Human Migration And Conservation
Conservation is, at the best of times, a difficult task, and it becomes much more complicated in areas where human-animal dynamics are fluid and in flux. Conservationists and governments have worked together over many years to create protected areas (PAs) and associated conservation programs that support them, however, simply setting a border does not mean it will be abided by. Indeed, there is some concern that in certain parts of the world, people may be migrating into PAs to access the “direct or indirect” benefits of such areas, and compromising conservation efforts as they do so. There is some emerging literature on this subject but still much more to be explored and understood, and in addition to migration itself, “the role of conservation outreach and development initiatives in PA-specific migration has not been adequately investigated, despite early concerns.”
The aim of this study was to look at rural population dynamics and conservation outreach across the national parks network in Tanzania, and to determine whether there is a “disproportionately high rate of in-migration to PA borders relative to overall levels of rural migration” and whether it likewise disproportionately affects “areas receiving funding from the nation’s conservation outreach program.” The researchers also investigated the alternative hypothesis that rural people simply move to access “available and productive land.” To do so, the researchers compiled a very broad range of data, including more than 2000+ wards in more than 100 districts.
Based on this broad data set, the authors conclude that people in Tanzania likely make their decisions “based on geographic factors related to farming and herding livelihoods rather than proximity to PAs and associated conservation activities.” PAs and outreach programs do not directly attract migrants, however, without direct comparisons of migrants’ circumstances before and after a migration event, it’s hard to say what, if any, their effects are. However, notwithstanding this, the central conclusion is that conservation factors – both positive and negative – are outweighed by the need for productive land to support rural farming livelihoods.
This study and others like it enrich conservation advocates’ understanding of local dynamics that may have a great bearing on how effective PAs are or can be. Though the example here is specific to Tanzania, it’s easy to see how this type of research may be very useful in other areas as well. “The management of PAs must be conducted within the wider landscape of human-occupied lands,” the researchers note, and this should be “based on appropriately scaled evidence.”