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A new approach to conservation: using community empowerment for sustainable well-being

Alaka Wali, Integrated Research Center, The Field Museum of Natural History
Diana Alvira, Keller Science Action Center, The Field Museum of Natural History
Paula S Tallman, Keller Science Action Center, The Field Museum of Natural History
Ashwin Ravikumar, Keller Science Action Center, The Field Museum of Natural History; Department of Environmental Studies, Amherst College
Miguel O Macedo, Instituto del Bien Común


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The global environmental conservation community recognizes that the participation of local communities is essential for the success of conservation initiatives; however, much work remains to be done on how to integrate conservation and human well-being. We propose that an assets-based approach to environmental conservation and human well-being, which is grounded in a biocultural framework, can support sustainable and adaptive management of natural resources by communities in regions adjacent to protected areas. We present evidence from conservation and quality of life initiatives led by the Field Museum of Natural History over the past 17 years in the Peruvian Amazon. Data were derived from asset mapping in 37 communities where rapid inventories were conducted and from 38 communities that participated in longer term quality of life planning. Our main findings are that Amazonian communities have many characteristics, or assets, that recent scholarship has linked to environmental sustainability and good natural resource stewardship, and that quality of life plans that are based on these assets tend to produce priorities that are more consistent with environmental conservation. Importantly, we found that validating social and ecological assets through our approach can contribute to the creation of protected areas and to their long-term management. As strategies to engage local communities in conservation expand, research on how particular methodologies, such as an assets-based approach, is needed to determine how these initiatives can best empower local communities, how they can be improved, and how they can most effectively be linked to broader conservation and development processes.

Key words

Amazon; assets; biocultural; conservation; forest dwellers; indigenous communities; Peru; protected areas management; well-being

Copyright © 2017 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087