Biodiversity and poverty alleviation can be achieved together in a synergistic process, and combining them is a necessary to achieve both.
    Generally, it is thought that poverty alleviation will lead to conservation since the poor degrade the environment as a result of their poverty.

Although I am sure most human activity has some negative ecological impact, my gut instinct took a bit of an issue with the second camp. Yes, I believe that poverty alleviation and biodiversity conservation can be achieved simultaneously (otherwise I wouldn’t have this blog!) but I’m not sure how much you can blame the poverty-stricken for all the damage that is being done. The excesses of the wealthy, in my experience, far exceed the efforts of the poor to glean a livelihood–even in the “Third World”! What causes by far the most damage to Nigeria’s environment, for example, is oil companies’ pollution of its rivers and not any any activity performed by locals.*

Anyway, this was a great paper, and I’ll be writing more about it! It discusses how there is a difference in the way poverty and biodiversity are treated in theoretical literature and in case studies, and what is needed to address poverty and biodiversity loss in the future! Stay tuned!


*Some may quibble that a great deal of oil pollution is caused by locals, who steal crude oil to sell it on the black market. My response would be that that is technically true, but oil companies have also deprived the people living in the Niger Delta of a living and have polluted their environment to such an extent that the only thing locals can do to survive is engage in the black market and… er… kidnap oil workers. So technically, I would argue that it is not pollution caused by locals.


Agrawal, A. and Redford, K. H. (2006). Poverty, development, and biodiversity conservation: Shooting in the Dark? Wildlife Conservation Society Working Paper, 26, 1-48.


14 thoughts on “Is ameliorating poverty AND biodiversity loss possible at all? Part 1

  1. Yes, the Niger Delta is a festering issue at many levels – environmental, social, industrial. A good point in your argument.

  2. Hi Savina! Thanks for the follow. Have you thought about graduate school? It looks like we have very closely aligned interests.

    Best of luck in your continued explorations, and I’d be very happy to discuss our mutual interests some time at greater length.

    Jahi Chappell
    Asst. Prof. of Environmental Science & Justice
    Washington State University Vancouver

  3. Pingback: Is ameliorating poverty AND biodiversity loss possible at all? Part 2 | The Urbane Ecologist

  4. Thank you, I have just been looking for info approximately this topic for ages and yours is the best I have discovered so far. But, what concerning the bottom line? Are you certain concerning the source?

  5. All material copied from yet another source

  6. Hmm it looks like your site ate my first comment (it was super long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I had written and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog. I too am an aspiring blog writer but I’m still new to everything. Do you have any suggestions for inexperienced blog writers? I’d genuinely appreciate it.

    • Thank you very much for your kind words! I hope you keep enjoying my blog.
      I’m very new to blogging myself, so I probably can’t give any valuable advice on this point. However, I noticed that what really got me from wanting to blog but not knowing what to write about to actually blogging was (1) finding a focus that I was passionate about and that I was confident that I had an interesting point of view about and (2) reading a lot of what other people had to say about that topic. Hope that helps. I hope you enjoy blogging as much as I do!

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  8. My colleagues and I have a paper in review addressing just this question. I also recommend a couple of other foundational (or at least awesome) papers:
    Gray, L. C., & Moseley, W. G. (2005). A geographical perspective on poverty-environment interactions. The Geographical Journal, 171(1), 9-23.
    Ravnborg, H. M. (2003). Poverty and environmental degradation in the Nicaraguan hillsides. World Development, 31(11), 1933-1946.
    Perfecto, I., & Vandermeer, J. H. (2008). Biodiversity conservation in tropical agroecosystems: a new conservation paradigm. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1134(1), 173-200.
    Perfecto, I., & Vandermeer, J. H. (2010). The agroecological matrix as alternative to the land-sparing/agriculture intensification model. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(13), 5786-5791. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0905455107

    More broadly, the question of whether ” most human activity has some negative ecological impact” is an interesting one. Is this more true of humans than other organisms? What counts as a “negative ecological impact”? Is reducing biodiversity *always* negative? And if so, negative to whom and for what? Conversely, are conservation, increasing biodiversity, and decreasing extinction always positive? (And if so, positive for whom and for what.) To be clear, I advocate minimizing our “impact”. But like poverty, this is tricky to define.

    • Thank you very much for the paper suggestions! I look forward to reading them! I also hope to read your paper in review, although I may have to request a pdf after I no longer have access to Rice University’s network.

      And thank you for pointing out the difficulties in defining the positive and negative impacts of human activity. I wrote it based on my “sense” of human impact, but I hope I come across papers that lend some nuance to my statement.

      • As far as the difficulties in defining human impacts, this is a central concern of the field of political ecology. I recommend “the” text on it, Paul Robbins’ textbook Political Ecology (now in its 2nd edition). I think it is a superb work for examining these issues.

      • Thank you (once again) for the fantastic suggestion! I’ll follow up on it, too. You’ve been so generous with your time and suggestions – I appreciate it!

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