Thursday, March 14, 2013

IUCN International - CITES and livelihoods: the missing voice of people who depend on species trade

Fluffy knock-kneed vicunas, big eyed, scrambling onto their matchstick legs after being shorn for their valuable fur; a tiered circle of aloe leaves draining their sap into a hole in the ground lined with plastic for collection for the market; safe nesting sites for crocodiles to lay their eggs being built by people who were previously crocodile hunters….

These were some of the images and stories shared with us in a side-event organised by Peru on “CITES and Livelihoods”. CITES applies controls to international trade in wild products, meaning that it directly affects the local communities worldwide who rely on trade in wild resources to help meet their livelihood needs – generate income to buy food, pay their children’s school fees, and buy books and shoes. Listing in CITES (particularly Appendix I) can cut off sources of income and have a direct negative impact. However, more sensitive implementation of CITES listings can lead to much more positive outcomes. 

Vicunas in the Andes, for instance, are a CITES success story for both wildlife and people. Recognizing local peoples’ rights to use and trade vicuna fibre, accompanied by CITES down-listings from Appendix I to Appendix II, have led to a spectacular rebound of populations from around 10 000 to almost half a million. The economic benefits flowing from use have changed peoples’ lives: as Silvia Velasquez Silvia from Peru said, for them “it means the twenty first century has arrived”. 

It also means local communities are now highly motivated partners in conservation, reversing the previous situation of widespread poaching and competition with livestock. CITES Appendix II can help safeguard sustainability and combat illegal use and trade while supporting generation of benefits for local people. CITES is making a major step forward this COP with the negotiation of a resolution setting out a set of principles for Parties to take into account when implementing listing decisions, including community and traditional knowledge, empowerment of rural communities, and recognizing resource tenure and ownership. 

Livelihoods have been a recurring issue at this conference. In principle, decisions by Parties on listing species are guided by established biological and trade criteria, and there is no formal basis for livelihood impacts to be taken into consideration. 

In discussions on the floor, however, the impact of listing decisions on local communities have been repeatedly raised – on the polar bear Appendix I proposal, the shark Appendix II proposals, and the crocodile down-listing proposals. As people keep saying at this conference “CITES stands at the intersection of conservation, trade and development”, and understanding the interaction of trade controls with local livelihoods, and their implications for both human rights and conservation, is a critical need. 

A good step forward would be hearing more from indigenous and local communities themselves – community voices in CITES are scarce, the large Inuit contingent participating in this conference being a notable exception. 

Right now, however, I have to say my own livelihood needs are uppermost in mind. Squeezing in lunch amidst the round of sessions and side-events is a serious challenge – so I’m off to hunt down dinner…