Researchers Explore Links Between Poverty and Biodiversity

In rural areas of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, poor farmers supplement their livelihoods by hunting and cutting wood, but such practices can seriously threaten biodiversity in the developing world. Now, two Cornell University researchers are leading the way to explore solutions that not only protect biodiversity but also improve the livelihoods of the poor.

Chris Barrett, professor of Applied Economics and Management and professor of economics; and Alexander Travis, associate professor of reproductive biology and wildlife conservation at the College of Veterinary Medicine, have co-edited a 10-paper special feature in the Aug. 23 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on biodiversity conservation and poverty traps.
“The series reveals some key linkages between biodiversity and poverty while evaluating new methods being used to tackle these connected problems,” Travis said.

Travis and Barrett review issues such as the overreliance on “bushmeat” in some developing countries and the effectiveness of Community Markets for Conservation, a new business-based approach that teaches rural villagers sustainable agriculture methods for improving crop yields while reducing deforestation. The PNAS feature also includes an innovative plan to provide severe weather insurance for Thai farmers, buffering rural villagers’ incomes against storm damages and crop loss while simultaneously promoting the conservation of threatened species of hornbills.

“These studies represent the current research frontier. Yet this is very much underexplored territory and not the final word,” Barrett said. “Rather, these papers open up the discussion and encourage new empirical, interdisciplinary research.”