World Wildlife Fund Science Driven

WWF scientists write about topics that are a big part of WWF’s work such as quantifying the value of nature, evaluating the impact of conservation on people and nature, and adapting to climate change. They will also share fresh ideas and emergent issues that could become important for conservation.

filtered by category: Social Impacts

  • Date: 13 October 2014
  • Author: Amy Rosenthal and Gregory Verutes

Natural capital is everywhere. It’s the fresh air we breathe, the clean water we drink, the beautiful coral reefs we visit that protect coastal communities from storms and support fisheries around the world.

Some of these benefits that our lands, waters and biodiversity provide are not fully appreciated, often because they don’t have a price tag like products in a store. Yet without them our well-being, even our survival, would be threatened.

Through the Natural Capital Project—where WWF is a founding partner—we seek to improve the state of human wellbeing by motivating greater and more cost-effective investments in natural capital. Valuing nature helps ensure that the benefits people enjoy today will be available to support their health and livelihoods well into the future.

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  • Date: 15 October 2013
  • Author: Brendan Fisher

Brendan Fisher, a research scientist for WWF and pictured above, is guest blogging for Science Driven. Below he discusses results from a WWF-CARE Alliance conservation program in Mozambique.

My friend Matt has raised an amazing vegetable garden every year since I met him 12 years ago. He knows what he is doing. And yet despite continued success and the basic facts that given good soil, sunlight and water, a good seed will sprout, he is still in awe every spring when his seedlings first pop up in his planters.

I know what he means. There are basic scientific principles to know and simple rules to follow and voila—production. Still, it is its own small miracle.

I was thinking about Matt while on my way to one of WWF’s priority regions in Coastal East Africa—the Primeiras e Segundas in northern Mozambique. I was on my way to a project, in collaboration with the Ministry of Fisheries, collecting first results from our work on farms and in fisheries in the region.

Primeiras e Segundas is a complex land and seascape consisting of sand islands, coastal mangroves, estuaries, dry forests and farmland. It is where humpback whales mate on their southern migration down the coast; a critical nesting area for hawksbills, olive ridley and green turtles; and a seascape with relatively unexplored reefs.

It is also one of the poorest regions in one of the world’s poorest countries. Food insecurity plagues 1/3 of households and 2/3 for female-headed households. People are equally reliant on the condition of their farmland and fisheries. And while only about 30% of households actively fish, 2/3 of households rely on fish protein for nutrition on a daily basis.

Over 80% of those fishing households also farm. And there is the shocking statistic that almost 50% of coastal rural Mozambican children are stunted.

It was into this complex context that CARE and WWF stepped to undertake joint work in 2008 under the CARE-WWF Alliance. The goal was to jointly work on conservation and livelihood issues. Two of the joint interventions with communities there involved training in conservation agriculture techniques and establishing fish sanctuaries, or ‘no-take’ fishing zones.

The science sitting underneath these interventions is pretty solid. Conservation agriculture, as a suite of techniques including no-tillage, cover crops, and intercropping, has been shown to improve soil health and moisture retention, which combine to increase yields.

No-take zones in fisheries (when placed in the right spots at the right time) have shown both biodiversity and abundance rebounds for over-fished regions—or as my marine biologist friend says “fish breed like rabbits.” Our no-take zones are co-managed by the local communities, an increasingly popular and effective solution in such contexts and one of the key current approaches highlighted in the Rockefeller Foundation’s Oceans and Fisheries strategy.

Linking these marine and land-based livelihood interventions is critical in a place experiencing so much pressure on its resource assets.

So why was I nervous about this trip?

Well, for the same reasons my friend is always in awe of his seedlings—so much can go wrong. Drought, pests, a lack of compliance. The list is endless.

But here’s the news… it’s working.

After two years, the farmer field schools for conservation agriculture—jointly run by community members—deliver, on average, 50% higher soil stability scores than traditional treatments. We are waiting on lab results for soil organics, but stability is a strong indicator of soil health, and hence potential productivity.

Even more exciting is the impact of conservation agriculture on dietary diversity in regional households. Why is this a big deal? Well because dietary diversity is a strong indicator of many health outcomes including micronutrient deficiency, the key driver behind childhood stunting.

In our no-take fishing zones in Moma Estuary, we carried out fish surveys with local fishermen. In three years of community-led enforcement, species diversity inside the no-take zones was 45%-93% higher than outside.

All of these are preliminary results, and the long-term the biological and social outcomes will be an ongoing story. But for now, the science-driven work with farming and fishing communities in one of the poorest regions in the world is showing positive biological and social impacts.

It is a tribute to the hard work of the communities and the field team. It is also, like those seedlings, a small miracle.

In Mozambique, training in conservation agriculture techinques has shown positive results in soil stability and dietary diversity within households.

The CARE-WWF Alliance was founded in partnership with the Sall Family Foundation in 2008 and continues to thrive thanks to their longstanding support. Our joint work is also generously supported by USAID, several anonymous foundations and many others.

  • Date: 26 September 2013
  • Author: Robin Naidoo

Robin Naidoo, a Senior Conservation Scientist for WWF, is guest blogging for Science Driven. Below he discusses a recent study he co-authored citing the link between Namibia's communal conservancies and a reduction in behaviors that spread HIV.

Namibia’s Community-Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) program has long demonstrated success in balancing the needs of people and wildlife. WWF has partnered with local communities to help them manage their natural resources, ensuring a future that includes healthy wildlife populations and vibrant rural economies. As a result, we know there is a direct relationship between the health of wildlife populations and the prosperity of local communities—poaching declines, populations of species are restored and economic opportunities such as eco-tourism arise.

But there is now evidence that CBNRM has had additional positive effects on local communities: HIV/AIDS outreach and policies associated with Namibia's communal conservancies appear to have significantly reduced behaviors that spur the disease's spread in Africa, according to a new study

Two-thirds of all people living with HIV (22.5 million) reside in sub-Saharan Africa. Although the epidemic appears to have stabilized, the rate of new infections remains high and HIV continues to devastate families and communities.

To fight its spread, a community-based HIV/AIDS outreach and education program in 31 conservancies raised awareness of the disease from 2003-2007. They used radio broadcasts, written material, and traditional song and dance; trained peer educators; drafted HIV policies and plans; and disseminated condoms. The program clearly explained the links between HIV prevention and the maintenance of conservancy-based livelihoods. It also utilized existing the governance and management structures in conservancies to engage in culturally appropriate prevention activities and behavior-change messaging.

To evaluate the impact of the program, we used Demographic and Health Surveys data from 2000 and 2006/2007 to evaluate whether changes in numbers of sexual partners were related to exposure of rural Namibians to the community-based HIV/AIDS program.

Results showed that there was a significant drop in the number of conservancy men having two or more sexual partners, relative to non-conservancy men. As multiple sexual partners is the dominant driver of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, this has dramatic implications for reducing infections in communal areas of Namibia.

Given the high prevalence of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa and its devastating effects on the social and economic fabric of communities, there is hope that lessons from Namibia's program and its associated HIV/AIDS mainstreaming effort may help slow the disease in other communal areas of Africa as well.

  • Date: 20 August 2013
  • Author: Jon Hoekstra

August 20, 2013 marks Earth Overshoot Day—the estimated date when we've used up the Earth's annual supply of renewable natural resources and carbon absorbing capacity. After that, we're using more than the planet can sustain. It's a  one-day reminder of a year-round problem—we are living too large on a finite planet.

You probably have a general sense of why. Our human population continues to grow. We are consuming more and more resources. And we still have only one planet. To appreciate just how large we are living in relation to our finite planet, let's look more closely at some numbers.

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  • Date: 13 August 2013
  • Author: Jon Hoekstra

Deforestation in Borneo

Conservation is in the midst of a fundamental shift that I call "The Pivot." Conservation is pivoting from being backward-looking to forward-looking. This reorientation promises to expand what conservation can achieve by setting the stage for Conservation 3.0.

Despite frequent reference to the interests of future generations, conservation has mostly been a backward-looking endeavor. Hearkening back to "good old days" before extensive human impact on nature, conservation resisted change. It used verbs like "protect," "preserve," and "restore." It benchmarked success in terms of similarity to historical baselines. In short, conservation sought to make the future look as much as possible like the past.

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