The symposium organized by Conservation International, titled "Defying Nature's End: The African Context," produced a five-page "Madagascar Declaration" that challenges traditional aid and development models for the world's poorest and most disease-ridden continent.
Among its conclusions, the declaration states that African states and international development agencies such as the United Nations and World Bank should recognize that conserving Africa's rich biodiversity is fundamental to achieving sustainable development and reducing poverty.
Noting that biodiversity provides clean air and water, food, natural resources, soil regeneration, pollination and other so-called ecosystem services, the declaration calls such natural benefits essential to any chance for African nations to achieve the Millennium Development Goals set by the United Nations in 2000 to achieve significant progress in reducing poverty worldwide by 2015.
"We believe these goals will not be achieved without a radical change in how the environment and biodiversity are addressed in national development plans and in foreign assistance strategies and investments," the declaration states.
It received immediate endorsement from dignitaries attending the symposium's final ceremony, including Prime Minister Jacques Sylla of Madagascar and Jeffrey Sachs, head of the U.N. Millennium Project. ''I think you've gotten it just right, and I'm very proud to associate the Millennium Project with the Madagascar Declaration," Sachs said. "There will be no escape from hunger, poverty and disease if ecosystem degradation continues at the current rate."
The five-day conference of more than 300 delegates began June 20 with announcements of plans for new protected areas and policies to conserve biodiversity in Equatorial Guinea and Liberia. President Marc Ravalomanana of Madagascar opened the symposium by declaring that "anyone who says conservation and development cannot go hand-in-hand is wrong."
Madagascar was chosen to host the gathering of environmental and development leaders because of its unique and threatened biodiversity, including lemurs and other flora and fauna found nowhere else, and the government's program to triple its protected territory to a total of 6 million hectares (23,000 square miles).
"This symposium examined how we can ensure that biodiversity is maintained and becomes an engine for economic development in Africa," said CI President Russell A. Mittermeier. "Now we must ensure that the Madagascar Declaration becomes the catalyst for immediate and effective action."
The final declaration calls for creating and expanding markets for Africa's nature, such as ecotourism and carbon trading, to derive economic benefit from the continent's most valuable resource. Other necessary steps include:
- conserving Africa's most important biodiversity by expanding and strengthening protected area networks, along with creating sustainable financing mechanisms such as conservation trust funds;
- protecting and restoring key ecological systems linked to freshwater supply and quality, such as upper-water catchments forests and the rivers flowing from them;
- providing economic incentives for local communities to sustainably manage their forests and other natural resources;
- ensuring that government spending on poverty reduction is based on environmental sustainability;
- including the business community in seeking solutions to environmental degradation caused by industrial development; and,
- prioritizing sustainable agriculture practices and alternatives to fuelwood and charcoal as energy sources to reduce deforestation and the health risks from inhalation of smoke from cooking and heating fires.
The symposium from June 20-24 in Madagascar's capital was attended by government leaders, international organizations, conservation groups and local communities. Major themes included the status and importance of African biodiversity; assessing and valuing the ecosystem services it provides; using debt relief to properly manage natural capital and reduce poverty; and how biodiversity conservation can help Africa reach the Millennium Development Goals.
In addition, the symposium presented the latest research on links between the environment, poverty and health, and new strategies on resource management and governance to realize the greatest benefits from nature.