AI in Conservation: Communities’ control over the decision-making process

Imagine a tropical forest region, a seascape or mangroves; where big data on the society and ecology— on biodiversity, the behavior of peoples as individuals and the community— are being collected through data sensing and other methods and used in a larger Artificial Intelligence project. The machine— the computers and so on— will, of course, learn in the process; but from the beginning, the decision about what information to acquire and for what and how to use that information is decided by certain (human) stakeholders. Gradually machine learning will take its course, and will take AI processes forward. AI will acquire data and set rules for data-use to decide about the access to nature by communities, about the use of the natures’ commons. AI will determine what is nature conservation and what is not; it will decide about where, when, and how to intervene for conservation.

In recent years, several non-governmental organizations based in North America and Europe are embracing AI in nature conservation. Plans and actions of these conservation NGOs have significance for communities all across the world. Because narratives promoted by these big NGOs and their work heavily influence policies and resource allocation outside North America and Europe. Unfortunately, it appears that conservation groups who have international influence are yet to recognize that, AI is an automated decision-making process. None of these groups are addressing the question of communities’ participation in and control over AI. But the success of these NGOs will mean that, in the coming decades, AI will increasingly determine the extent of control over natures’ commons enjoyed by local and indigenous communities across the world.

For instance, the largest association of nature conservation groups— the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is currently drafting its program for the 2021-2024 period. The IUCN has identified Artificial Intelligence as one of the main enablers to achieve its goals related to core program areas. It seems the use of big datamachine learning, and AI is being considered as the most important enabler in the future programs of the IUCN. But there’s not a word about safeguarding against the autonomous superpower of AI to harm; nothing is mentioned about whether there will be efforts to ensure communities’ participation in AI, and communities’ control over big data.

If you take a serious look into the current state of the AI field, you will see that basic premises of discussions on AI in the governance of nature conservation should at least consider the following;

  1. AI is a simulation of human intelligence process owned and run by big data monopolies that also simulate all the human biases amplified by interests of monopolies, and can aggravate violation of rights and accelerate injustices.
  2. AI is an autonomous decision-making process, that has autonomous power to harm individuals and communities by violating privacy and other rights, and has inherent features to aggravate the current state of global inequality through the unequal distribution of resources.
  3.  AI innovations and applications are till date is largely run and owned by a few big data monopolies. If big data is not owned by communities AI processes and tools have inherent capacities to be used in the disempowerment of people and to hinder equitable governance of nature’s commons.

Unfortunately, while conservation groups are embracing AI, none of these discussions are present. After decades of works by communities to secure environmental rights and justice, inclusion, and participation, and establishing the concept of free and prior and informed consent— why this is happening all over again when it comes to AI? I see three main reasons. Firstly, conservation groups are considering AI as a mere technological tool which is innovative and can tremendously enhance the operation of nature conservation governance. Secondly, conservation groups fail to recognize that, the AI processes are still business products owned by a very few giant corporations that have a total monopoly on the powerhouse of AI— the big data. Lastly, conservation groups are not recognizing the fact that AI is resources-expensive and absence of AI is not necessarily the main challenge for many communities to conserve nature’s commons.

These limitations of big conservation groups’ position about AI should be seriously addressed. Members, supporters, and patrons of conservation NGOs should know better that, AI isn’t just an innovative technological tool that state or non-state actors can use to implement nature conservation interventions, it’s much more than that. AI brings very high level and extent of automation to the decision-making process that it will determine who get to decide about what interventions are necessary and when and how to intervene.

Till date, the main powerhouses of AI— the Big Data is owned by invasive, non-transparent and unaccountable corporations who have established their monopoly in the business. So, AI as such has all the inherent biases against marginalized communities in every nation, and inherent capacities to be used against marginalized communities (e.g. indigenous nations, artisanal fishers, and vulnerable gender groups) whose livelihoods practices offer protections to nature against unsustainable extractive industries. So, without ensuring the democratization of AI, it will be dangerous for vulnerable communities to just welcome it in the management of environmental commons to which their life, livelihoods, and cultures are deeply connected. Deployment of AI without securing direct control over the data by communities can undo decades of efforts in environmental justice; and participatory and inclusive governance of nature’s commons.

AI is resources-expensive. Where nature conservation management is doable with the less, it will be counter-productive to indiscriminately welcome such a resource-expensive process. The efficiency in nature conservation governance promised by Artificial Intelligence is helpful for indigenous and local communities only if they have the political power, opportunity of direct participation, and authority to control such an automated decision-making process. Imagine artisanal fishers or indigenous communities who aren’t allowed to directly participate in governance, and then outside actors bring AI into the scene without ensuring democratization the ownership of the big data. In that case, AI will be used to justify injustices against communities.

Conservation groups should make it very clear that when they talk about Artificial Intelligencebig datadata sensing, and machine learning— they recognize AI as a highly automated decision-making process that has inherent biases and inherent power to harm communities. Secondly, conservation groups should give the utmost importance on democratizing such processes before deploying AI in nature conservation. And lastly, it should be recognized by conservation groups that democratization of AI does not only mean that communities have right to know or see (access) about what’s going on, rather it means the big data are owned by communities and the communities have total control over the processes related to AI.


Featured Photo: Fishers and honey collectors in the Sundarbans— the largest continuous mangrove forest in the world. Photo by the author.

Integrating SDG14 and Blue Economy into the next Five-Year Plan in Bangladesh

Recently after being asked by the officials of Planning Commission in Bangladesh, I and Professor Dr. Kazi Ahsan Habib of Aquatic Bio-resource Lab at the Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University have submitted a Concept Note about how the government can integrate SDG14 and Blue Economy into the next Fiver-Year Plan. Following is a summary of the Concept Note.

As a highly climate-vulnerable country, Bangladesh needs to focus on building resilient communities. To do that, particularly in Low Elevation Coastal Zones (LECZ), SDG14 targets and Blue Economy offer windows for the public agencies to mobilize resources; as both are the priorities of the public agencies since the last couple of years. But the progress made in the Blue Economy sector is very negligible, it is not even integrated into any long term plan yet. In this context, the next 8th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) is an excellent opportunity to integrate SDG14 and Blue Economy in national planning.

Healthy coastal and marine ecosystems, and protection of biodiversity could be the main powerhouses to build resilient communities through creating new job opportunities and social benefits. There are lots of options for people-based solutions where it’s possible to do more with the less in coastal and marine conservation. So, for Bangladesh, mobilizing resources is not the main challenge, rather the most important tasks are to building capacity in terms of knowledge, trained human resources, and policies towards integrating Blue Economy into long term national planning such as the next FYP.

The goal 14 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals; ‘Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development’ can be the best available source of framework for a national pathway to incorporate blue economy in the 8th FYP, because SDG 14 targets are focused on increasing knowledge and research capacities as well as the transfer of technologies. The public agencies already have a Monitoring and Evaluation Framework of SDGs. If necessary, a separate Monitoring and Evaluation Framework of Blue Economy can be adopted once setting the targets are done.

Based on recommendations made at the 2nd Marine Conservation and Blue Economy Symposium held in Dhaka in 2017, we think the aforementioned targets should be included in the 8th FYP to make progress towards a ‘blue economy’ in Bangladesh.

Major Core Targets: Building an Ocean-literate citizenry, and reviving coastal economies through the restoration of ecosystems.

Poverty: To reduce extreme poverty in the coastal region, and to create good jobs for the underemployed populations; resources should be allocated to restore Chakoria Sundarbans and other ecologically collapsed or degraded habitats through private land-owner conservation schemes.

Fisheries: To reduce extreme poverty and offer good jobs through leveraging fisheries sub-sector, first, public investment should be mobilized to make sure that millions of fishers either own their necessary boats and gears or they are employed as fish workers. Secondly, Similar to large scale industrial fishing, marine commercial fishing also should be recognized as a formal economic sector, and taxations should be extended to it (prior to that, a classification and certification process need to be completed to identify and classify recreational, subsistence, artisanal, and commercial fishing); and third, initiating the process for sustainable certification of marine industrial fishing with any of the global certification consortium.

Transportation and communication: First, building necessary infrastructures and implementing Ballast Water Management in all seaports. Secondly, ensuring all coastal embankments, roads, and protection infrastructures are compliant with ‘living shoreline’ standards; and third, reclaiming and maintaining the intra-coastal waterways in the central and western coast, and the greater Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna basin areas.

Environmental sustainability: Creation of an autonomous institution to operate a public grant mechanism for coastal and marine research and extension. It will ensure that public agencies have continuous knowledge and community support through the works of a next-generation professional workforce in participatory conservation.

Urban settlements: In light of rising sea level and extreme weather events, there should be sectorial targets to re-build coastal and riparian urban settlements as ‘Ocean friendly’ using new and modified public and private infrastructures.

Energy and infrastructure: A reasonably ambitious target should be set for marine renewable energy generation.

We hope our proposal will be useful for the Planning Commission to integrate SDGs and Blue Economy into the 8th Five-Year Plan more effectively. We also call on the Civil Society Organizations, Educational, and Research Institutions to work together to help public agencies to achieve the goals of a sustainable blue economy.

Why we need media ethics for Ocean communicators?

Throughout the last decade, topics related to the climate crisis, marine ecosystems and biodiversity have increasingly secured their place in the mainstream media (MSM) coverage. The climate and Ocean coverage is not only presenting the bad news, the seriousness of the ecological crisis but also focused on reporting marine conservation efforts. With widening opportunities to get the conservation message across to the public, activities related to communications and public relations are getting rapidly increasing attention within marine conservation organizations.


We can notice broadly three types of engagement between MSM and marine conservation groups. Conservation groups see the media as the partner, and/or tool, and oftentimes they find media as their critic.

  1. Conservation groups like to see the media as a partner in conservation. Because, how and to what extents media cover an issue significantly define and shape the public discourse on that issue, and conservation organizations clearly understand that. As media is supposed to serve the public interest and common good, conservation organizations see ‘common ground’ with media and reach out to them as potential ‘partner’. This partnership approach serves them well to manufacture consent in public for conservation and mainstream and strengthen the support for conservation in public discourses.
  2. In many cases, conservation organizations consider media as a ‘tool’ to get the words out in the public about their own institution, or projects, or to reach out to their targeted audience for fundraising, or to reach out to policymakers and other stakeholders for advocacy or engagement. In these cases, media oftentimes, play the role of ‘neutral’ validators of conservation groups and/or of their works.
  3. Sometimes, conservation groups find media as the watchdog on behalf of the public, or a critic of their institutions and/or efforts.


While coverage of Ocean and conservation in the MSM is ‘getting better’, internalizing this as a news agenda is not happening much in legacy media outlets. Globally, MSM has a lack of institutional capacity and editorial priority to cover marine conservation related affairs as part of its regular agenda. In many cases, the novelty of the subjects to the newsroom, and high resource needs to operate in remote coastal and marine areas are also restrictive. So, oftentimes MSM coverage of Ocean conservation is mostly based on the updates delivered by the conservationists themselves.

This practice deprives Ocean conservation and conservation groups of objective reporting and critical coverage which are cornerstones of transparency, accountability, and public trust for any crisis sector. So, I think, strong and dynamic ethical practices are imperative to address this challenge.


MSM is useful for conservation communication because of the public trust that legacy media traditionally enjoys. The traditional perception is that media covers current affairs to serve the interest of all citizens, and it is independent of the undue influence of outside actors, political parties or conservation groups, for instances. Therefore, when ecological crisis or conservation efforts are represented in media as a consequence of any types of relationship between conservation groups and media organizations, it is an imperative that, the very relationship do not cross essential ethical standards of PR and/or journalism in a way that impede the media’s role as the fourth estate that makes other entities accountable to public.

People should be able to rely on that the stories are done independently by journalists (not serving the institutional interest of conservation organizations as such) who are committed to serving only the public interest and pursuing truth through facts.

Most probably, the unquestionably approving coverage by influential global media outlets of top-down declaration of very large marine protected areas are one of the recent examples of what happens if media does not independently and objectively examine each case on its merits, rather commit itself to the cause of certain conservation groups as such and get busy in advocacy.

Within the echo chamber of social and/or political progressiveness, to which the conservation community is a part, by and large, it might be a little hard to accept that there is an ongoing erosion of public trust in mainstream media throughout the world. But it is real. It is happening because a large portion of the global population perceive that the MSM has lost its traditional editorial independence and objectivity to various liberal progressives’ ‘projects’ such as climate action and nature conservation, and are closely associated with ‘the establishment’, which they identify as ‘elite’ and ‘liberal’. This is not uncommon in other crisis sectors too. There is past evidence of the compromised ethical standard of development communication and journalism in other sectors, and reduced public trust in media covering the various global crisis, humanitarian issues and so on.

But, we need the public trust in mainstream media, because no matter how much a conservation group has sway over social media and it is own PR platforms that are not a replacement for independent journalism. Because what the conservation groups are saying is already expected from them by the public and the public generally do not perceive those contents as ‘independent’. While we should continue to strongly advocate for conservation, we should not make it difficult for MSM to do their job that is, informing the debate with facts and making all voices heard.

Therefore, whether coverage of marine conservation efforts by journalists is the result of sponsored/ embedded arrangements or not, there should be some ethical codes on behalf of the conservation communicators to let the journalistic contents be produced independently with objectivity and neutrality needed in the persuasion of the truth.


The basic premises of my observations are;

  1. This has to be presumed that the activities of conservation groups and the cause of conservation are not always necessarily compatible as such. That is to say, conservation groups should not prima facie considered as agencies who can do no harm through their policies and practices.
  2. Conservation groups should remain open to this idea that like any other crisis sector agencies (for example the development agencies) their activities and projects are subject to public scrutiny and accountability through the mainstream media.
  3. While the partnership between MSM and conservation groups is necessary for the cause of conservation that should not stand in the way of the MSM playing its original role as the agent of the public.
  4. Conservation groups more particularly the conservation communicators should have the opportunity to take a proactive role in enabling the media to maintain its independence while working as a partner in conservation or any other modes.
  5. The balance of being an enabler of media in covering marine conservation efforts and keeping the public trust intact into what is being reported can be best facilitated by adhering to an ethical code.

Exactly how such a guideline will reshape the modes and modalities of engagement between media and marine conservation groups are not clear yet.

But recently I co-authored an opinion piece (Erickson et al., 2019) proposing about what are issues we need to address through such and guideline. In the opinion piece published by Frontiers in Marine Science, we have explained why we think “professional ethical guideline for marine conservation communication is necessary. We also report on discussions from a focus group titled, “Overcoming ethical challenges in marine conservation communication” held at the 5th International Marine Conservation Congress (IMCC5).”

Please read the article here
The supplementary table attached with the article has some ideas about a potential media-ethics code for Ocean conservation communicators.


Erickson LE, Snow S, Uddin MK and Savoie GM (2019) The Need for a Code of Professional Ethics for Marine Conservation Communicators. Front. Mar. Sci. 6:304. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2019.00304

What are the riverine fisherfolks thinking about?

When it comes to explaining the poor state of nature-based artisanal and subsistence livelihoods of communities, many conservation and development folks in countries like Bangladesh or India or Nepal have one mantra they think fits all the complexities; the tragedy of the commons. Experts use this doctrine to explain any such challenges — whether in forests or in the wild-caught fisheries.

Generally, this explanation without compelling evidence works as a justification for top-down interventions that come later in the process. Later, comes the conservation interventions embedded with the heavy-handed enforcement by security agencies that disregard the well-being of marginalized communities and mostly focused on securing supply for nature’s goods for the urban consumers with suitable purchasing power.

To my experience, Hilsa fishery in the Bay of Bengal and Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna watershed is such a case, particularly in Bangladesh. About 50-60 percent of global Hilsa (Tenualosa ilisha) catch is reported from Bangladesh (Rahman, Emran, & Islam, 2010). This is the world’s largest tropical estuarine fishery.

Hilsa Fisher Meghna 2
‘It’s humiliating’, says Nasir Patwari about the economic struggle and uncertainty in Hilsa fishery. From Haimchar, Chandpur District on the Meghna river, he doesn’t see any future for his children in the fishery.

Despite the extreme poverty among the artisanal and subsistence fishing communities, Hilsa conservation in Bangladesh relies on heavy-handed enforcement of laws that oftentimes impose disproportionate punishments. Imagine, a fisher who don’t have anything to feed his family might get one-year imprisonment for fishing during fishing ban seasons. Such disproportionate punishment started at the beginning of this decade.

For instance, only from 2011-2012 to 2013-2014 fiscal year, executive ‘courts’ embedded with law enforcing agencies imposed 2,462 prison sentences and fined 106,509 USD to law-breaking fisherfolks under Jatka (juvenile) and brood Hilsa conservation activities (Islam, Mohammed, & Ali, 2016).

Currently, the annual 22-day long ban season to protect brood Hilsa is underway throughout the country.

Earlier this month, I’ve volunteered to take part in CSO monitoring of this ban season in Meghna river, and currently traveling in Brahmaputra river basin for the same. We are talking to fisherfolks and other river-dependent communities to understand what are their recent experiences with conservation and what are their thoughts about community-stewardship of riverine ecosystems. Before that, earlier this year, I led a study to understand human dimensions of Hilsa conservation in the context of community-stewardship and trans-boundary cooperation among countries sharing Ganges-Meghna-Brahmaputra river system. We collected data mostly through semi-structured and non-structured qualitative interviews, and participant observation.

Hilsa boat meghna 2
Earlier in this month, that was the last of day of the open season for Hilsa fishing.

The results of CSO-led monitoring and the previous study are expected to be published in the due process. Both of the works are part of the Trans-Boundary Rivers of South Asia (TROSA) project’s activities in Bangladesh. I was invited by two local NGOs to take part; Gana Unnayan Kendra and Center for Natural Resources Studies (CNRS) who are partners with TROSA.

In the meantime, I’d like to share a few notes based on my learning and observations. I’ve already shared these following notes with colleagues from India, Nepal, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and other Asian and European countries at the annual learning forum of TROSA in Kathmandu, Nepal from 24 to 25 July 2018. (See also this web-story on GWP’s site)


1. The fisherfolks explain that despite very low income they don’t plan to stop fishing because fishing is their traditional (Chouddo purus) ‘life’ (Jebon), and all other aspects of their lives are interconnected with their fishing identity. In differently worded statements, most of them echoed the attitude that they can’t think about any other livelihood options and lifestyle other than fishing because this is what their ‘jaat’ (inheritance), and this is in their blood; diversely paraphrased Bengali dialects they have used can be translated into ‘this is who we are’.

2. The fisherfolks don’t think ‘the tragedy of the commons’ can explain the process behind the decline of the fishery. Most of the respondents identify ‘problems’ in the supply chain and conservation regime. They think fisheries conservation are reluctant to engage and utilize community’s readiness to conserve the rive- commons including fisheries. A notable number of the fisherfolks indicates that fisheries conservation are not willing to look into complex issues related to the migratory character of Hilsa fish and is not prepared for delivering conservation-benefits to local communities.

3. About all of the fishermen said, by ‘conservation of fisheries’ they understand ‘gun’ (bonduk) meaning police and other law enforcing agencies they encounter. They clearly determine that the ‘slow revival’ of the fishery is not bringing any significant benefits to them as the old supply chain is still in place.

4. Traditional fishing families blame diversion of water for irrigation both in Bangladesh and upstream countries for the poor state of fish habitat, and they also think rising use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticide, and insecticide in agriculture are to blame for dwindling catch.

5. Fisherfolks say they were always willing to be the stewards of fisheries biodiversity (nijeder ta nijeder e rokkha korte hobe), but they also need to feed their families.

6. When it comes to their expected state of community well-being, they place the highest value on spending time with families, ability to afford education for their children, and capacity to continue their generational fishing occupation. When asked what will be the ‘most rewarding outcome’ from a potential revival of the health of the riverine ecosystem and the Hilsa fishery, a large number of them said they ‘will be able to spend more time with their families’ because they will not be needing to go for fishing trips throughout day and night. Most of them said they can ‘die in peace’ by knowing that ‘the future of their children is secured.

The heavy-handed and disproportionate law enforcement neither take into account this strong environmental ethic that defines these traditional fishing communities nor care about their well-being.

Now it’s the responsibility of local CSOs, NGOs to explore more about human dimensions of such fisheries conservation, to gather more insights into the river basin communities’ readiness for the stewardship of environmental commons.

Photos: All photos taken by me


Rahman, M. A., Emran, M., & Islam, M. S. (2010). Hilsa fisheries management in Bangladesh. Regional Consultation on Preparation of Management Plan for Hilsa Fisheries. Chittagong.

Islam, M. M., Mohammed, E. Y., & Ali, L. (2016). Economic incentives for sustainable hilsa fishing in Bangladesh: An analysis of the legal and institutional framework. Marine Policy, 68, 8–22.

Mainstreaming biodiversity: reasons to be hopeful in Nepal

“Nepal is endowed with all necessary resources for prosperity from vast natural and cultural heritage to social and biodiversity, dynamic and self-reliant people,” these are the words of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, and Mr. Prime Minister is totally right. On the occasion of Nepalese new year on April 14, 2018, the PM addressed the nation to outline the “unprecedented momentum to economic development” that government has planned. And here comes the undeniable question of mainstreaming biodiversity into economic and development activities. Is Nepal prepared to mainstream biodiversity into this new national momentum?

To sustain any economic development, we need to consider biodiversity as a part of the diversity of resilience in the society, rather than looking at biodiversity as a merely exploitable resource. As pointed out by Co-chair of Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), Dr. Madhav Karki from Nepal during the recent publication of latest regional assessment reports in Medellín, Colombia, at the 6th session of its Plenary, biodiversity has an unfortunate relationship with unsustainable economic development.
Dr. Karki pointed out, “Biodiversity and ecosystem services contributed to the rapid average annual economic growth of 7.6% from 1990 to 2010 in the Asia-Pacific region, benefitting its more than 4.5 billion people. This growth, in turn, has had varying impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem services. The region’s biodiversity faces unprecedented threats, from extreme weather events and sea level rise, to invasive alien species, agricultural intensification and increasing waste and pollution.” The assessment reports up to 45% anticipated loss of habitats and species in the Asia Pacific region by 2050 if business continues as usual. But there is hope also, the assessment reports 22.9% and 5.8% respective increase in forest cover in North-East Asia and South Asia from 1990 to 2015.

And, Nepal can claim it’s part in raising the hope for conservation which is related to forest coverage.

In Nepal, most of the habitats are provided by terrestrial forest and Himalayan range located between 60 to 8848 meters above sea level. Being a landlocked country, local communities heavily rely on forest resources. As a young conservationist based in Nepal, it’s a good thing to report that Nepal still has a national forest cover of 44.7%. It was 39.6% in 1998. Generally, we can consider it as a good indicator for biodiversity, and to my view, it has a lot to do with how local communities treat the forests. Over 1.7 million hectares (about 26 percent) of forests have been managed as community forests in the country. Nepal is a party to Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and other international conventions related to conservation and management of biodiversity and natural resources. As a state, we are committed to protect biodiversity and enhance environmental protection.

At the same time, direct and indirect anthropogenic impacts on natural systems are intensifying; effects of climate change is putting the habitats under pressure. But the state is not fully prepared to mainstream biodiversity into the national political process, and help the social mainstreaming of biodiversity. In Nepal, we have been practicing community-based conservations tools in conserving biodiversity for more than two decades, and the state has institutionalized many practices. To include local communities in the natural resource management, there are very strong rules and regulations in place. Successive governments have been strengthening relevant legal structures by formulating different instruments such as Community Forest Directives 1995, Scientific Management of Forest Guideline 2014, Buffer Zone Management to enable local communities stewardship of biodiversity. The main instruments in the forest management regime, namely Nepal Forest Act 1993, and Forest Regulations 1995 also accommodate many provisions for participation by local communities.

Overall these regulations have helped to strengthen community-based biodiversity and sustainable forest management and the rights and responsibilities of participating communities. But still facilitating the implementation of these policies are not considered as a priority by the state and we see the reflection of that in the national budget. Not only poor allocation of the budget is a hindrance, but lack of prioritization also been reflected in the activities of different line agencies of the government who oftentimes fail to coordinate among themselves.

As we see it, in Nepal, major challenges to mainstream biodiversity into the state are political instability, uninformed policies and leadership, and knowledge gaps. Information about the importance of biodiversity is not prioritized in the formal education sectors. In the societal spheres, inequitable access to conservation benefits, lack of economic alternatives to ecosystem goods, lack of environmental communication, cultural-religious factors that influence local communities’ behavior in ways that impact biodiversity are the major challenges.

Local communities oftentimes take part in activities of Community-Based Anti-Poaching Unit, Buffer Zone committee etc. On the other hand, the challenges they face in terms of their livelihoods are huge. For instance, wild animals destroy the agricultural farms of the villagers residing near the forest. This type of human-wildlife conflict is seen in most of the buffer zones of the forest. But effectively reducing HWCs through developing alternative sources of income for the communities are not prioritized on a national level. Although government and development partners say, they are on the path to support local community to earn their livelihood through appropriate livelihood methods.

What brings us hope is that we are aware of the future that the Nepalese society is vying for; which will base on the social justice and peace.
Nepali society is vertically and horizontally stratified, vertically in terms of caste, class, and gender and horizontally in terms of religion and culture. But now slow change is happening and the discrimination and stratification are just limited to very remote and rural areas where the messages of a modern ‘national imaginaries’ and formal education has not reached yet. We believe Nepali society is flexible and the systems and cultural practices are blended according to the comfort of the people. Nepali culture too promotes love for animals and plants, and in Hindu culture, some animals, plants, rivers are sacred.
So, we think in new path towards a nation of diverse and resilient communities, if biodiversity is mainstreamed into the economic policies on national level and reflected in the budget of central and local governments, it will not be very difficult to find workforce in the forest communities who are willing to be the stewards of biodiversity and sustainability.

Particularly, we have one other strong reason to be hopeful; as per the demographics, youth population from 16-40 years counts to around 40% of the total population in Nepal. If you add the population below 16 too, then the percentage comes to about 70%. Hence, there are huge prospects of change if this generation moves on the right track. The flexibility, widened boundary of thoughts, access to social media are some of the values induced socially, culturally among the Nepali youths, which I consider as preparedness for social mainstreaming of biodiversity. If this young population is given access to satisfactory education and minimum resources, they will find their way to contribute to sustainability and conservation.


Dipesh Gurung is a environmentalist based in Nepal. Currently he works as a Program Officer at Environmental Camps for Conservation Awareness. He can be reached via dipeshgurung03 at gmail dot com