07 July 2010 | Article
With companies capitalizing on markets for natural products and services, some nature conservation organizations are also developing commercial enterprises that generate funds
“Nature conservation is starting to be seen as a viable business proposition also by conservation organizations, and we’re seeing momentum building in the world of biodiversity business,” says Giulia Carbone of IUCN’s Business and Biodiversity Programme.
Biodiversity businesses are defined as commercial enterprises that generate profits through activities which conserve biodiversity, use biological resources sustainably, and share the benefits arising from this use equitably.
“Many organizations, including IUCN Members, are tapping into the growing demand for responsible products and services,” Carbone adds. “Businesses are growing across a range of sectors, from the more traditional eco-tourism operations to natural ingredients that support the growing wellness industry to ‘knowledge products’, such as wildlife field guides. Many of these are delivering positive results for both business and biodiversity.”
One example is the Asia Network for Sustainable Agriculture and Bioresources (ANSAB) which created Himalayan BioTrade Private Limited (HBTL), a consortium of community-based enterprises that markets non timber forest products nationally and internationally. Key products are essential oils, handmade paper and medicinal and aromatic plants from Nepal. Essential oils and handmade paper have the greatest international demand, particularly by the cosmetics industry. HBTL targets the supply chains of multinational companies that are committed to sustainability and are willing to pay more for sustainably-sourced natural products. So far, it has engaged with Aveda, S & D Aroma and Altromercato which have provided local enterprises with business expertise. Thanks to HBTL, more than 80,000 hectares of forest and pasture have come under improved management through community forestry, while enterprise creation has benefited more than 15,000 households.
In the Greater Mekong Region, WWF and the Swedish retailer IKEA are developing a model for sustainable rattan production and commercialization that has the potential to boost rural development and forest conservation in the region. Rattan, found in forests throughout the region is used for a variety of purposes, including furniture making. Village communities in Lao PDR, Cambodia and Viet Nam rely heavily on the rattan trade, with sales accounting for up to 50% of cash income in rural areas. The rattan trade is also an important source of foreign exchange earnings for countries in this region. But more than 90% of rattan processed in the Greater Mekong originates from natural forests and is being unsustainably harvested. The WWF-IKEA Sustainable Rattan Harvesting and Production Programme aims to give communities, governments and industry an economic reason to conserve forests, and IKEA, which sources much of its rattan from the area, wants to ensure a continued resource. WWF has helped create ‘village enterprises’ for harvesting, producing and marketing rattan in a sustainable and more commercially viable way. It has also helped to set up rattan nurseries to reduce the dependence on wild rattan. In Lao PDR, these plantations generate US$ 500 per year per hectare.
Many organizations, including IUCN Members, are tapping into the growing demand for responsible products and services.
The Flower Valley Conservation Trust, established in 1999, through a project with Fauna and Flora International (FFI) promotes the sustainable use of Cape Floral Kingdom fynbos flower products in the retail flower market. Wild flower harvesting has been a major source of traditional livelihood and employment in South Africa’s Western Cape region for decades but the region has been affected by the systematic removal of commercially-valuable species such as the King Protea and land conversion to agriculture. Through the engagement of scientists, sustainable harvest levels were defined for commercial varieties, to reduce risk to businesses while maximizing gains from the region’s natural capital. The King Protea and other species are sold to retailers in Europe such as Marks & Spencer and South African retailers including Pick ‘n Pay, a nationwide retailer that, like Marks & Spencer, is interested in securing a sustainable supply as well as helping with the development of the industry.
These are just some of the examples outlined in IUCN’s The Time for Biodiversity Business report, funded by the French Government together with a Guide to Enterprise Development for Conservation Organizations. Earlier this year, IUCN, in cooperation with the IUCN National Committee of the Netherlands, held a training workshop in the Mekong region to build the tourism-related business skills of conservation organizations that are working on tourism projects as part of their conservation programmes.