The Value of Tropical Biodiversity in Rural Melanesia
In this paper we discuss differences in the ways transnational conservationists and Melanesian farmers, hunters and fishers value ‘biodiversity’. The money for conservation projects in developing countries originates from people who are embedded in a capitalist system, which allows engagement with nature as an abstract entity. Their western education has given them a scientific/ evolutionary-based worldview, which attributes intrinsic value to all species (and particular arrangements of species, e.g. rainforests and coral reefs), irrespective of economic value or ecosystem function. Because this value system is mostly not shared by the custodians of the biodiversity that conservationists want to save, alternative tactics and arguments are utilised. These inevitably take the form of so-called ‘win-win’ economic rationales for preserving biodiversity, most of which do not work well (e.g. bioprospecting, ecotourism, non- imber forest products, environmental certification schemes, payments for ecosystem services, etc.), for reasons which we detail. Agriculture- and aquaculture-based livelihoods appear to enjoy more success than the ‘win-win’ options but do not necessarily obviate or deter further biodiversity loss. Artisanal use of species-poor but productive and resilient pelagic fisheries is increasing. These ecological and economic realities bring into sharp focus the importance of understanding differences in value systems for successful biodiversity conservation in the tropics.
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