What prompted you to engage with IUCN on sustainable use and livelihoods issues?

Improving the quality of life for rural Central American people means responding to basic human needs: food, shelter, access to land and water resources, education, health, as well as a balanced environment. The community-based sustainable use of natural resources is of key importance within the rapidly changing global environment in our region.  We must find a means by which ecological restoration and ecosystem protection in the long term are compatible with the meeting of human needs. 

From 1990 to 1999, we worked in the IUCN Mesoamerican office on a regional process towards wildlife community-based sustainable use efforts and worked with community organizations, governmental institutions and civil society to advance regional and good examples of sustainable use of wildlife. Managing  whistling ducks in Laguna El Jocotal in El Salvador, and resolving conflicts over the conservation of green macaw habitat in Costa Rica are two examples of the work we did.

We focused on supporting local autonomous organizations and the actual management and sustainable use of fauna. In the end the most visible results were in the fields of community organization and institutional strengthening for the improvement of wildlife management and human development. The projects affected the lives of the participants and supported biodiversity conservation in the region.

At a local level, community organizations have been able to implement sustainable use schemes for local resources that develop and solidify local community structures enabling them to tackle other challenges - for example by contributing to the speed and the resilience with which the Cosiguina and Jocotal communities reacted to Hurricane Mitch. So sustainable use is a must for me because there is no conservation with hunger and it is also the only way that, from my point of view, we can actually confront environmental, social and economic challenges within a human rights framework and approach.

What is CEESP Meso-America currently focusing on and in what way do you think some of its members will see SULi as relevant to their work?

Here CEESP covers Central America, México and the Caribbean, which is a pretty diverse, complex and rich region.  First we are trying to find common issues to bring and bridge members of CEESP to work together and potentiate the use and knowledge exchange opportunities of the network. We are making efforts to consolidate the regional network and find a transparent way of choosing representation in the Commissions’ different fora and decision making processes. It is not an easy job; networking in regions like mine is hard unless there are clear issues of common interest to work upon.

I am very hopeful that sustainable use will be the “missing link” and that it will unite the secretariat and membership in an intensive work program where everyone will feel moved to work and share knowledge. Talking to the ORMA and the Caribbean Secretariat, and knowing the work done by the regional members, I have no doubt that sustainable use will be an issue of interest for the future work of CEESP members in this part of the world. 

You have extensive experience of managing community-based sustainable use programmes. Can you describe one of the programmes you worked on? 

During the last 10 years of my professional life, I have been working with marine and coastal communities in Central America - trying to develop mechanisms for governmental and non-governmental agencies to strengthen the local capacities and willingness of the small scale fishing sector to do conservation - and within it, sustainable use in a human rights framework. We have looked at how the Costa Rican government can recognize new governance models that are more inclusive and that share power and permit small scale fishers to take an active part in accessing and managing the marine resources they use for a living. The strategy has helped restore fishers’ cultural identity, improve ocean biodiversity management, restoration, and conservation, and strengthen local capacity towards responsible fishing and resource management. This video is a good example of this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hyRLuBJEdZA

The challenge for marine conservation is how to do it whilst including people. Currently our marine protected areas lack the social resilience necessary to face future challenges. Under the current state governance models most of the coastal and marine communities have disappeared and conservations issues such as access and human rights have not been considered.

You were involved in the preparation and approval of the Biodiversity Law in Costa Rica. To what degree is sustainable use and livelihoods integrated within the document?

Human rights-based conservation requires an institutional framework. Laws, policies and control mechanisms can contribute positively to protection goals and the sustainable use of biodiversity if they adapt to new circumstances.  The government, organizations and communities develop awareness of their rights and responsibilities and learn jointly through the experiences of others and through processes that generate new national and local policies. 

The Biodiversity Law of Costa Rica was 20 years ahead in the discussion of human rights and the issues of access and just and equitable distribution of benefits derived from the use of genetic materials. It was a very interesting process, led by Congressmen Luis Martinez, and derived from a participatory consultation process that included civil society organizations and indigenous people’s local governance. In practice the law followed the three objectives of the Biological Diversity Convention, but primarily I should say that the issues of sustainable use and livelihoods are considered in the last two: sustainable use and just and equitable distribution of benefits derived from the use of biodiversity elements.

The law responds to these two objectives in an integrated and interrelated way, that includes the recognition of the inherent value of nature, includes the concept of tangible and intangible values of biodiversity recognizing the local and traditional, individual and collective knowledge. It puts in place the precautionary principle and recognizes regulation for the access to generic resources recognizing the different systems of intellectual property rights, for example the rights of peasants and the communitarian sui generis intellectual rights. It also establishes a participatory system for decision making integrating all the interested sectors of society.

The process was not a simple one and it brought to the table different interests of the most powerful sectors of science and private interests showing again that politics and economic perspectives are a fundamental issue in the conservation discussions.

Concerning the Sustainable Use Policy Statement. How has is supported your work since it was adopted at the World Conservation Congress in Amman?

One of the main weaknesses of IUCN Congresses and IUCN’s work is that its resolutions and policies statements are not an obligatory mandate for governments. That said, the policy has been useful in providing a common conceptual direction that we have used as a reference point and to move towards politically and socially at a regional level. It is important since it defines and places sustainable use in the center of sustainable development and conservation of biodiversity.

Sustainable use is of fundamental importance in our region as I said before, and the advances reached in Amman are a step forward in the efforts to make it come to reality in practice, something that is hard to do.

SULi, being a joint effort between SSC and CEESP, is for me a concrete example of IUCN moving towards a well oriented conservation strategy where natural resources, and within this species, are linked to cultures, and that respects different perspectives of conservation and employs innovative ways to construct new knowledge that will support human beings to confront new environmental, social, and economic challenges. We need to move from generating exclusively databases of population endangered species and protected areas to also promoting more social oriented-research and work developed by communities and for community’s purposes. This will make us recognize their desires and efforts to work with us towards conserving natural resources.