Conservationists’ perspectives on poverty: an empirical study

Janet A. Fisher, Hari Dhungana, Janine Duffy, Jun He, Mirna Inturias, Ina Lehmann, Adrian Martin, David M. Mwayafu, Iokiñe Rodríguez, Helen Schneider

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
53 Downloads (Pure)


1. Biodiversity conservation interventions have long confronted challenges of human poverty. The ethical foundations of international conservation, including conservation’s relationship with poverty, are currently being interrogated in animated debates about the future of conservation. However, while some commentary exists, empirical analysis of conservation practitioner perspectives on poverty, and their ethical justification, has been lacking thus far.
2. We used Q methodology complemented by more detailed qualitative analysis to examine empirically perspectives on poverty and conservation within the conservation movement, and compare these empirical discourses to positions within the literature. We sampled conservation practitioners in western headquartered organisations, and in Bolivia, China, Nepal and Uganda, thereby giving indications of these perspectives in Latin America, Asia and Africa.
3. While there are some elements of consensus, for instance the principle that the poor should not shoulder the costs of conserving a global public good, the three discourses elicited diverge in a number of ways. Anthropocentrism and ecocentrism differentiate the perspectives, but beyond this, there are two distinct framings of poverty which conservation practitioners variously adhere to.
4. The first prioritises welfare, needs and sufficientarianism, and is more strongly associated with the China, Nepal and Uganda case studies. The second framing of poverty focuses much more on the need for ‘do no harm’ principles and safeguards, and follows an internationalised human rights-oriented discourse.
5. There are also important distinctions between discourses about whether poverty is characterised as a driver of degradation, or more emphasis is placed on overconsumption and affluence in perpetuating conservation threats. This dimension particularly illuminates shifts in thinking in the 30 or so years since the Brundtland report, and reflecting new global realities.
6. This analysis serves to update, parse and clarify differing perspectives on poverty within the conservation, and broader environmental movement, in order to illuminate consensual aspects between perspectives, and reveal where critical differences remain.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)678-692
Number of pages15
JournalPeople and Nature
Issue number3
Early online date3 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2020


  • Q methodology
  • conservation organizations
  • discourse analysis
  • poverty

Cite this