Senior Nature Conservancy Scientists: Population Matters!!!

November 7, 2012 • Family Planning, Daily Email Recap

Thanks to the ever excellent blog of the Environmental Change and Security Program at the Wilson Center, titled, New Security Beat, for the following article. The essay was originally published in The Nature Conservancy‘s October issue of their Science Chronicles newsletter.

Education as a Conservation Strategy – Really?
Tim Tear and Craig Leisher, The Nature Conservancy


It seems like everywhere you turn recently, you hear how the planet’s population is headed to 10 billion. And obvious questions follow: How can we balance far more people with the natural resources needed for their survival? How will we get more food? How will we get more energy?

In this piece, we argue that compelling new data and lessons learned from years of work around the globe suggests that conservation groups – including our own, The Nature Conservancy – should think hard about adopting another global priority strategy: education, especially education of young women in developing countries.

Seeing Is Believing

Our assumption is that most conservationists will be skeptical. We were too. So let’s see if we can alter your perspective by taking you first to Tanzania. In true Nature Conservancy place-based fashion, there is a stunning conservation area that provided the initial attraction – only later were the alarming statistics related to population and human well-being discovered that helped open our eyes to the importance of education.

On Tanzania’s western boundary, the Conservancy’s Africa program has a project to conserve a vast forested area with the rugged Mahale Mountain National Park at its core. In addition to containing approximately 90 percent of the chimpanzees in the country and other Africa icons like elephants, the project area also captures a significant portion of the Lake Tanganyika coastline. Lake Tanganyika is a true freshwater biodiversity gem. It has not only some of the most spectacular fish diversity on the globe, it also holds – in one lake – nearly as much fresh water as all the U.S. Great Lakes combined. But to successfully conserve the fish and chimps, complex conservation issues must be addressed.

In this remote region, people are almost entirely dependent on fishing and farming. When people can’t get enough food from the lake, they turn to the forest for hunting and to clear new land for farming. When there are too many people for the natural resource base, both the lake and the forest suffer. To get a better handle on these underlying land- and water-use issues, we conducted a baseline socioeconomic survey of the 50,000 people who live in the area (Hess & Leisher 2010). What we found startled us. The 10 villages on the edge of the lake bordering the national park had some eye-opening numbers:

  • 49 percent of the population is under the age of 15, among the highest percentages for that cohort in the world.
  • The average household size of 6.7 is 29 percent higher than the 2010 Tanzania average of 5.2 and among the highest in the world.
  • 130 of every 1,000 children born locally between July and December 2006 did not survive to their 5th birthday, giving the villages an under-age-five mortality among the highest in the world.

This baseline social science survey made the conservation challenge clear: If we can’t address rapid human population growth in the area, we will not succeed in conserving the lands and water on which all local life depends.

To read the full article, please click here:

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