Ecosystem Restoration and Community Development Must Go Hand in Hand

I’ve been working on an ongoing project in Somalia, and this has led me to think a lot about the fact that, all too often, efforts in conservation and ecosystem restoration are divorced from efforts in the social and economic spheres. We often talk about the fact that economic sustainability involves looking at the environmental and social spheres. But often pay less attention to economic and social spheres when working in the environmental arena.

Historically, groups and organisations which have focussed on conservation or the environment have not delved deeply into the lives and livelihoods of people who live in or near those landscapes, and depend upon them. Sadly, there has been a long history of trampling of indigenous rights when it comes to protecting nature. And many conservation efforts have failed at least in part because they failed to take local people into account.

Human needs and wishes should obviously not outweigh the needs of the wider world, and the many other creatures who call our planet home. But it is important to look at landscapes and communities holistically. Rather than seeing two distinct spheres – human society and the natural world, we need to begin to see the essential interconnectedness of all systems.

In Somalia, the landscape has been severely degraded by human hands. The country is at the cutting edge of climate change, and faces even more severe challenges in the years to come. Restoring degraded landscapes is essential.

But the project I have been working with, Camp Dryland Solutions, understands that re-vegetating the arid landscape is not enough. It is also essential to rehabilitate and nurture the local community.

Community led development is essential to the longevity of any ecosystem restoration scheme. If the local people are not on board, it cannot hope to succeed long term. Strong community can and should be an integral part of landscape management and improvement. A community that understands and can profit from environmental schemes, both economically and in a range of other ways, is far more likely to support and sustain its effort.

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