Integrating local residents – especially poor households, indigenous communities and women – into the protected area economies of the developing world via concessions compensates for losses, alleviates poverty, drives local economic development and builds conservation incentives. Integrating locals is important not only as a principle of natural justice but also on pragmatic grounds. If those who incur the current cost of living in or near protected areas or who suffered historic losses (such as removals or prohibition of resource use rights) do not benefit from concessions, activities detrimental to the protected area (such as poaching or other illegal resource harvesting) will likely increase. Sharing in the benefits generated by concessions gives local people a stake in conservation and creates incentives for them to become better stewards of their natural resources.
Protected areas can be powerful economic drivers that contribute not only to biodiversity conservation but also to the development of local, regional and national economies. This is particularly true in developing countries where poverty levels are generally high, state resources limited, jobs scarce, and there is often not a deep-seated popular tradition of recreation in protected areas. In these situations, protected areas must justify their existence even more so than in developed countries, not just on biodiversity and recreational grounds but also – and especially – as contributors to the socio-economic advancement of their societies. Protected areas – and the businesses they sustain – face a particularly daunting challenge in such settings: if they are to survive, they must optimize their economic contribution without compromising either business viability or their primary mandate of biodiversity conservation. They must do so in environments where protected areas are often viewed with skepticism not only by local residents who incur the costs of conservation but also by politicians who are faced with many pressing demands on limited budgets.
- A commitment to increased local returns must be an agency priority and permeate the entire concession life cycle.
- Concession prospectuses must contain specific requirements to increase local participation – including employment, ownership, training, local procurement and social investment.
- Local returns should be heavily weighted in the mix of criteria used by agencies when evaluating proposals.
- The socio-economic commitments of winning bidders or successful concession applicants must be incorporated into concession contracts as enforceable obligations.
- Once a set of commitments is captured in a concession contract, the protected area managers must monitor and enforce compliance until the contract is terminated.
Concessions are powerful instruments that can be used to secure greater benefit for locals and other citizens. In many developing countries, it has become standard practice for protected area managers to use the terms and structure of concession agreements to promote greater benefit for local, regional and national groups. Protected area agencies must develop the capacity to monitor the pro-poor performance of concessionaires throughout the life of the concession. Agencies, especially in the developing world, often focus heavily on the award process and neglect the need to build the organizational capacity needed to manage the resultant contractual obligations. When structuring concesions to optimise local benefit, care should be used not to overburden the commercial operation with excessive costs which, in extreme cases, could render the business unviable. These situations often require trade-offs – strong requirements for benefits to local communities may reduce the amount of money that commercial partners are willing to pay for concessions, and this will affect the ability of concessions to contribute to the costs of protected area management. A focus on local benefit must be balanced against the need to contribute at the regional and national scales. Protected areas need to nurture their legitimacy, not only locally, but regionally and nationally also. In these circumstances, it is important to balance local participation with regional and national inputs. Tourism concessions are not a cure-all for a region or a community’s economic woes. Many tourism activities and markets are seasonal and tourism is also subject to external disruptions. Excessive dependence on tourism is just as dangerous as overreliance on a single crop, on ranching, or on extractive activities. Tourism can, however, play an important role in economic diversification and livelihood enhancement.