Conserving Biodiversity and Reducing Poverty in Drylands

When the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were adopted by the 191 member states of the United Nations a global responsibility to provide for the needs of the poor was acknowledged. Each of the eight MDGs has an important role to play in global development and all must be addressed if positive results are to be achieved by the target date of 2015.

The role of conservation and sustainable use of natural resources was emphasized through the adoption of MDG 7: ensuring environmental sustainability, however, biodiversity conservation cannot be considered in isolation. Many basic human requirements, including those included in the MDGs, depend on the provision of ecosystem services. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in drylands where the harsh and fragile nature of the environment is so closely linked to MDG 1: eradicating extreme poverty and hunger.
8 of the 10 world’s poorest countries are located in drylands.
90% of the people living in drylands are located in developing countries.
The livelihoods of an estimated 1 billion people are under threat as a result of the degradation of drylands.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment identifies a number of services provided by ecosystems including: supporting services (nutrient cycling, soil formation, etc), provisioning services (food, fuel, etc.), regulating services (climate and flood regulation, etc.), and cultural services (educational, spiritual, etc.). All of these services are closely linked to the alleviation of poverty and hunger in drylands where a large portion of the population is reliant on biodiversity resources. In drylands, these biodiversity resources are, however, limited by water shortages, limited soil quality and the constant threat of drought.
Drylands biodiversity provides more than 50% of rural household incomes in Senegal.
In the Middle East and North Africa, an area classified as 90% drylands, over 40 million people base their livelihoods on the use of biodiversity resources.

The prevalence of poverty and resource dependence in drylands have resulted in the integration of biodiversity conservation and sustainable use issues within development planning. There are many examples of such integration in Brazil where the Government has implemented a number of local development programs based on biodiversity conservation for income generation and food security. One such example can be found in the poverty-stricken drylands of Northeast Brazil.
Brazil's Northeast contains the single largest concentration of rural poverty in Latin America.
More than 17 of the estimated 42 million people living in Northeast Brazil live below the poverty line.
Life expectancy in Northeast Brazil is seven years less than in Southern Brazil and adult literacy rates are 33% lower.

Local women in Brazil’s Northeast have been working to conserve threatened medicinal plants, the harvest of which is an important source of income. An association of local women established two medicinal plant nurseries in the Caatinga region and their products are now being sold at local and city markets. In another instance of biodiversity conservation contributing to poverty alleviation, men in the same region have implemented a charcoal production action plan to ensure the sustainable use of fuel wood. This initiative which focuses on improving the quality of charcoal production while maintaining local biodiversity, in addition to meeting local demand in a sustainable manner provides a new source of income through the sale of excess production.
The Caatinga region in Northeast Brazil contains up to 4,000 endemic plant species and is one of the most populated semi-arid regions in the world.
70% of domestic energy in Northeast Brazil is supplied by fuel wood.
There are more than 100,000 square kilometers of protected areas in Brazil’s Northeast.
Northeast Brazil is home to some unique species including the Giant Anteater, which can grow to almost two meters in length, and the critically endangered blue-eyed ground dove.

  • United Nations
  • United Nations Environment Programme