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Community Cost-Benefit Analysis

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In September 2009, Theresa Kas visited the small village of Sohoneliu in the Manus Province of her native Papua New Guinea. It was a dramatic change of scenery from Stanford, where, a month earlier, she had completed Conservation Strategy Fund’s international “Economic Tools for Conservation” course. Kas, who works with The Nature Conservancy, saw that deforestation was on the rise and traditional hunting was dwindling, and wondered if the local economy’s resource base was careening toward collapse. So she pulled out her CSF notes and put them to use.

She asked locals questions like these: Were they better off clearing more forest for farming, or preserving the habitat that had long been the primary source of their sustenance? What were the advantages of a quarry that they’d built on the nearby Lawes River, which had since become clogged by sediment?

“The people themselves must assess the social and economic costs of protection and conservation of important ecosystems,” Kas explains, “These are the river and forest.”

Theresa didn’t stop with the difficult questions. She gave the locals tools to answer them, thanks to the cost-benefit analysis skills that she learned from CSF. Kas helped the people of Sohoneliu look at their daily decisions in the big scheme of things, using numbers. They concluded that deforestation and subsistence farming provided them with fewer benefits and narrower dietary choices than harvesting food from the jungle and their traditional gardens. In the wake of constructing the quarry, they discovered that illnesses and health care issues in the village were on the rise.

“They realized the unwise choices they had made,” explains Kas.

Following the meetings, the villagers rallied, developing management plans for nearly 25,000 acres of forested land. The reach of Kas’s teachings didn’t stop at Sohoneliu. Many other inland, neighboring communities took their cues from Kas, in the form of cumulatively setting aside approximately 250,000 acres of traditional land for careful management.

In Kas’ view, the CSF course isn’t just helping nature. “A healthy environment,” she observes, “will lead to healthy people.”

Photo Credit: Michael Thirnbeck

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Since 1998, Conservation Strategy Fund has been committed to making conservation efforts smarter through the use of economics. To celebrate, we're going to be sharing 15 stories of success throughout our history. The above is story #8 on our timeline. To start from the beginning, click here. Continue the series with The Road Less Traveled: BR-319