THE relationship between poverty alleviation and biodiversity conservation has been the subject of intense debate amongst researchers and development practitioners for several decades.
Yet, consensus on how to reconcile the two disparate goals is far from being reached, particularly for Local and indigenous people in Sub Saharan Africa (SSA). They rely on biodiversity for their livelihood through means such as subsistence agriculture, game hunting and extraction of resources like firewood.
Those who directly utilize biodiversity resources in an unsustainable way do so because they are poor, displaced, marginalized and are likely not to have alternatives. In a workshop held in Tanga on Green Economy in Biodiversity Reserves (GEBR) and dubbed 'A means to Poverty Reduction, Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Development in Sub Saharan Africa, participants got to know the importance of biodiversity.
Speaking at the workshop, Noeline Raondry Rakotoarisoa from United Nations, Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Headquarters, said that policy makers and most conservation scientists have resorted to restricting human activities in areas which are considered as highly diverse, contain rare or endangered species or which generate important ecosystem services (including cultural services) as the most common means of conserving biodiversity.
"Faced with the challenge of dependency on biodiversity for livelihoods and in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), SSA countries are adopting various multi-sectorial policies and strategies aimed at alleviating poverty," she said.
She says that based on the evidence of the services offered by biodiversity for many developing local economies, the general consensus is that biodiversity business development is a viable tool for conservation while at the same time contributing to sustainable development.
Research has shown that well developed biodiversity businesses have the potential to generate investment for conservation and contribute to sustainable development through the equitable sharing of generated benefits.
Such businesses range from agriculture, forestry, exploitation of non-timber forest products and fisheries, carbon sequestration in biomass, payments for watershed protection, bio-prospecting, biodiversity offsets (both mandatory and voluntary schemes), biodiversity management services, ecotourism and recreational hunting and sport fishing.
UNESCO, through the Man and Biosphere Programme (MAB), has promoted the management of ecosystems within the concept of biosphere reserves (BR). For MAB and the network of biosphere reserves in SSA, the main challenge in linking biodiversity business opportunities to these areas is the lack of financial resources.
"Therefore this project which aims at poverty reduction, biodiversity conservation and sustainable development in Sub-Saharan Africa will create opportunities to the communities living around Biosphere Reserves of Tanzania, specifically the East Usambara Biosphere Reserve," says Miss Noeline.
The Usambara Mountains are a mountain range in North- East Tanzania, approximately 70 miles (110 km) long and ranging from 20 to 40 miles (64 km) in width.
Mountains in the range rise as high as 8,000 ft (2,440 m). They are part of the Eastern Arc Mountains, which stretch from Kenya through Tanzania and are one of the world's Biodiversity hotspots.
The range is accessible from the towns of Lushoto in the West and Amani in the East. The Usambaras are commonly split into two sub-ranges, the West Usambara and the East Usambara. The East Usambara is closer to the coast, receives more rainfall and is significantly smaller than the West Usambara.
The Usambaras are fairly unique in that, being in East Africa, their unspoiled regions are covered in the tropical forest, which today remains mainly in the West of the continent.
The mountain range was formed nearly two billion years ago and due to a lack of glaciations and a relatively consistent climate, the rainforest has gone through a long term and unique evolution resulting in an impressive amount of endemism and an old growth cloud rain forest.
West and East Usambaras are large ranges of Precambrian metamorphic geologic formations of acid-gneisses, pyroxenes and amphiboles. These mountains were formed by faulting and uplifting creating the drainage system of troughs that form many watersheds, which provide water to a majority of the population of northeast Tanzania (Lundgren 1980).
Designated in 2000, the East Usambara Biosphere Reserve (EUBR) is part of the Eastern Arc Mountains system which is one of the biodiversity hotspots in the world. About 155,000 people live in and around the biosphere reserve, with their main sources of livelihood being small scale farming and cattle breeding.
This Biosphere Reserve (BR) aims at promoting alternative income or additional sources for the local population. Miss Noeline says that in 2010, UNESCO supported an activity to contribute to the effective management of natural resources within the Amani Nature Reserve (ANR) and buffer zones of the EUBR.
The Amani Nature Reserve was created to protect the unique, biologically important forest ecosystem of the East Usambara Mountains in Amani, Tanzania. It was established in 1997 in order to preserve the unique flora and fauna of the East Usambara Mountains.
Abdoul Coulibaly of UNESCO Dar es Salaam office says that detailed analysis, assessment and inventories will be done to determine the biodiversity index of the reserve, which will subsequently help stakeholders to make informed decisions on the type of biodiversity business to develop and implement in the EUBR.
"UNESCO Dar es Salaam already has useful experience in implementing activities relating to the proposed location and its management. In the last four years training activities in Biosphere Reserves in Tanzania including the East Usambara Biosphere Reserve have been delivered," he says.