USAID BIODIVERSITY PROGRAMS
The Congo Basin is one of our planet’s most conflict-torn areas, plagued by persistent instability. It is also incredibly rich in natural resources, but lack of governance and poor management has led to the misuse and exploitation of the second largest tropical forest on the planet and its globally important wildlife, including forest elephants and great apes. Vital resources that could provide livelihoods to the region’s 80 million people have instead been stolen to finance armed groups and extremists, including the Lord’s Resistance Army and Janjaweed militias, which have left behind chaos, corruption, and terrorism.
But in many parts of the Congo Basin, stability is returning with help from the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Central Africa Regional Program for the Environment (CARPE). For over two decades, CARPE has assisted governments, non-governmental organizations, and local communities in sustainable economic development, community-based resource management, and conflict mitigation. CARPE is the U.S. contribution to the Congo Basin Forest Partnership (CBFP), an international initiative with more than 40 governmental and non-governmental partners.
CARPE’s positive impact can be seen clearly in countries such as Gabon, and in Salonga National Park – the world’s second largest tropical forest park, located in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Support and training for local law enforcement has led to greater collaboration between park and military authorities, helping drive out notorious elephant poachers and leading to the seizure of over 200 military-style weapons – thereby enhancing the security of the park and local communities.
Namibia’s long war for independence, combined with widespread human-wildlife conflict, resulted in decades of poaching and uncontrolled hunting that severely depleted its rich wildlife populations, including elephants, lions, and rhinos. After winning independence in 1990, the new government recognized the importance of its biodiversity and natural resources to long-term peace and the economic success of its rural communities, leading to Namibia becoming the first African country to incorporate conservation into its constitution.
This historic commitment led to an innovative collaboration between the Namibian government, World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), with additional support from the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). The result was the creation of “communal conservancies,” formed and run by local communities but empowered by the government to manage their wildlife and natural resources, including through ecotourism. Over the course of two decades, income to the conservancies from these activities has grown to more than $7 million a year in revenue, jobs, and other socioeconomic benefits. Because of this locally driven approach, where wildlife is a communal asset, Namibia’s elephant population has more than tripled, its black rhinos have rebounded from near-extinction, and desert lions have increased six-fold. And when poaching occurs on conservancies, the perpetrators are often caught within 24 hours because communities see themselves as the frontline defenders of their wildlife.
Today, natural resource management is bringing Namibia more opportunities for jobs, income, and private-sector partnerships. As a result, its rural areas are more stable, prosperous, and well-governed, and its approach to wildlife conservation is an international model for the benefits of investing in community-driven conservation.
Northern Kenya has a history of conflict, in part complicated by ivory poaching, wildlife trafficking, and ongoing instability in neighboring Somalia. This has destabilized Kenya’s national economy while enabling terrorist groups to operate – including Al-Shabaab – with clear implications for U.S security interests.
As part of a significant effort to restore peace and security to this region, Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) was founded in 2004. This community-led initiative works toward peace, security, and diversification of local economies, and is managed by Northern Kenya’s local leaders and organizations with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and The Nature Conservancy.
To date, NRT has established 35 resilient community conservancies that provide local populations with tools and incentives to protect wildlife, sustainably manage rangelands and fisheries, and support business development in some of Kenya’s most marginalized areas. This has resulted in a steady decline in northern Kenya’s illegal poaching rates, helping save endangered species like the African elephant and black rhino. NRT has also enhanced local food security, protected water supplies, and stemmed the influence of extremist groups, all by empowering local communities to take the lead in managing their wild spaces.
As a direct result of NRT, Kenyan communities are increasingly stable, with peace after years of conflict, sustainable economies powered by conservation, and thousands of lives transformed for the better.
Water security is fundamental to sustainable economic and human development. A failure to ensure equitable clean water can serve as a catalyst to ignite already sensitive situations – leading to instability, conflict, and vulnerability to radicalization. For instance, the rise of Abu Sayyaf, the Islamic State, the Taliban, and the expanding narcotics trade in Central America are all linked to long-standing grievances over water access and the viability of rural livelihoods. Water security is also essential for U.S. corporations that rely on sustainable water supplies for their foreign operations.
The Nature Conservancy developed Water Funds for People and Nature as an innovative approach to secure sustainable water supplies, respond to the water scarcity many countries face, and head off the instability that can result. Water Funds allows water users to pay into them in exchange for fresh, clean water. The Funds then help to finance forest conservation along rivers, streams, and lakes to ensure safe drinking water while helping protect native plants and wildlife habitats.
Backed by USAID, the first Water Fund was established in Quito, Ecuador in 2000. More than 30 cities in Latin America, and two in Africa, now have similar programs established in partnership with local non-profit organizations, business communities, and landowners.
Water scarcity and hunger push people into despair, contributing to national security challenges like migration and radicalization. By 2050, 143 million people worldwide could be displaced by inadequate water and food. The threats to water and food security are felt especially hard in India, which is experiencing a devastating two-year drought.
To help one of the world’s largest agricultural producers during a time of crisis, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) works with partners and the state government in India to show farmers how to turn parched fields into fertile crops using a minimal amount of water. By learning water-saving approaches, including capturing rain during monsoon season and using inexpensive soil moisture sensors, many farmers in the world’s second most populous country are able to support and feed their families with higher-quality rice and vegetables. About 13,000 farmers in Punjab alone now use the soil sensors, cumulatively saving about 21 billion liters of water. In addition, USAID uses apps to teach farmers new farming techniques, including how to sow rice without flooding fields.
As a result of utilizing these water management approaches, along with other innovative, cost-effective farming solutions, India remains a leader in agriculture production even in the midst of drought, sustaining its society and economy.
WILDLIFE TRAFFICKING AND ANTI-POACHING PROGRAMS
Evidence clearly shows that extremist groups – including those with terrorist ties – and international criminal syndicates derive some of their financing from the illegal wildlife trade, which brings in as much as $23 billion each year. Recognizing the importance of fighting wildlife trafficking to U.S. national security, Congress has consistently appropriated dedicated funding for these activities, and the Trump Administration has prioritized it in its overall strategy to counter transnational organized crime.
As part of these efforts, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has supported efforts to combat criminal wildlife trafficking networks in Latin America and Southeast Asia through a grant from the U.S. Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL). Together with local officials and partners in Latin America and Asia, the program has helped to strengthen wildlife laws, train nearly 900 local law enforcement officers in anti-trafficking techniques, develop new cross-border enforcement tools, and secure the arrests of over 180 wildlife criminals.
Programs like these, funded by the U.S. government and other partners, are essential to mitigating an escalating poaching and trafficking crisis that not only threatens the survival of many iconic species but also impacts national and international security. Efforts are underway to replicate the tools and trainings created through the program, in order to scale up national-level enforcement capacity and cooperation to fight wildlife trafficking more broadly.
WILDLIFE CONSERVATION PROGRAMS
In some parts of Africa, natural resources are being rapidly diminished and essential ecosystems are breaking down, making many communities vulnerable to conflict, radicalization, and migration by compromising their security, health, and wellbeing.
In response, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (FWS) and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) have partnered with local communities and government officials in Nigeria and Cameroon to secure the population of Africa’s most threatened great ape, the Cross River gorilla, by creating a network of protected areas and corridors. This not only safeguards these rare large-scale grazers who, by eating enormous amounts of vegetation, maintain the natural balance in the food chain; it prevents societal, economic, and environmental threats caused by habitat loss, illegal hunting, poaching, and wildlife trafficking.
FWS and WCS also work in Gabon to conserve the nesting ground of the world’s largest leatherback sea turtle and the Atlantic’s largest olive ridley sea turtle breeding colony. Programs to protect these vulnerable species help to combat harmful fishing practices that are bleeding West Africa’s once abundantly rich oceans dry, as well as the communities and regional economies that rely on them.
GLOBAL ENVIRONMENT FACILITY
The loss of our planet’s remaining forests is wiping out biodiversity and vital natural resources while undermining the livelihoods of an estimated 1.6 billion people who depend on them for survival and income. It is also threatening America’s economy: illegal logging depresses global timber prices and costs the U.S. economy an estimated $1 billion per year in lost revenue and jobs.
The Global Environment Facility (GEF) supports programs to protect the world’s most important forests, including through sustainable forest management. Since 1992, it has funded nearly 400 forest-related projects with an approach to conservation that is comprehensive and recognizes the distinct needs of each region.
For instance, in the Brazilian Amazon, it funded the world’s most ambitious forest initiative – the Amazon Region Protected Area Program (ARPA) – creating 91.9 million acres of parks and reserves and contributing to a 37 percent decrease in deforestation. In the Congo Basin, the GEF supports countries’ efforts to protect and sustainably manage the world’s second largest tropical rainforest, while also protecting the livelihoods of the 25 million people who depend on it. And in Southeast Asia, the GEF is investing in a six-country partnership to protect tigers and Asian elephant along with their forest habitats and the forest ecosystems upon which hundreds of millions of people rely.
Encompassing nearly 4 million square miles, the Coral Triangle is home to the most marine species on Earth. Not only do 360 million people depend upon it for their food security and economic livelihoods; the resources it produces are critically important to U.S. companies and global supply chains. America imports approximately 86 percent of our seafood, and the Coral Triangle is a primary source. Its large populations of tuna alone support a multi-billion dollar global industry. However, as much as 90 percent of the Coral Triangle’s reefs are threatened by population growth, overfishing, coastal development, and pollution, as well as rising ocean temperatures.
The Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security (CTI-CFF) was founded in 2009 by the governments of Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands, and Timor-Leste to address these critical challenges and to help protect the region’s food security and biodiversity. With support from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the U.S. government, and non-profit organizations, the CTI-CFF has helped improve these countries’ efforts to protect their critically important marine resources, including training nearly 10,000 individuals in conservation management.
Over 75,000 square miles of biologically significant coastal and marine areas are now under improved management, and CTI-CFF staff continue to support coastal and marine resource management – efforts that help protect the economic stability of these countries and ensure continued access to abundant, affordable, and sustainable seafood for American companies and consumers.
Some 2.9 billion people in 48 countries are expected to face water shortages in the next decade, and experts believe water will soon supplant oil as the resource of greatest global concern. Water grievances are a major source of conflict, and are linked to the rise of ISIS, Abu Sayyaf, and other extremist groups – which are now leveraging water shortages and resulting crop failures as a recruiting tool. As the decline of key river basins in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Latin America continues, water scarcity will increasingly affect the economic, environmental, and social stability of these regions, with negative impacts for U.S. security interests.
The Global Environmental Facility (GEF) has pioneered collective action to protect shared groundwater resources through transboundary cooperation between countries, supporting the historic international agreement between Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya over their shared North West Sahara Aquifer System (NWSAS). The NWSAS, which covers more than 620,000 miles, is threatened by rapid population growth and increased irrigation needs, which have resulted in dramatic increases in water pumping and a drop in the water table. The GEF helped to facilitate, develop, and implement a plan for sustainably managing the NWSAS, addressing critical water security issues and reducing the potential for future conflict between these three countries.
The GEF is replicating and scaling up this work to implement collaborative watershed programs in other regions at risk of conflict over shared water resources.
Deforestation is occurring at a staggering rate in tropical forests, and many of these are in fledgling democracies or countries with strategic importance to the United States. The Tropical Forest Conservation Act (TFCA) is unique legislation that allows these countries to redirect a portion of their U.S. debt payments to conservation efforts. The program has demonstrated the U.S. government’s commitment to helping these developing country partners while protecting globally important forest resources and the benefits they provide to America’s economic and national security interests.
Under TFCA, the U.S. has concluded 20 debt treatment agreements with 14 countries. These “debt-for-nature” swaps have raised more than $339 million for tropical forest conservation, saving more than 67 million acres of tropical forest and sequestering 56 million metric tons of carbon dioxide – equivalent to taking 11.8 million cars off the road. They have also helped curb illegal logging, a criminal activity that, according to World Bank estimates, deprives legitimate logging companies of $10 to $15 billion a year, plus $5 billion in lost tax revenues to governments. It is estimated that U.S. foresters and timber companies alone lose roughly $1 billion every year to the global illegal timber trade, making improved tropical forest conservation an economic winner for American businesses and workers.
TFCA has also helped to supported local non-governmental organizations and communities on the frontlines of conservation efforts, promoting U.S. economic and security interests by helping to strengthen civil society, enhance democratic governance, and build public-private partnerships within developing countries. Given the success of the program, Congress reauthorized TFCA in 2018 and expanded eligible projects to include those in both tropical forests and coral reef ecosystems.