Enhancing the equity and effectiveness of protected area conservation

July 2018 to March 2021

IIED is working with partners to institutionalise social equity assessment and action planning at protected areas in Kenya and Uganda, and to initiate a similar processes in Liberia and Malawi.

Community members at Mgahinga National Park, Uganda discuss the Social Assessment for Protected and Conserved Areas methodology (Photo: Rob Small)

Global efforts to reduce biodiversity loss are heavily focused on expanding the network of protected areas (PAs). But the social impacts of PAs – particularly negative social impacts – are increasingly capturing national and international attention.

There are ethical concerns – for example, that conservation should not disproportionately, negatively impact on poorer or more vulnerable people. There are also instrumental concerns, such as increasing evidence to indicate that people’s resentment towards conservation is an important driver of poaching and illegal encroachment.

As a result, there is growing recognition that PAs must be equitably managed and equitably governed if they are to successfully support both biodiversity conservation and human wellbeing, and within the current Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) strategic plan, Aichi Target 11 calls for “equitable management” of PAs by 2020.

But progress towards delivering more equitable management of PAs is limited, with few people understanding the meaning of equity in a conservation context, or having a suitable methodology to assess it.

What is IIED doing?

With funding from the UK government’s Darwin Initiative, we are collaborating with Fauna and Flora International (FFI), Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) to enhance the equity and effectiveness of protected area conservation.

We will use our Social Assessment for Protected and Conserved Areas (SAPA) methodology to institutionalise social equity assessment and action planning at protected areas and conserved areas in Kenya and Uganda. The project will focus on four PAs in Kenya (Ruma, Kisite, Marsabit and Amboseli) and four PAs in Uganda (Mgahinga, Semliki, Murchison Falls and a fourth site yet to be confirmed). We will also initiate a similar process in Liberia and Malawi.

The SAPA methodology is relatively low-cost and can be used at any type of PA, or conserved areas not officially designated as PAs. It is designed to help PA managers and other key stakeholder groups increase and more equitably share positive impacts, and reduce the negative impacts.

However, evidence indicates that people’s resentment towards protected area conservation relates not just to perceived inequity in the distribution of negative and positive social impacts of PAs, but also to the reluctance of some authorities to recognise concerns of local communities and strengthen PA governance procedures.

So SAPA also draws on our experience of developing its ‘sister’ governance assessment methodology (GAPA) to assess the ‘equity dimensions’ of recognition and procedure in management and governance, as well as distribution.

Our aims are to increase biodiversity conservation and human wellbeing around the project sites in Kenya and Uganda; establish a peer-to-peer learning process with government staff in Liberia and Malawi in order to initiate a similar process there; and through monitoring and analysis of our results, develop evidence of both the instrumental and ethical case for more emphasis on equity in conservation.  

With best practice guidelines based on our experience of implementing the SAPA methodology, the project will support conservation practitioners worldwide in their work towards achieving international conservation targets.


Assessing and improving the social impacts of protected areas: case studies from Kenya and Uganda, Phil Franks, Francesca Booker, Rob Small, Josephine Nzilani, Rogers Mwine Niwamanya, Ruth Pinto (2021), Research report