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Creating Conservation Value


This is in reply to the article “Putting a Price on Tiger Reserves: Creating Conservation Value or Green Grabbing?” by Ajit Menon and Nitin D Rai (EPW, 30 December 2017), which seemed to be argued well, but, at the same time, was based on various misconstructions. 

The authors failed to recognise the basic objective of Project Tiger, which is to safeguard the continuity of natural evolutionary processes in the wild. Such a high degree of protection given to the tiger reserves has resulted in the increased flow of a wide array of ecosystem services, which are actually used by various stakeholders, without appreciating their use values. 

Valuation rationalises the return on cost of conservation, leading to multiple benefits. It is ironical that we accept the payment vehicle of net present value, which is a payment made for diversion of forests, but not the value of their conservation, due to, among others, lack of estimates on the quantum of benefits being derived from these areas. 

The authors from Indian Institute of Forest Management—whose works have been referenced by Menon and Rai—also conducted a study at the behest of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Finance Commissions (FFC), on the basis of which, the FFC recognised the conservation value of forests, and for the first time an allocation of 7.5% of their total grant was awarded to the forestry sector. Our attempt has thus been to use the available knowledge to make the benefits of the strategy of “precautionary principle” visible and recognised by all users.

While we acknowledge and agree with Menon and Rai’s underlying argument that local communities are the primary custodians of natural areas and need to be empowered to decide how they are managed, their criticisms with regards to economic valuation are fundamentally flawed. The studies quoted in their critique have been undertaken with the purpose to demonstrate that tiger reserves provide benefits beyond their boundaries, and these need to be accounted for. For example, a good proportion of water coming to Delhi is because of conservation efforts in Corbett Tiger Reserve, and this needs to be acknowledged and paid for.

Further, the national parks or tiger reserves are not just valuable for the timber or non-timber forest produce they provide, but also for several other values, including cultural and spiritual values. The new Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) framework advocates the consideration of these multiple values, all of which cannot be measured in terms of price. Sandra Diaz (June 2017) provides rationale for the inclusive valuation of nature’s contributions to people in decision-making, as well as broad methodological steps for doing so. The valuation developed within the context of the IPBES, states that the valuation approach is more widely applicable to the initiatives at the knowledge–policy interface, which requires a pluralistic approach to recognising the diversity of values.

We do not agree with the authors’ arguments that local communities benefit only from services which have relatively lower value, such as employment or ­collection of non-wood forest produce. Local communities, through their traditional conservation practices, also reap benefits of pollination, secure clean air and water, and obtain a suite of cultural services, amongst several others, all of which have been adequately described in our two articles (Verma et al, “Economic Valuation of Tiger Reserves in India: A Value + Approach,” National Tiger Conservation Authority, 2015; Verma et al, “Making the Hidden Visible: Economic Valuation of Tiger Reserves in India,” Ecosystem Services, 2017). 

The authors also mistakenly assume that valuation of tiger reserves has been carried out to further the interests of corporations in offsetting their impacts. In fact, both our articles argue for higher investment in conservation, and preservation of a greater area for securing services that benefit people directly or indirectly. Valuation of services from nature does not mean putting those services up for sale in the market, or commodifying nature. Rather, it is carried out to highlight the unrecognised and unaccounted services we receive from nature, and why they should be conserved. Valuation is just one of these approaches advocated for consideration, and like all other approaches it has its own set of merits and limitations.

Finally, most of the criticism by the authors is in relation to aspects of governance of the protected areas, and not to valuation per se. Does “green grabbing” not occur without valuation? Also the argument that biodiversity has declined, while protected areas have increased is also flawed, as it does not consider what would have been the case, had these protected areas not been established. We need not go any further than successful cases in India where the populations of a number of species such as tiger, barasingha and rhinoceros have been brought up from the brink of extinction. 

Madhu Verma, Dhaval Negandhi


Updated On : 1st Mar, 2018


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