Conservation and Development Projects in the Brazilian Amazon: Lessons from the Community Initiative Program in Rondônia
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Community-based conservation and development has become the prevailing programmatic paradigm of conservation organizations and development donors over the last 20 years, spawning a myriad of integrated conservation and development projects (ICDP) around the world. Appealing for its ambitious aspiration to harmonize sustainable economic development at the local level with the conservation of legally established protected areas (e.g., parks and reserves), the ICDP approach recently has drawn criticism from conservation biologists for failing to ensure adequate protection of biodiversity. Development planners and economists have also raised questions about the financial sustainability of ICDPs in practice and the replicability of the model from highly local contexts to larger regional scales. This paper briefly reviews the central elements of the concept of integrated conservation and development and the emerging debate over its effectiveness. A description of the Community Initiative Program (CIP), a pilot program of the Rondônia Natural Resources Management project (PLANAFLORO) in the western Brazilian Amazon state of Rondônia, follows. The CIP is a significant experiment because it boldly attempted to apply the principles of ICDP to the regional scale involving numerous different communities in one program simultaneously. Based on the author's mid-term review of the CIP in 1999, the development and conservation impacts of the program are considered. While the CIP has not significantly curbed the degradation of protected areas in Rondônia as intended, the evidence suggests lower rates of deforestation in municipios (i.e. counties) with the highest concentrations of CIP projects. Although the economic development impacts are mixed, approximately 50% of the projects delivered tangible benefits to local communities. Lessons learned from the CIP are presented in the final section. Among the lessons learned from the CIP, detailed in the final section, are several that will be familiar to other ICDP evaluators: the importance of thematic coherence in initial project design, the need for explicit attention on environmental conservation objectives, deficient institutional capacity of implementing organizations, inadequate attention to women's concerns and roles in community projects, and lack of technical criteria for measuring project sustainability.
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