From the article: “It seems that conservation and developmental projects (mega dams, mines, fossil fuel extraction, industrial monocultures, etc.) are, in a way, two sides of the same coin. Top-down impositions over communal territories determined by outsiders, and mostly enforced in a violent manner. Far from protecting forests, conservationist NGOs have become an industry that legitimates the expansion of destructive economic policies.”
Conservationist NGOs are increasingly making partnerships with companies that, in fact, are the main drivers of environmental and social disasters. Even worse, they portray their corporate partners as the willing participants of the “solutions”. But, which solutions are they seeking? And solutions for whom?
It is very telling that these conservationist groups’ headquarters, just as those of their corporate partners, are generally based in urban hubs of the global North. Why do they have the legitimacy to decide how to and who should best preserve a specific forest area or a particular species? What about the knowledges of local groups? And most importantly, what about the communities that have coexisted with those forests and guarded them for countless generations?
Protecting forests from whom?
Protected or conservation areas were created under a philosophy that originated in the global North, in the United States (US) in the late 1800s, which led to the establishment of national parks around the world to preserve areas of “wilderness”, mainly for elite hunts and the enjoyment of scenic beauty. This postcard idea of “wilderness” did not include any human presence; even that of traditional or indigenous groups. The national parks Yellowstone (1872) and Yosemite (1890) in the US, which forcibly emptied their indigenous inhabitants, established the conservation model applied around the world.
By advocating for and assisting with the creation of such parks, conservationist NGOs deepened the racist and colonial assumption that “nature” -understood as untouched or pristine “wilderness”- is and should be separated from any human activity that could change or impact it. These NGOs then also helped in portraying local groups as unruly invaders, “poachers” and “encroachers”. (1)
Forest-dependant populations living in and around national parks are in consequence forcefully evicted or their livelihoods and cultures severely and violently restricted. Hunting, fishing or harvesting for sustaining a livelihood is mostly forbidden in these areas. Forest peoples are regularly blamed for deforestation or/and accused of “poaching” because they hunt for their food – a convenient justification for the evictions carried out in the name of conservation. They face arrest and beatings, torture and even death. (2) Ironically, western scientists, NGOs, park rangers, military troops, “eco guards”, anti-poaching squads, philanthropists, safari tourists, visitors and many other so-called “experts” are very much allowed into these areas. Fee-paying elite hunters are even encouraged in some. Safari hunters, however, who are mostly rich and white, are of course never called poachers. Conservation practices have in fact deepened the racist division of forest access and have further imposed colonial models and ideas over forest peoples. Conservationist NGOs are at the centre of this.
Protected areas in southeast Cameroon have progressively robbed the Baka “Pygmies” of access to their ancestral lands. They are regularly harassed, arrested and even tortured by wildlife officers and the soldiers that accompany them.
(The Cameroonian government relies on powerful conservation organisations, including the WWF, to equip its “anti-poaching” squads.) Read further on this and other cases and sign a petition here.
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