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Dependence of the poor on biodiversity

which poor, what biodiversity?

Bhaskar Vira
Andreas Kantoleon


This paper examines the evidence on the extent to which the poor depend upon biodiversity. It specifically focuses on the question: which groups of the (differentiated) poor depend, in which types of ways, on different elements of biological diversity? The review focused on two particular types of dependence :(a) biodiversity as offering a means of subsistence or income to the poor; and (b)biodiversity as offering insurance to the poor from risks and shocks which prevents them from falling deeper into poverty. The methodology for the review included an examination of the peer?reviewed literature, as published in journals and books, and an examination of websites and portals of major organisations/forums working on biodiversity conservation and poverty alleviation. Literature identified through these processes was systematically analysed to examine the empirical evidence on the extent and nature of dependence. Aggregation of the findings from this meta?analysis is difficult, given the methodological differences in the underlying case studies, but this paper reports on the trends that have emerged from this review. There is considerable variation reported in the extent of household income that is contributed by biodiversity?based resources. Some of this dependence is very specific to particular groups, especially the poor. Some multi?sited studies demonstrate variability across different sites, reflecting both the availability of alternative income sources, as well as access issues and previous resource use patterns. Levels of participation in biodiversity based livelihood activities are also high, although there is some variation when this is broken down by wealth class, with the poor typically showing higher levels of dependence. The literature suggests that biodiversity provides the poor a form of cost effective and readily accessible insurance against risk, particularly food security risks, risks from environmental hazards, and health risks. There is also some discussion in the reviewed material of the risks associated with declining ecosystem resilience. The evidence suggests that, as the poor have few alternative sources for protecting themselves, they have a higher dependency on biodiversity for dealing with risk. The reviewed studies suggest that the poor tend to depend disproportionately on relatively low value or ‘inferior’ goods and services from biodiversity, while the more affluent groups may get interested in such resources if they have higher commercial values (often crowding out the poor in the process). Similarly, risk dependence of the poor on biodiversity takes the form of a last resort, in the absence of alternatives. This dependence of the poor on low value activities (and on biodiversity as a last resort against various forms of risk) may confirm the suggestion in some recent literature of a resource?based ‘poverty trap’. This may have important policy implications, as it suggests that the poor may need to break their dependence on biodiversity in order to improve their livelihood outcomes.


Publication Type(s)

Conference Paper

Ten Years of War Against Poverty Conference Papers

Conference: Ten Years of War Against Poverty


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