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agriculture, woman, rice, Cambodia
To what extent is it possible to achieve biodiversity conservation objectives while meeting the socioeconomic development needs of local communities? While the concomitant achievement of both objectives is a central concern for the CBD – which will once again be discussed at the next Conference of the Parties in China in 2020 – the wherewithal remains up for debate.
Lessons learnt from an evaluation of 19 support projects for protected areas

To respond to this question, AFD conducted an evaluation of a sample of 19 protected-area projects supported by AFD and FFEM between 2000 and 2017. The projects were selected from a portfolio of 53 projects that it financed between 2000 and 2017, for almost €342 million. The 19 projects include completed (8) and ongoing (11) projects located mainly in Africa as well as Asia and Central America.

The 19 evaluated projects:

Evaluated projects

The evaluators split these 19 projects into four types depending on how their objectives were designed to achieve the common goal of biodiversity conservation. They observed a shift over time between 2000 and 2017 – the more recent projects focused more on socioeconomic development objectives, whereas the earlier projects more on conservation.

The 4 main intervention strategies identified in projects
Diagram inspired by the article Adams William M. et al., 2004, “Biodiversity conservation and the eradication of poverty”. Science, vol. 306, no. 5699, pp. 1146-1149. Source: Baastel

The projects are relevant, coherent and efficient overall

The projects are generally relevant in that they respond to the challenges and needs of the targeted territories even if their intervention logics need clarifying. They are coherent and well aligned with the priorities of national policies and AFD's strategic focus areas. The governance and management methods and budgets are generally well-suited to the implemented activities with the exception of the sometimes insufficient financial resources allocated to the infrastructure and socioeconomic development activities. Their efficiency is deemed satisfactory by the evaluators despite the fact that most of these projects experienced delays in implementing the activities.

Proven results that vary depending on the project type

The evaluation concludes that the general level of project execution is satisfactory despite the fact that most, bar a few (see box below), did not achieve satisfactory results for either objective. This finding echoes those in the scientific literature, which presents a less unequivocal picture than the traditional discourse on the win-win synergy between biodiversity conservation in protected areas and socioeconomic development, and points to highly contrasted situations depending on the sites studied.


Some initiatives have successfully reconciled socioeconomic development and conservation actions and may serve as inspiration for the future:

  • Creating the “biocultural landscape” label in Mexico to support the commercialisation of products closely linked with the regional identity. With this system, each protected area (PA) producer following the sustainable practice specifications outlined in consultation with the PA manager can affix the park logo and label to their products. They can thus promote the environmental qualities when marketing them.
  • Establishing two labels for "wildlife-friendly" rice in sustainable and biological agriculture in Cambodia. It is purchased by the specialised company Ibis Rice at 30% and 50% respectively above the conventional market price and sold to German and Cambodian markets with well-documented effect on the local avifauna.
  • Supporting conservation and development contracts in Madagascar. These documents lay down the collaboration framework between the project (commitments in terms of technical support for agro-ecological practices) and each local beneficiary producer (commitments to reduce deforestation practices and follow community management rules and support provided by the project).

The vast majority of evaluated projects helped to enhance the management and governance of protected areas by strengthening institutional and management systems. Some succeeded in influencing national conservation policies and many helped to implement innovative management systems involving local communities alongside national partners and local authorities. The projects geared to socioeconomic development objectives generally achieved the best results. They promoted co-management or shared governance models, thus leading to greater social acceptability.

The majority of evaluated projects contribute directly or indirectly to maintaining or restoring ecosystems, endangered species and their habitat, and productive resources. The evaluation notes that the projects more focused on biodiversity conservation objectives generally achieve more significant results in this field.

Further reading: Rehabilitating Limpopo National Park

However, the results for the socioeconomic development of communities generally fall short of expectations for several reasons: an often marginal number of beneficiaries, few resources invested compared with the size of the target communities and surface areas, low level of the communities’ involvement in selecting activities, etc. However, some projects geared to development objectives have made real progress in terms of the financial sustainability of protected areas due to growing revenues from ecotourism and from the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) mechanism7 to the benefit of park management authorities.

Finally, the evaluation observes that the projects also yielded non-economic benefits: raising awareness, educating people about environmental issues, developing knowledge and sometimes reducing conflict around protected areas and making the area more secure for people living in and around the park.

  • Prioritise the territorial approach and professionalise economic development activities by focusing on channels and value chains and sizing them correctly based on the number of targeted beneficiaries and the size of areas.
  • Mobilise technical development skill in addition to protected area support teams more specialised in biodiversity conservation (e.g., for the adoption of agro-ecology techniques and the marketing of labelled products).
  • Offer differentiated support to protected areas based on their particularities and their potential sustainability.
  • Involve communities more in selecting activities aiming to reduce pressure on the protected areas.
  • Draw on AFD's ability to combine various forms of funding in the same project and further mobilise grants to prepare and back loans.

Difficult-to-evaluate impacts

The impacts in terms of biodiversity conservation, natural resource management and especially economic development are difficult to evaluate for all projects. This is mainly because baselines have not been clearly or adequately established before project start-up. The weakness and lack of sustainability in monitoring systems also prevent the collection of long-run datasets and, yet, this is the only way to truly measure the impacts. With no comprehensive monitoring systems, it is impossible to identify the real impacts.

The majority of conservation-focused projects help to maintain endangered species populations and manage conflict between people and wildlife through the measures promoted by the projects. However, the impacts in terms of ecosystem restoration are mixed. Conversely, some actions have negative effects that can only be measured over time: exacerbated dissension among supervisory ministries and heightened pressure on protected areas, conflicts, etc. More systematic and in-depth environmental and social impact assessments in the early stages of projects would help to minimise these impacts.

For projects more focused on conservation, positive economic effects stemming from the increase in biodiversity and the improved management of natural resources by stakeholders living outside protected areas are often observed. Yet, they are rarely substantial enough to compensate for the immediate losses caused by the restrictions on access to protected areas and their use.



Edwin Wanyonyi
Deputy Director of Strategy and Change, Kenya Wildlife Service, Nairobi

“We played host to an independent consultant to evaluate AFD's funding of Kenya Wildlife Service projects in the Meru and Marsabit National Parks. It was useful because it gave us the chance to review the available information against the expected results and impacts. Nevertheless, the visit was too short and the consultant did not have time enough to deepen parts of his mission. We had to discuss some of his assumptions in order to strengthen his analysis. We also realised that some of the activities that we thought were relevant and affectively implemented, actually encountered difficulties and did not achieve conclusive results. We then had a chance to review and implement them following a new approach (e.g., by improving pastureland).”



Martin Dorschel
Head of the KfW Operations Evaluation Division

Did you notice any differences between the practices in use at the KfW development bank’s Evaluation Division?

AFD’s evaluation, in which I had the pleasure to participate, differed from those that we typically conduct in two respects. First, KfW primarily evaluates individual projects ex-post, whereas AFD’s evaluation of protected areas covered a large sample from the 2000-2017 portfolio including ongoing and completed projects. Accordingly, KfW’s evaluations have a strong focus on individual development results, whereas AFD’s evaluation allowed for more generally valid conclusions. Secondly, our evaluations are mainly conducted by KfW staff (excluding people involved in implementing the project in question) – a great
instrument for internal learning. AFD typically hires consultants to produce external strategic input. AFD’s evaluation was similar to what we call a thematic evaluation or a portfolio review, something we do less frequently. All in all, it was a great experience for me to witness how much value a reference group can add to such a strategic study.

What lessons from this AFD evaluation echo your own learnings?

Both AFD and KfW seem to face very similar challenges with regard to the sustainable functioning of protected areas. Very few areas can cover their operating costs with tourism revenues. Protected areas need reliable funding and a strong commitment from their respective governments.

AFD’s evaluation confirms that conservation is an extremely complex and challenging field for development agencies in general and evaluators in particular. We face similar challenges to AFD, such as missing baseline data, weak analysis of the initial situation, poor definitions of objectives, indicators that are hard to measure.

This article was originally published in the AFD 2017/2018 Evaluations Report