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The Importance of Biodiversity for Development
April 20, 2010


APRIL 2010

Biodiversity conservation, the practice of protecting and preserving the wealth and variety of species, habitats, ecosystems, and genetic diversity on the planet, is important for our health, wealth, food, fuel, and services we depend on. It plays an integral role in supporting many sectors of development.

  • Food security depends upon natural resources that form the basis of food production.  Biodiversity conservation protects plant, animal, microbial and genetic resources for food production, agriculture, and ecosystem functions such as fertilizing the soil, recycling nutrients, regulating pests and disease, controlling erosion, and pollinating crops and trees. At the same time, unsustainable agricultural production and use of wild species for food or fuel can reduce biodiversity.
  • Biodiversity conservation is vital for economic growth and poverty reduction.  A majority of the world’s poor live in rural areas and depend upon forests, water, wetlands, fields and pastures for their livelihoods. Some 1.6 billion people in the world rely on forests and non-timber products for income and subsistence. In the developing world alone, 2.6 billion people depend on fisheries for protein and livelihoods. Seafood is also the most highly traded food commodity internationally.  In 2008, fish and shellfish exports from developing countries exceeded the value of coffee, rubber, cocoa, tea, tobacco, meat, and rice combined.
  • Biodiversity conservation can help address the effects of climate change.  Conserving habitats can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. Conserving mangroves and other coastal ecosystems can lessen disastrous impacts of climate change such as flooding and storm surges.  Projects that reduce the vulnerability of species and ecosystems to climate change impacts can safeguard essential ecosystem services such as air and water purification, pollination and food production, and carbon sequestration.
  • Scarce or contested natural resources are often at the root of conflict.  Mismanaging natural resources and harming biodiversity can increase poverty and instability.  Helping communities and individuals secure rights to use natural resources, and involving local communities in responsibly managing them, can prevent or minimize conflict and provide opportunities for economic growth.


USAID Biodiversity Programs

Recognizing that improving livelihoods, security, and human health depends on the conservation of biodiversity in healthy ecosystems, USAID leads the U.S. Government, investing more than $200 million annually in biodiversity conservation programs in 60 countries.  Examples of USAID biodiversity programs include:

  • In Bangladesh, USAID’s Management of Aquatic Ecosystems through Community Husbandry (MACH) project and follow-on activities are improving wetland biodiversity while boosting food

security and incomes for some of the country’s poorest citizens.  MACH works with communities to responsibly manage wetlands through improved conservation measures and sustainable fishing practices. As a result, threatened fish populations have bounced back, migratory birds have returned and aquatic plants have recovered.  Fish catches in participating villages rose by 140 percent, fish consumption went up 52 percent, and daily household incomes increased 33 percent.

  • In Namibia, where 70 percent of the population lives in rural areas and depends upon natural resources for their livelihood, USAID partners with the World Wildlife Fund on the Living in a Finite Environment project – a nationwide community-based program to manage natural resources.  The project establishes community conservancies with conditional use rights over wildlife and other natural resources, including the right to gain income from using resources sustainably.  Participating communities saw their aggregate income rise from $165,000 to $5.7 million in ten years, with a net return to the Namibian economy of nearly $34 million from conservancies and affiliated tourism.
  • In Guatemala, USAID supports efforts to stop deforestation and conserve biodiversity in the Maya Biosphere Reserve. Some activities work to improve the economic welfare of surrounding communities through sustainable forestry.  One innovative program implemented by the Rainforest Alliance, GuateCarbon, will help reduce carbon emissions through a payment for environmental services program that will allow industrialized countries to purchase carbon offsets equal to the amount of carbon saved through avoided deforestation. This will bring in new revenue for communities to enable them to invest in conservation and meet pressing social needs.
  • In Kenya, USAID is working to secure tenure and property rights for local people in a biodiversity rich coastal region that has been a locus of conflict and is now opening to large-scale investment. Creating a platform for joint action between wildlife authorities and local people, the program works with communities to manage the area’s resources in a way that will diversify livelihoods, stabilize the region and halt over-exploitation.
  • In the Philippines, USAID’s Fisheries Improved for Sustainable Harvest project has demonstrated that well-managed fisheries with strong local governance can increase productivity and reverse fish catch decline.  The project increased incomes and food quantities for many coastal families, while at the same time restoring fish stocks.  From 2004 to 2008, the total harvest increased 76 percent, the value of fish increased 73 percent, and catch per fisher increased from 2.6 to 6.06 kg per day.  A recent assessment found that fish stocks increased almost 20 percent during that period.
  • USAID supports biodiversity conservation efforts that work across national boundaries.  The Central African Regional Program for the Environment promotes sustainable natural resource management in the Congo Basin, the second largest tropical forest in the world and source of livelihood for more than 60 million people.  The Initiative for Conservation in the Andean Amazon helps farmers adopt sustainable agriculture methods, protecting forests and developing market links for their products.   In Southeast Asia, USAID works with six countries through the Coral Triangle Initiative to conserve an area that houses more than half of the world’s coral reefs, the greatest expanse of mangroves, and marine resources that directly sustain over 120 million people.

Other Resources:

Biodiversity at USAID

USAID’s Biodiversity Conservation and Forestry Programs

Fishers Benefit from Marine Sanctuary